Saturday, March 23, 2002

Sponsor gives track hope


Business down 43% since 1996

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        VERSAILLES, Ky. — The bluest of the Bluegrass' bloodlines rides into town today to boostthe Tristate's version of the Kentucky Derby.

        Lane's End, one of Kentucky's most celebrated thoroughbred horse farms, is sponsoring the $500,000 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park in Florence. The 31-year-old race is one of the warmups for May's Kentucky Derby and has long been Greater Cincinnati's premiere thoroughbred event.

[photo] Bill Farish, Lane's End horse farm general manager, says becoming a sponsor of the $500,000 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park today will build the farm's name and breeding business.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        But Lane's End — owned by the U.S. Ambassador to Britain, home to champions and visited by two presidents and a queen — brings the genteel style and tradition of central Kentucky's horse industry to a race and a track in need of the farm's cachet.

        Already hurting financially because of competition from Indiana riverboat casinos, Turfway has been without a signature race sponsor since 1999 for the race known for 17 years as “The Jim Beam Stakes.” “We actually approached Turfway after they lost their sponsor” following the 1999 Spiral, said Lane's End General Manager Bill Farish.

        “We think they are doing a great job. They are in a tough spot because of the competition from Indiana's riverboat gambling but we think it's important to do as much as we can to help keep racing viable in that part of the state,” he said.

        While there is no such thing as a sure thing in racing, Lane's End can only help the track, industry experts say.

        “Lane's End is going to make people take notice of the Spiral and Turfway,” said Hall of Fame jockey Steve Cauthen of Walton, a track vice president who as a Boone County teen-ager rode Affirmed to racing's Triple Crown in 1978.

        “It's a very prestigious thoroughbred horse farm and their involvement makes the Spiral and Turfway more prestigious,” Mr. Cauthen said.

        Mr. Farish said the Spiral Stakes is “an important Derby prep race, a signature race.”

        “And it was very appealing to me because it's the big race in the Northern Kentucky, Cincinnati area,” Mr. Farish, 38, said during an interview in one of the five ornate Lane's End barns. “It's sort of your (Kentucky) Derby.”

        For 17 years bourbon maker Jim Beam sponsored the Spiral. But the company shifted its marketing focus and dropped out after the 1998 race.

        In 1999, galleryfurniture.com, a Texas company selling furniture on the Internet, sponsored the race. Since then the Spiral has been run without a primary sponsor, meaning less advertising and a smaller purse for the race.

        Turfway also has seen its business drop 43 percent since 1996, when riverboat casinos opened in nearby Indiana. The track is pushing state lawmakers to allow video gambling at the track so it can better compete with the riverboats.
       “We were hoping, in some small way, our sponsorship might give (Turfway) a little positive news,” Mr. Farish said.
       

A quality sponsor

               Lane's End three-year sponsorship deal could help return some business and luster to the track.

        Sprawled over 3,000 acres outside of Lexington, Lane's End is 90 minutes south of Cincinnati.

        In 1978, Mr. Farish's father, William Stamps Farish III, the heir of an oil company fortune from Texas, bought the Woodford County farm. He built it into a successful breeding farm.

        The farm has bred more than 180 winners of major stakes races including 1999 Kentucky Derby victor Charismatic. It is home to former champions A.P. Indy; Lemon Drop Kid, and Thunder Gulch. Horse owners come from around the world to pay from $5,000 to $300,000 to breed their mares with one of Lane's End's 24 stallions.

        Lane's End does sponsor two other races each year, the Greenham Stakes in England and Lane's End Breeders Futurity at Keeneland in Lexington.

        The farm also has another connection to the Spiral Stakes. It's home to former Spiral winners Stephen Got Even (1999), Roar (1996) and Summer Squall (1990).
       

Race Day

               Each year the Spiral Stakes attracts about 20,000 people to Turfway. Fans jam the grandstands, munching burgers and hot dogs and downing beers between races. Meanwhile, under a banquet-hall sized white tent, the region's social, business, horse racing and political elite sip cocktails and enjoy an elegant catered lunch served on fine china.

        Completing a full day of racing will be the Lane's End Spiral Stakes. All horses in the 1-mile race are 3-year-olds. The winner earns a slot at the Kentucky Derby in Louisville on May 4.
       Mingling today with the locals in the VIP tent will be 150 or so guests of Lane's End — three busloads of farm staff, horse owners and breeders and others from the horse industry coming up from the Lexington area.

        Turfway is anxious to play host to its new sponsor and guests.

        “We could not have a better partners for the race,” said Turfway president Bob Elliston.
       

Lane's End's pedigree

               Such is the reputation of the farm that Queen Elizabeth II, a racing fan and horse owner, stays at Lane's End when she travels for horse races and sales.

        The Farish family fortune was once estimated by Forbes magazine at more than $400 million. And with money and ties to the Texas oil industry come political connections.

        Will Farish was an early supporter of former President Bush when he first got into politics in Texas in 1964. When Mr. Bush became president in 1988, an investment company owned by Mr. Farish — W.S. Farish & Co. — managed the Bush family's money. Bill Farish, then fresh out of the University of Virginia, served two years as the president's personal aide. President Bush was a guest at Lane's End.

        And Millie, the White House spaniel that became a sensation during the Bush presidency, was a gift from Will Farish and his wife, Sally.

        The relationship has continued during the current presidency of Mr. Bush's son.

        During the 2000 presidential campaign Will Farish held a fund-raiser for George W. Bush at Lane's End. An astounding $1.7 million was contributed, making it the largest political fund-raiser ever in Kentucky.
       Will Farish personally gave $142,875 to Republicans, including George W. Bush, during the 1999-2000 election cycle, according to opensecrets.org, which tracks campaign contributions.

        Will Farish was rewarded for his support last year when he was named ambassador to England by President Bush. Because of his commitments in England, Will Farish will not be at Saturday's race, according to his son.
       

Coming out party

               Bill Farish is friendly and accommodating while giving a tour of the farm, chatting easily as he maneuvers a plush SUV along the black fencing criss-crossing the fields or gently patting the temperamental thoroughbreds housed in pristine barns.

        Some in the horse industry see the Spiral as a sort of coming out party for Bill Farish, now running the farm in the absence of his ambassador father.

        “It's a good match,” said Tim Smith, president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, professional horse racing's league office.

        “There is a core group of breeders, and Lane's End is right there among them, that is in for the long haul,” Mr. Smith said. “They think about the future and what's in the best interest of the sport. Lane's End is extremely well known and their involvement is going to keep the Spiral on a highly visible platform.”

        The race will be broadcast today at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2.

        Horse owner Burr Travis said Lane's End could help attract better horses and bigger purses to Turfway. And that will help bring more fans, he said.

        “The average person probably doesn't know the difference between Lane's End and Gallery Furniture,” said Mr. Travis, a Boone County lawyer. “But people in the horse industry know what it means. It shows faith in Turfway from an industry standpoint and it gives the track a needed boost.”

        Bill Farish would not reveal the cost of sponsorship. But estimates at the time put GalleryFurniture.com's sponsorship at $300,000.

        The advantage of sponsorship is building's Lane's End's name and breeding business, Bill Farish said.

        “We wanted to find a race to sponsor where the winners could be potential stallions for us,” he said. “A lot of the horses that have run in the Spiral went on to have very prominent (racing) careers.”

        “Hopefully we can hang in there as long as Jim Beam did.”

       



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- Sponsor gives track hope