George Brunacini was a horseman whose destiny was in Kentucky, where bluegrass and toil rewarded him with winners like Flower Alley and Victory U.S.A.
Brunacini, 60, worked in the horse industry for more than 30 years and moved from Albuquerque, N.M., to Georgetown more than 10 years ago for Bona Terra, the farm he operated with his girlfriend, trainer Emilie Fojan.
He was on Comair Flight 5191 yesterday headed to New Mexico, where he planned some business and visits with his three adult children, "his proudest achievement," Fojan said.
He planned a short trip.
"He was a horse lover, through and through," Fojan said. "It wasn't a business to him. He did it out of love."
Brunacini was a hands-on horseman, who typically slept five hours a night, and adored every animal, regardless of its wins.
"If you walked up to the farm, you would have to ask to speak to the owner or manager, because he stood beside his workers, shoulder-to-shoulder," said Robin Riesenbeck, who worked with Brunacini. Even after he won Breeder of the Year for Flower Alley, the 2004 Travers Stakes winner, he never changed.
"He didn't even announce it," Riesenbeck said. "He was so humble, he wouldn't tell anybody."
Brunacini and Fojan found a common interest in horses, but love in each other. They met at a Keeneland auction and quickly became inseparable; he bred horses and she trained them.
"He would look at her, and there was this unbelievable love," Riesenbeck said. "You could think of it only in a storybook. They worked together to build this farm hand-in-hand."
Yesterday evening, as some of Brunacini's family flew to Lexington, Fojan was out tending to his farm. He would have wanted her to be strong for all the people whose lives he touched, Fojan said
"When people die, you try to find something nice to say," Fojan said," but everything about him was nice."