A lifetime of Thoroughbred breeding achievement has won horsewoman Alice Headley Chandler an Eclipse Award of Merit.
Chandler, owner of Mill Ridge Farm, said Wednesday that she was surprised. "I was shocked. I never thought about it, and I think it's a wonderful honor," said Chandler, who turns 83 Thursday.
Though she has been in the business for more than 46 years and has now passed the running of the farm to her son, Headley Bell, Chandler said it didn't really seem like a dynasty at the beginning.
"It was just a day-to-day thing," she said.
She founded Mill Ridge after the death of her father, prominent horseman and Keeneland co-founder Hal Price Headley, in 1962 with four broodmares. She bred one, Attica, to multiple stakes winner Sir Gaylord.
"I was short on money because I had just built a new barn," Chandler said in a news release. "I thought it would be a good match, but didn't expect how good."
The foal, named Sir Ivor, sold at Keeneland's July 1966 sale for $42,000 to Arthur "Bull" Hancock, who purchased him on behalf of Raymond Guest. Sir Ivor went on to win the 1968 Epsom Derby for Guest and later was named England's Horse of the Year.
Chandler said she still thinks of Sir Ivor as one of her most meaningful achievements "because he's done so much for getting the Europeans over here for Keeneland."
"Sir Ivor's influence provided a major turning point in opening up the American market to the European market," said Keeneland president Nick Nicholson. "It convinced foreign buyers that North American pedigrees could be adapted to European training methods and win Classic races."
In addition to Sir Ivor, Chandler's farm has bred, raised, raced or sold horses that have won some of the biggest races in the world, including the 2005 Kentucky Derby, won by Giacomo. Among the others: 2001 Horse of the Year Point Given, 1998 Kentucky Oaks winner Keeper Hill, Japanese Horse of the Year Symboli Kris S, and Breeders' Cup winners Artie Schiller, Sweet Catomine, Round Pond, Spain and Johar.
In 2005, Chandler watched as a Storm Cat colt that she raised and consigned sold for $9.7 million, a record at the time for the September yearling sale.
Chandler also has served with numerous equine organizations, including as a director of the Breeders' Cup, Keeneland Association, and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders' Association.
She will be honored by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers Association at a ceremony on Jan. 26 in Miami Beach, Fla.