Airdrie Stud: Rich Soil & Deep History Raises Great Horses & a Better Future

Deep in the heart of the Bluegrass is a Thoroughbred farm that was raised on Southern sunshine and stubborn love. Out of the rich loam dirt and limestone springs, sprang a fledging farm that has now grown into one of the world’s most noted stallion farms; yearling nurseries; and broodmare broods. And, behind the stone fences — built over 100 years ago by the hands of Irish immigrants — is a horse business that was built more by the hearts and souls of a young West Virginian and a Kentucky southern lady.

In 1972, Brereton C. Jones and the lovely Libby Lloyd Jones embarked on an ambitious dream — building, literally from the ground up, Airdrie Stud.  They took a piece of ground, which was deep in history and minerals, but had not been the home of Thoroughbreds for nearly 100 years, and turned it into hollowed grounds once again.

On the same turf that was part of the famed Woodburn and home of the immortal Thoroughbred, Lexington, they turned 2,500 acres of plush bluegrass into a place that has raised well over 150 stakes winners. Over the past 45 years, they have bred and raised horses that have earned over $100,000,000 in purses. In that span, they have birthed over 20 Grade 1 stakes winners.

The Joneses did this all, while carving out enough time to serve as Lt. Governor and Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and raising a family, with daughter Lucy and son Bret, that has come to treasure the love the game of the horse as much as they do.

Today, Airdrie Stud is a Kentucky landmark. It is now a staple of the Thoroughbred industry.  And, it is a true American success story — again.

Here is a closer look:

The History of Woodburn Stud:

Woodburn Stud was first established in the 18th Century, as a piece of land grant property of General Hugh Mercer.  The ground was granted to him for his military service during the Revolutionary War. But the dirt pretty much stayed the same brown dirt until the late 1700s, when a Scottisch immigrant, by the name of Robert Alexander, bought the Mercer estate in Kentucky.  It was his son, Robert A. Alexander, during the 19th century, turned Woodburn Stud into the birthplace of Kentucky’s amazing Thoroughbred industry.

Robert A. Alexander:

He was credited with being the first American to establish a system and a method to the art of horse breeding. In particular, Thoroughbred horse breeding. As a result, of his math, mind and match-making came the great stallion Lexington (1850-1875), who became our country’s leading sire for 16 years.  Yep, that’s right.  Sixteen years. He sired many champions and winners of our nation’s top races — including Duke of Magenta, Kentucky and Preakness — for whom the Preakness Stakes is now named in honor of and is the second jewel of the Triple Crown series.

At Woodburn Stud, Alexander bred 18 winners of the Triple Crown, and other great Thoroughbreds, like Foxhall. The list of greats runs deep and wide, a vein forever carved into the legend of the sport and industry. Woodburn Stud bred four Kentucky Derby winners (Baden-Baden in 1877; Fonso in 1880; Joe Cotton in 1885 and Chant in 1894). But that was just the tip of the racing book. The farm also bred the following:

1) 4 Preakness Winners in Tom Ochiltree, Shirley, Duke of Magenta, Grenada;

2) 10 Belmont Stakes Winners in General Duke, Kingfisher, Harry Bassett, Joe Daniels, Springbok, Duke of Magenta, Spendthrift, Grenada, Burlington, Patron.

Some of the most renown Thoroughbreds buried on these hollow grounds are Asteroid, Planet, Australian.

After the passing of Robert A. Alexander, the farm fell into the hands of his son, A.J. Alexander.  And, under his guidance, it prospered. It had become the home of Thoroughbred racing. But it was soon to become the birthplace of the Standardbred. In the mid- to late 1800s, Woodburn was the place where the first Standardbred was bred, birthed and raised. It didn’t take long before the farm was known for its trotting horses.

The Decline of Woodburn Farm:

Upon the death of A.J. Alexander in 1902, it didn’t take long before the farm fell into disrepair and decline.  It short order, the breeding of horses did not exist. And, the farm and the land was soon converted into a cattle operation.

Reborn as Airdrie Stud:

In 1972, long after the name and game of Woodburn had disappeared from the minds of those invested in the Thoroughbred industry, came along Brereton C. Jones and his wife, Elizabeth Lloyd Jones — who is a descendant of the Alexander family, and the daughter of another military General. On part of the original Woodburn Stud, they build their own farm — which now totals over 2,500 acres and sits atop of some of the world’s greatest soil, underground springs, and the industry, too.

