The Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club, tracing its origins back to dinners at the old Coach House restaurant on South Broadway and the Thoroughbred Restaurant on Leestown Road, has served as a forum for central Kentucky farm managers to get together for a few cocktails and dinner since the late 1940’s. Mr. T.O. Campbell, who owned a local liquor distributorship, began the tradition of the bourbon drawing at the monthly meetings by donating a bottle of the popular brown elixir to the Club each month. These monthly meetings evolved into a means for farm managers to meet each other, develop friendships and networking opportunities and to learn about the Thoroughbred business from both a husbandry aspect and a business standpoint. The initial speakers were predominantly people from the Department of Agriculture at the University of Kentucky. Meetings also became a very valuable way for managers of different farms to discuss common problems. This opened up what used to be hushed situations where farms were very reluctant to discuss problems due to public relations reasons and the possibility of losing clients. The MRLS outbreak in 2002 is a very good example of this working together to find solutions and disperse information.
According to 1961 Club President and 1993 Farm Manager of the Year, Ted Bates, the Club’s initial social event was sponsorship of the “Plug Horse Derby”, which began in 1948 and lasted about 10 years. It was a holiday of racing for grooms, foremen, managers, exercise boys and their families with separate races held for horses, mules and ponies taking place at the Red Mile harness track on Labor Day. Supposedly, Doug Davis (owner of High Hope Farm who started the High Hope Steeplechase) and John Ward, Sr., a longtime Thoroughbred trainer, came up with the idea. The winners of the six horse races made up the field for the last race of the day, the Plug Horse Derby. There was no starting gate; walk-up starts and a flag were used. These horses, mules and ponies came from area Thoroughbred, Standardbred and pleasure horse farms. The contesting animals were trained on the farms and ridden on race day by farm exercise boys and grooms in highly competitive races which were accompanied by a lot of side-bets. Needless to say, at times these races were marked by some slightly underhanded shenanigans!
Through the years, the Club has expanded its socializing aspects and now includes such annual events as the golf scramble, the sporting clays classic and the trail ride. These events have given Club members the opportunities to play and socialize together in settings outside of typical dinner meetings. Towards the end of each year the Annual Dinner Dance, now known as the Premiere Event, is held to recognize and honor the person selected by the Club and the Industry as the “Farm Manager of the Year”. This honor is based on quality and success of management; service to the community; involvement in the KTFMC; and industry leadership and dedication. The first honoree was the venerable “Maggie” Glass, of Calumet fame, in 1964.
Over the years the Club has also built and expanded a program of annual charitable donations through these social activities, and is active in giving back to the community from proceeds derived from its outings, Colostrum Bank sales, and Directory sales. In recent years these contributions have exceeded $90,000 annually. Although prohibited from making political contributions, the Club has developed into an arena where politics can be discussed, especially when they impact the Thoroughbred business. One such speaker, Jerry Carroll, then President of Turfway Park, in a foresighted delivery in 1991, warned of the impending effects that the so-called “mythical armada” of Indiana riverboat casinos would have on Kentucky racing if industry action was not taken. By allowing a floor for such discussions, it has served to make members more aware of both political problems facing the industry and who the elected officials are that can help our industry. It has allowed members to become “politically educated” and has helped get out voters during political contests.
Initially, the Club was composed of farm managers, assistant managers and foremen who now make up the “Active” and voting members of the Club. But, over the past twenty-five years, the Club has opened up a nonvoting “Associate” member section to allow “Active” members to network and develop relationships with feed companies, tack stores, veterinarians, bloodstock agents, bankers and insurance and real estate agents who dominate the “Associate” membership roll. This has allowed farm managers and members of our local business community to develop social relationships that can be used to further business relationships for the future.
Central Kentucky family histories run deeply through the membership roster of the Club as various fathers, and later sons, have served as Presidents of the organization beginning with the Club’s first President, John A. Bell, III in 1949, followed by his son, John A. Bell, IV in 1985. Other “father-son” Presidents include B.G. Hughes (1958) and his son, B.G. “Scooter” Hughes (1990); Carter Thornton (1962) and Tim Thornton (1979); Robert Courtney, Sr. (1963) and Robert Courtney, Jr. (1988); Joe Mulholland, Sr. (1964) and Joe Mulholland, Jr. (1994); John Q. Thornbury (1970) and Tom Thornbury (1983); T.W. “Bill” Hayes (1971) and T.W. “Bill” Hayes, Jr. (1981); Gus Koch (1987) and his sons, Charles Koch (2004), Matt Koch (2009) and Gus Koch (2016); and most recently Neil A. Howard (1996) and his son Andy Howard (2018).
Rich in history and steeped in tradition, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club, like the Thoroughbred business, has been continually evolving over the years and has expanded its membership and its mission accordingly in this historic, but ever-changing, environment of breeding, racing and sales.
A special thank you to Scooter Hughes, Alfred Nuckols and Ted Bates for putting this history together!