Local Obituaries

Arnold Kirkpatrick, Lexington broker and colorful personality, dies at age 70

Realtor Arnold Kirkpatrick showed the foaling barn of  Cobra Farm in Lexington, Ky., on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010.    Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
Realtor Arnold Kirkpatrick showed the foaling barn of Cobra Farm in Lexington, Ky., on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff

Lexington horse-farm broker Arnold Kirkpatrick died Tuesday night at Bourbon Community Hospital in Paris. He was 70.

Mr. Kirkpatrick, whose Kirkpatrick & Co. marketed horse farms throughout the Bluegrass, had been a real estate broker and appraiser since 1984.

Mr. Kirkpatrick was well-known for telling some of the funniest stories around; what set him apart was that his were true.

"I think he had a unique and tremendous grasp of the horse industry as well as the real estate industry and knew how to communicate," said Bill Justice of Justice Real Estate, who helped Mr. Kirkpatrick get his start selling and appraising horse farms in the mid-1980s.

Before that, Mr. Kirkpatrick already had had several colorful careers and sat in front-row seats for some of the biggest changes in the horse industry.

A native of Lexington, he went to Tulane University in New Orleans, where he said he played football and drums in a jazz band and dated burlesque performer Blaze Starr. He said she needlessly threw him over for Louisiana Gov. Earl Long.

"She could have had us both," Mr. Kirkpatrick once said.

After graduating college, Mr. Kirkpatrick returned to Lexington, where he edited The Thoroughbred Record, which was founded by his father, Haden Kirkpatrick.

In 1976, Arnold Kirkpatrick went to Washington, D.C., to head the racing advisory committee of the American Horse Council, which at the time was involved in negotiating the horse industry's involvement in simulcasting, now the major component of racing's income.

Nick Nicholson, president of Keeneland, said that's where he first met Mr. Kirkpatrick, who was known for his ability to achieve consensus on tricky subjects.

"I loved the guy," Nicholson said. "He took enjoyment of life to a whole new level. It was impossible to be around Arnold and not laugh."

After returning to Kentucky, Mr. Kirkpatrick became executive vice president of storied Spendthrift Farm for Leslie and Brownell Combs II. At the time, the farm stood Triple Crown winners Seattle Slew and Affirmed and was on the point of becoming the first farm to go public and sell shares on Wall Street.

Then came the "Bluegrass Conspiracy" drug and gambling scandal involving Lexington nightclub owner James P. Lambert. In 1983, as part of the investigation into Lambert, Mr. Kirkpatrick's home on Spendthrift Farm was searched. Mr. Kirkpatrick was not a target of the grand jury investigation but federal agents allegedly found 23.8 grams of cocaine. Mr. Kirkpatrick resigned from Spendthrift, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge, paid a $2,500 fine and was placed on 18 months' probation. At the time, many in the horse industry expressed dismay that Mr. Kirkpatrick had been swept up in the scandal.

"That was certainly not a bright moment for the industry or Central Kentucky, but even through the whole debacle he handled himself with style and grace," Nicholson said.

Afterward, Mr. Kirkpatrick made a comeback, writing several acclaimed books on investing in horses. When the first book was published in 1984, Mr. Kirkpatrick called the scandal a blessing in disguise.

"But it was a helluva disguise," Mr. Kirkpatrick said at the time.

"Obviously, it changed my life," he said. "I had had a job since the time I was 6 years old till the time I was 43. Next thing I knew, I had to resign from my job. It was like going back and starting over at square one. It put a crimp in my career, but at least there's a 20-year record there to fall back on, and people in the business know I'm pathologically honest."

Walt Robertson, vice president of Keeneland and formerly president of Fasig-Tipton, echoed that sentiment Wednesday. "He was a consummate professional and really above board in every situation. He told the truth no matter the consequences," Robertson said.

Mr. Kirkpatrick was already an award-winning writer. He won the Thoroughbred industry's top writing honor, the Eclipse Award, for outstanding magazine writing for a 1983 piece about Clem Brooks, a 76-year-old groom at Spendthrift.

From 1981 to 1984, in addition to everything else, Mr. Kirkpatrick had been president of the Kentucky Jockey Club, which ran Latonia Race Course in Northern Kentucky.

Breeder and developer Preston Madden on Wednesday called Mr. Kirkpatrick "one of my great friends of all time." He and Anita Madden named both a racehorse and a German shepherd dog after Mr. Kirkpatrick. "The horse won at the major racetracks and ran second in a stakes race carrying my colors," Preston Madden said.

Mr. Kirkpatrick once tweaked Keeneland's clubhouse dress code as stodgy, noting the "hemline theory" that links skirt length to the rising of the stock market.

"I hope the Dow Jones Industrial Average keeps on climbing to the point where a girl wearing nothing but a hat is considered overdressed," Mr. Kirkpatrick wrote in an article for Backstretch magazine.

He was known for "Arnold's aphorisms" of pithy sayings, such as "Don't check your brains at the door" and "If it's not fun, if it's not necessary and if it doesn't make you any money, don't do it."

Mr. Kirkpatrick served on many boards, including those of the Hope Center, the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation, Virginia Place, the Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America, the Kentucky Equine Humane Center, and the Thoroughbred Club of America. He was a past president of the Thoroughbred Club of America, Central Kentucky Riding for the Handicapped and Friends of the Equine.

Mr. Kirkpatrick is survived by his wife, Julia Hurt Kirkpatrick; daughters Joyce Kirkpatrick Magruder and Sara Kirkpatrick Harper; son Haden Keith Kirkpatrick; and four granddaughters.

Plans for a memorial service were pending with Kerr Brothers Funeral Home in Lexington.

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