Racing Exploits Dominated By The Girls:

Although the number of races, Stakes wins, and Graded Stakes victories are too many to document individually, the prides of the Airdrie Stud racing stables have been, truly, the fillies.  There was Proud Spell (who will be mention more later), who won the Kentucky Oaks in 2008. There was Believe You Can, who won the Kentucky Oaks in 2012. And, there was Lovely Maria, who won the Kentucky Oaks in 2015. Three Oaks winners in 7 years. The first two were homebreds. The third, Lovely Maria, is by Airdrie stallion Majesticperfection, who, in turn, is a son of former Airdrie stallion, Harlan’s Holiday.

Gov. Jones purchased Lovely Maria for a mere $5,000 as a weanling, when she failed to sell at the 2012 Keeneland November Sale.

This is what Nancy Sexton wrote on May 21, 2015:

Bred by Olin Gentry and Thomas Gaines out of the Thunder Gulch mare Thundercup, Lovely Maria was acquired by Jones after failing to sell at the 2012 Keeneland November Sale.

“I had seen her and liked her quite a bit, and was quite surprised when there weren’t many other bidders on her,” Jones remembered. “When she didn’t sell, I went back to the barn and they said she had a few X-ray issues. So I looked at them and they were minor. People want to buy the perfect horse but, having been in this industry for a long time, I know that waiting for that perfect horse can take a long time. The rest, as they say, is history.”

With four wins, including the Kentucky Oaks, under her belt, Lovely Maria heads into the summer with $973,000 in earnings. She broke her maiden at the first time of asking at Delaware Park last September and, after running second in a pair of allowance races and then fourth in the Trapeze Stakes at Remington Park, returned to the winners’ circle in January when successful in an allowance optional claimer at Fair Grounds. She found only stablemate I’m a Chatterbox too good in the G3 Rachel Alexandra Stakes in February and hasn’t looked back since, landing the G1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland en route to the Kentucky Oaks.

“You dream about the horses you have and Lovely Maria just seems to be getting better and better,” Jones said. “After she ran second in the Rachel Alexandra, we knew then that she was improving and that’s when we began to think she might be Grade 1 material. Then she won the Ashland easily.”

The first two Oaks winners were both sired by Proud Citizen.  You guessed it.  He, too, stands at stud at Airdrie.

But, if those 3 fillies are not enough reason to cheer, the Jones family also bred Littleprincessemma.  You know her claim to fame?

No.

She is the dam of Triple Crown winner, and the newest racing superstar and super stallion, American Pharoah.

Amazing.

Amazing accomplishments. Amazing transformation. Amazing that history truly does repeat itself.

Farm Exploits Dominated By The Boys:

Despite the racing exploits of the fillies and all the fancy pictures of Oaks Days come and gone, Airdrie Stud is known for its’ boys. Or men. The stallions.

It is where the great stallion, El Prado, began his stallion career, before moving on to Adena Springs.

It has been the stomping ground for the likes of Indian Charlie and Harlan’s Holiday, two very successful studs who are still making their mark on the racetrack and the breed, despite having passed away in the last couple of years.

It has been and continues to be the home of Proud Citizen, known for his daughters who have kicked dirt in the face of many higher-priced fillies on the tracks throughout North America.

And, now it is the home of 7 stallions that continue to stamp themselves and Airdrie as a good place to breed a mare.  Today, the roster contains the following:

  1. Casino Prince
  2. Creative Cause
  3. Include
  4. Majestiperfection
  5. Mark Valeski
  6. Summer Front
  7. Upstart

Cairo Prince has already become one of the most talked about young stallions in the country.  On Aug. 13, the closing night of this year’s Fasig-Tipton New York-bred Preferred Yearlings Sale, a colt by Cairo Prince sold for $500,000. That was the highest price for the sale and the most ever paid for any horse at this sale. And, it was the most paid for a yearling by a First Crop Sire in 2017 — to date. On the first night of that same sale, another colt brought $225,000. On Aug. 7, at the Fasig-Tipton Select Yearling Sale at Saratoga, another colt sold for $425,000. That one was purchased by Cromwell Bloodstock.

Creative Cause is doing well, too.  His son, Twisted Tom, won his fourth Stakes Race of 2017 on Aug. 24 when he captured the $250,000 Albany Stakes at Saratoga. After a troubled trip in the Belmont Stakes — against Open Company — the colt was back in against NY-breds for this trip.

Trainer Chad Brown had this to say:

“He really got a bad break in the first turn of the Belmont (Stakes), where a horse clipped him from behind and really cut the horse up bad,” trainer Chad Brown said when asked about Twisted Tom’s off-the-board finish in the final leg of the Triple Crown. “We’re really lucky it wasn’t a more serious injury. He didn’t get to run his race in the Belmont.”

