Millionaire William Monroe Wright started one of horse racing's great dynasties when he purchased the property that would become Lexington, Kentucky's Calumet Farm, in 1924. Named for the baking powder company he founded, the operation first bred Standardbreds, but Wright's son, Warren Wright Sr., turned Calumet into a powerhouse Thoroughbred nursery in 1932. Calumet enjoyed epic highs and the lowest lows over its storied history, including horse murder!
Upon his father's death, Warren Wright - alongside his wife, Lucille - inherited 550 horses and $60 million. Wright was committed to breeding the best horses in the business, which meant spending tons of money to buy top-notch stallions like Blenheim II, sire of Calumet's 1941 Triple Crown winner Whirlaway (pictured in the feature image). The handsome colt, dubbed "Mr. Longtail," was a fan favorite, both for his talent and his odd habit of running all the way to the outside rail of the track.
Citation strikes a pose. Feature image via Pinterest/Sport Horse Date.
The leading money-earning farm in the business for 12 years, Calumet also purchased mega-successful stallion Bull Lea, sire of its other Triple Crown winner, 1948 victor Citation. Under the tutelage of trainer Ben Jones, a.k.a. "Plain Ben," a blunt cowboy, and his son, Jimmy, Citation became racing's first-ever millionaire and one of its all-time greats. Calumet bred an astounding nine Derby winners during its heyday.
Warren Wright died in 1950, after which his widow, Lucille Wright Markey, and her second husband, Admiral Gene Markey, ran Calumet. They achieved noteworthy successes into the '50s with a decline in the '60s, especially once the Jones boys retired. Calumet did experience a resurgence in the '70s, producing hardy filly Davona Dale and the brilliant Alydar, whose epic rivalry with eventual Triple Crown winner Affirmed throughout 1977 and 1978 was simply spectacular.
Upon the passing of both the Markeys in the '80s, things were looking up for Calumet, which had passed to Lucille's daughter and her husband, J.T. Lundy. But disaster struck when Calumet's excellent stallion, Alydar - whom Lundy overbred for the stud fees - died suspiciously in 1990. At the time, Calumet was more than $120 million in debt and had taken a $36 million insurance policy on the horse. Did Lundy and co. kill Alydar for the cash? Perhaps; it was ruled that Lundy had engaged in insurance fraud and he was sent to jail.
J.T. Lundy with Alydar. Image via David Perry/Herald Leader Photo.
In 1992, Calumet was sold at auction to horseman Henryk de Kwiatkowski, but it wasn't until recent years that it has begun to reclaim its former glory. The man currently at the Calumet helm is Brad Kelley, who brought home another classic win for the storied farm with Oxbow's 2011 Preakness Stakes victory. While no stallions of Bull Lea's caliber currently grace its stallion barns, there are quite a few top-notch studs calling Calumet Farm home...and bringing it into another successful age.
Feature image of 1941 Triple Crown winner Whirlaway and a tour group at Calumet from University of Kentucky Libraries.