Calumet Farm sold for over $36 million

jpatton1@herald-leader.comMay 3, 2012 

Historic Calumet Farm has sold for $36 million to $40 million to a new trust, the Calumet Investment Group, which will lease it to Thoroughbred horseman Brad Kelley, whose Optimizer is running in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.

Kennelot Stables, operated by the de Kwiatkowski Trust, signed the deal Thursday afternoon to sell the legendary Lexington farm, said Charles Middleton, Louisville attorney for the new trust and its trustee.

Bud Greely, spokesman for the de Kwiatkowski trust, said the price was about $50,000 an acre for the 800-acre, white-fenced property along Versailles Road, between New Circle Road and Keeneland. That would put the selling price closer to $40 million for the farm, barns, improvements, name and, possibly, silks.

Horses, including stallions Ice Box and Cactus Ridge, are not part of the deal.

The investors, who were not named or numbered, "plan to continue to keep it the way it is," Middleton said. "I actually think ownership of Calumet Farm is a jewel."

Kelley, 54, plans to continue operating it privately and "in Calumet's historic Thoroughbred tradition," Middleton said. "There is a transition period, through July 15, to come up with an operating plan."

He said there are no plans to develop any part of the farm. Kelley also owns Hurricane Hall in Lexington; he currently races under the name Bluegrass Hall with black and orange silks

Middleton said no decision has been made on whether Kelley will seek to revive Calumet's famous devil-red and blue silks, which would have to be approved by The Jockey Club, Middleton said.

Rumors of a sale began to swirl throughout the Bluegrass last month but no one would confirm any details.

Greely said Thursday he started working on a deal in late February but could not comment publicly until now.

"You just never know until the signature's on the contract and the money's in the bank," Greely said.

Greely said the confidential nature of the deal means he cannot say how many people might be involved in the ownership.

"I feel confident your new buyer is going to spend a lot of money on the farm. I think everybody's going to be very pleased," Greely said.

He said the de Kwiatkowski heirs decided to sell because they are dispersed across several continents. Although Calumet is doing well, even adding stallions in the past year, without the driving force of the late Henryk de Kwiatkowski behind things it was difficult for the family to continue the same level of interest.

Henryk de Kwiatkowski bought Calumet out of bankruptcy auction in 1992 for $17.175 million, pledging that it would be preserved forever from developers.

The farm — one of the most storied in Thoroughbred racing and breeding history with eight Kentucky Derby winners and two Triple Crown winners — had fallen into bankruptcy after mismanagement and the mysterious death of top stallion Alydar.

With Thursday's sale, another chapter in Calumet's history begins.

Kelley, who will take over operation if not outright ownership, is thought to be something of a benign enigma.

A native of Franklin, in Simpson County, he founded cut-price tobacco company Commonwealth Brands, which had popular brands such as Bull Durham, and then sold it for a reported $1 billion in 2001.

Although he lives near Nashville, he now owns 1.7 million acres of land in New Mexico, Florida and Texas, making him one of the 10 largest private landowners in the United States. His private fortune is valued at more than $1.7 billion. He raises endangered black rhinos and white rhinos and other rare animals.

He also owns almost 400 acres across from Calumet on Versailles Road and along Parkers Mill.

He seems to be reluctant to face public scrutiny of any kind.

Kelley once owned 11 percent of Churchill Downs, but when the racetrack company bought Fair Grounds, which already had slot machines, he got the board to buy back enough of his shares so he would not have to go through the required vetting process for a gaming license.

Now Kelley has a horse running in the most public horse race in America, and Middleton wouldn't even confirm whether Kelley is in Louisville.

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl.

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