But in the Albany:

“He had a really tough trip. He was very wide on his last turn and giving seven pounds to everyone in the field, which is a lot to spot here. To overcome all that and draw away like he did was great to see.”

Future Is Bright:

While the history is deep rooted, and the trophies on the mantle are proof positive of a job well done, the best and brightest days for Airdrie Stud may be in the future. Both on the racetrack and at the farm.

First, on the farm, there is Bret Jones, who is assisting his father and long-time farm manager, Tim Thornton, in nearly every aspect of the operation.  The 2004 graduate of The University of the South (Sewanee) and an alumnus of the Irish National Breeding Course, Bret Jones joined the farm’s operation in 2006.

He is now involved in nearly every aspect of the business — from selecting matings, to selling seasons and recruiting new stallions.  And, he normally leads the Airdrie sales teams at sales events all over the country.

“I couldn’t have a better teacher than my dad.  He is my hero,” said Bret Jones, in a recent interview — which can be heard in its entirety at www.thepressboxlts.com. “Tim has been great, too.  They have taught me so much, and I have learned by just watching them over the years.  I couldn’t dream of a better situation than what I have been given here.  I just hope I don’t screw it up.”

And, young Bret Jones, is one of the main reasons that Airdrie Stud may just have a possible Kentucky Derby contender.  Last September, Airdrie consigned an impressive young colt by the stallion Ghostzapper to the Keeneland September Sale. The colt was purchased by the Albaugh Family Stables for a whopping $625,000.  As soon as the sales ticket was being signed, though, Brereton and, son, Bret, convinced Jason Loutsch, the co-owner and racing manager for the Albaugh stable, that they would like to stay in for a quarter interest. After all, the yearling colt was out of Indian Spell — a daughter of the Jones’ pride and joy, Proud Spell.

A deal was struck. And, that colt, since named Dak Attack, named in honor of the Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, is now an impressive 2-for-2 after winning the $75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile Stakes at Ellis Park on Sunday, Aug. 20 by an impressive 13/4 lengths.

It is a long, long way to the first Saturday in May and a long, long way from little Ellis Park to the mammoth scene of Churchill Downs, but…

Dreams are dreams.

Trainer Dale Romans liked what he saw: “He went down there and did what he was supposed to do,” said Romans, who is looking for his first Derby winner, too. “That was a good field of horses he beat, and I think his future is bright.”

Owner Dennis Albaugh liked what he saw: “As soon as we got in the starting gate, boy, immediately the gates opened up. He wasn’t quite ready, so we didn’t get out perfect. But still not bad. He just hung in there and poured it on. Man, we knew that horse was bred right, and he did the right things in the race. We were very happy with him. He’s a strong one coming into this next season.”

Manager Loutsch liked what he saw: “We’re very proud of him; he ran hard. All along we thought he was the most talented. We just took a little easier approach with him and brought him to Ellis. We had it in the plan book all along, and the plan came together and it’s working great. We’re coming back to back second-place finishes at Saratoga, so I’m not taking anything away from our other two horses. But that was professional today. Breaking from the (11), sitting back and eating dirt. And, Robby (Albarado, the rider) asked him to go, he went.”

And, young Bret Jones like what he sees.  Both now and in the future. “The Albaugh Family has been so great to us in this whole partnership,” said Bret. “When he sold at Keeneland, we went right up to them and asked if they would have any interest in us staying in for a part.  They had no problem with that and Jason has been great ever since.  They treat us like a full partner and are so gracious.  We couldn’t have a better partner.  And, the horse, has done great, too.  Proud Spell is our pride and joy.  She stole our hearts and has been so very special to all of us at the farm.  We’ve had other great horses, but she was the one.  To have a son out of her daughter, is just like a dream come true.  We just hope that he can keep getting better and better.”

Dak Attack now will be pointed to the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in October. And, perhaps, so much more.

So much more, like the Kentucky Derby.

So much more for Airdrie Stud

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It still depends on when he gets ready,” said David Fiske, racing manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds, which campaigns Copper Bullet with Willis Horton. “If he doesn’t get ready before the preps stretch out, chances are we aren’t going to break him out in a mile-and-an-eighth Grade 1.

“It’s possible we might miss the Derby and try the Preakness — something like that. It’s still all up in the air. It depends on if he stays healthy and continues to train how he’s training.”

Reported by top Thoroughbred writer and reporter Jonathan Lintner at horseracingnation.com.

David Fiske, racing manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds, who owns Copper Bullet with Willis Horton, on the 3YO’s next race and Road to the Kentucky Derby
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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