Investigators are trying to determine what caused a fire that destroyed a barn and killed eight Thoroughbreds early Friday at a Fayette County farm owned by the executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and trainer of 2001 Derby winner Monarchos.
John T. Ward said he was leasing the farm to trainer Gerry Carwood, but he said he didn't know who owned the horses involved.
Carwood got two horses out of a nearby shed that also was burning. But smoke and heat kept him from reaching the eight animals trapped inside the burning main barn. Carwood spoke briefly later Friday morning and did not address the ownership of the horses.
"This is the worst; it doesn't get any worse than this," Carwood said.
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Battalion Chief Joe Best, a fire department spokesman, said later Friday that the cause of the fire remained unknown. The investigation was continuing, he said.
Hours after the fire, Carwood, who lives in a small house a few hundred yards from the burned barn, was struggling with the loss of so many horses.
"These horses, I spend seven days a week, 24 hours a day taking care of them," Carwood said. "They are like my family."
Lexington firefighters rushed to the burning barn about 1 a.m. Friday, but there was little they could do, Maj. Mark Harvey said.
"It was pretty much on the ground when we got there," Harvey said.
The structure was a former tobacco barn that had been converted to house horses, according to firefighters.
The property at 2929 Rice Road is listed as the John T. Ward Stables. It is behind Keeneland Race Course and across Rice Road from Keeneland Gate 3. Keeneland's training track is within sight of the farm.
Keeneland is across from Blue Grass Airport, where control tower workers spotted the fire and notified firefighters, Harvey said.
"It probably had been going for a while before they saw it," he said.
Carwood, who is from Ireland, said he woke about 1 a.m. to the sound of a dog "going nuts," looked outside and saw "red everywhere." He ran to the scene, he said.
"I could hear everybody (horses) kicking and screaming, but it was too hot," he said. "I couldn't get in. I tried to go in, but I couldn't get in there."
He led one horse out of the smaller shed, and the other ran out when he opened its stall door, he said.
But he could not reach the horses in the main barn where the roof eventually collapsed, he said.
One firefighter was slightly injured while battling the blaze, Harvey said.
The wreckage of the barn was still smoking, and firefighters remained at the scene until almost 10 a.m., looking for and dousing hot spots.
Fire investigators searched the wreckage well into mid-morning, using shovels and a pitchfork to sift through debris.
Firefighters said the main barn measured about 50 feet by 60 feet.
In addition to the barn and the damaged shed, vinyl siding was melted on the back side of an office building about 30 yards from the barn. Two trees also were damaged.