Calumet to be sold? Just a rumor, official says

A barn on the Calumet Horse Farm on Versailles Rd. in Lexington, Ky., Thursday, April 19, 2012. Charles Bertram | Staff
A barn on the Calumet Horse Farm on Versailles Rd. in Lexington, Ky., Thursday, April 19, 2012. Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

The rumor raced from whispers to wildfire: Calumet to be sold.

Such is the mystique of one of the most storied and infamous farms in Thoroughbred racing history that nothing more than "I hear" and "unnamed sources" could spark the kind of stir not seen in decades, perhaps since the late Henryk de Kwiatkowski rode in like a white knight and bought the bankrupt farm at auction for $17 million from under the noses of potential developers in 1992.

The only problem: It hasn't happened.

"Calumet has not been sold," said Bud Greely, adviser to the three Calumet trustees who represent de Kwiatkowski's heirs. "I really cannot comment any further."

Farm manager Bill Witman said the same thing.

Which is not to say that it won't be true eventually.

"The farm has not been for sale, has not been listed," said Greely, who owns Wintergreen Farm in Midway. "But I'm a businessman. If somebody sits down and writes out a check ... and it's big enough, I'll sell my farm, I'll sell Calumet, I'll sell anything."

As to the rumor, reported by racing-industry Web site The Paulick Report, that Kentucky businessman Brad M. Kelley might have made an offer, Greely said: "I wouldn't know Mr. Kelley if he walked through this door. ... But he can come here and make me an offer."

Which is not a blanket denial, but it certainly throws a wet blanket on the speculation.

Kelley is known to be extremely private — so private that some trainers who saddle horses for him have never met or even spoken to him.

One of his main real estate brokers, attorney Greg Betterton of Venice, Fla., could not be reached Thursday, although his phone was probably ringing off the hook.

Charlie Hill, a Western Kentucky real estate broker whom Kelley uses to buy land around Bowling Green, said he had not heard word one about Calumet until his phone went nuts this morning.

Hill said he'd texted Kelley's people, asking what to tell people. Their response, in essence, was: Say you don't know anything, because you don't.

One does not get the impression that Kelley's people are eager to talk: A call to Hurricane Hall, a horse farm Kelley owns in Lexington, produced nothing. Likewise calls to numbers in Boca Grande, Fla., and Franklin, Ky., where Kelley used to own part of Kentucky Downs. Bob Hess Jr., a California trainer, described Kelley as "first class" but said that Kelley's man on his end declined to comment.

It would not be out of the realm of possibility for Kelley to buy the white-fenced 800-acre farm that produced a record eight Kentucky Derby winners, including Triple Crown winners Whirlaway and Citation.

Kelley, who made his fortune with the Commonwealth Brands tobacco company in Bowling Green, owns huge swaths of land in New Mexico, Florida and Texas, some of which he uses to raise rare endangered animals. Forbes estimates that he has at least 1.7 million acres, making him one of the 10 largest private landowners in the country, with a fortune of $1.7 billion.

Late last year, Kelley bought 168 acres along Parkers Mill Road for a combined $3.17 million. He already owned a 224-acre parcel directly across from Calumet, which he bought for $6.9 million in 2005.

The reclusive Kelley, who was briefly on the board of Churchill Downs with 11 percent of the company, has a potential Derby horse, Optimizer, in training with D. Wayne Lukas in Kelley's Bluegrass Hall stable. So maybe reporters will get a chance to ask him whether he plans to revive the famous devil red and blue silks.

But will Kelley confirm his interest in Calumet? The Bluegrass waits with bated breath.

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