Started in Virginia by Civil War veteran Capt. Richard Hancock; His son, Arthur B. Hancock took over management in 1909 and started a second farm on his wife’s property in Paris, KY. That property was named Claiborne and was started in 1910. The Hancocks eventually moved the main operation to Kentucky in 1915, although they kept the farm in Ellerslie for many more years.
In 1911 and 1912, horse racing was banned in New York by anti-gaming interests, and that prohibition nearly devastated the entire breeding industry — including the fledgling Claiborne Farm in Kentucky. Hancock reduced his pool of broodmares, but kept only the ones he believed in most. Two years later, racing was restored in New York. And, Hancock had his best mares left.
At the time New York was reestablishing its racing industry, Hancock purchased the stallion CELT for $25,000. That stud went on to become the first of the farm’s stallions to lead the sire list in 1921. Despite passing away at a young age, Celt went on to sire 30 stakes winners — 21 of which were bred by Hancock. Along with clients Marshall Field, Robert Fairbairn and William Woodward, SR, Hancock was able to purchase Sir Gallahad III in 1926 for the sizable sum of $125,000. The horse had won the French 2,000 Guineas and was second in the French Derby. He went on to lead the sire list 4 different times, and, in addition, was the leading broodmare sire 12 different times. He sired the Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox, who also stood at Claiborne. His son, Omaha, won the 1935 Triple Crown.
Hancock was the breeder of a record 138 stakes winners, including 10 champions. He was the leading breeder by earnings 5 times and the stallions under his management that lead the sire list at least once were Celt, Chatterton and Sir Gallahad III.
Bull’s Run – 1947 to 1972
In 1947, Arthur B. “Bull” Hancock Jr. was discharged from the Army due to his father’s failing health. Two years later, he was in charge. And, one of the first things he did was go after the stallion prospect Princequillo. Although purchased to stand at the Virginia farm, he was moved to Claiborne in 1946. Soon after his arrival in Kentucky, Princequillo’s son, Prince Simon, emerged as a star in England. And, the game was on. He went on to sire 65 stakes winners and led the sire list in 1957, 1958. His daughter, Somethingroyal, would go on to produce the great Secretariat.
Princequillo’s offspring included Round Table, who carried the “YELLOW” Claiborne colors to victory in Keeneland’s Lafayette Stakes and the Breeders’ Futurity at 2YO in 1956. “Bull” also raised and raced Doubledogdare, sired by Claiborne Stallion Double Jay. Unlike his father before him, who loved the sales at Saratoga, “Bull” preferred to stay home. And race. Round Table would go on to win Horse of the Year and returned back home to Claiborne to join the stallion roster — which would include the likes of Nasrullah — who sired the likes of Nashua, Never Bend, and Bold Ruler. Bold Ruler was the sire of the great Secretariat, who also came home to roost, just like the greats Buckpasser, Damascus, Ambiorix, Le Fabliaux, Sir Ivor, Tom Rolfe and Herbager.
After Bull was diagnosed with cancer in 1972 and passed away only two weeks later, in September, the mantle of the world’s greatest Thoroughbred farm was turned over to the young — as in 23 years young — Seth Hancock. The soft spoken Seth, who had an agricultural degree, didn’t waste much time in making his mark on the Farm and its’ legacy. At his father’s dispersal, he purchased the horse Judger. Racing for his own Cherry Valley Farm, Judger won the Florida Derby and the Blue Grass Stakes. A year later, Seth put the deal together with Penny Chennery to syndicate the great Secretariat for a record price of $6 million at the time. The race was still on. And, Claiborne Farm was still the BEST. Seth advised Ben Castleman to breed his mare My Charmer to the lesser known Claiborne Stallion, Bold Reasoning. The result was a colt by the name of Seattle Slew — who brought only $17,500 as a yearling, but went on to win the Triple Crown. Among the many sons and daughters of the great stallion Seattle Slew to prove racing greatness was Swale. It was Swale that gave Claiborne Farm and all the Hancock clan its first — and still only — Kentucky Derby. Swale was a homebred from the the mare Tuerta — which was the last horse Bull Hancock saw win a stakes race for his farm.
We Were There
After Swale’s dynamic victory in the 1984 Kentucky Derby, I was there — in the Director’s Room at Churchill Downs — to interview Seth about the historic victory. As always, Seth was kind, polite, gracious, and humble. He gave credit to his father, and his trainer, Woody Stephens. He gave credit to the rider, Laffit Pincay. He gave tribute to his mother, Waddell. When I asked Seth what he wanted to do now, after giving the farm its’ most sought-after victory. He smiled and said, “I want to do it again.” He was not able to do THAT again, but under Seth’s guidance Claiborne Farm stamped itself as the greatest Stallion Operation in the world. It stood the great Mr. Prospector. It stood the great Danzig. Later, Seth bred the great Pulpit, who joined the stallion roster at Claiborne, and he sired the wonderful racehose War Front, who is now one of the greatest stallions in the world. Standing, of course, at Claiborne Farm.
Now, It’s Walker’s Turn
In 2015, Seth Hancock turned over the reins of the farm’s massive history and wonderful future to his son, Seth Walker Hancock. There is little doubt that the tradition will continue. After all, it’s in the blood. Of the family. Of the horse. Of the farm.