WEG could be boon to horse-farm real estate market

Realtor Bill Justice talked about the state of the horse-farm market as he stood in the drive of one of his most lavish listings, Black Diamond Farm on Paris Pike. Justice will be going all out to try to sell this and other horse farms while visitors to the World Equestrian Games are in town.
Realtor Bill Justice talked about the state of the horse-farm market as he stood in the drive of one of his most lavish listings, Black Diamond Farm on Paris Pike. Justice will be going all out to try to sell this and other horse farms while visitors to the World Equestrian Games are in town.

For several years, Thoroughbred racehorse owner and breeder Gary Biszantz had been quietly willing to part with a couple hundred acres of his lush Cobra Farm at the corner of Iron Works and Newtown pikes.

Now, with thousands of horse lovers passing by on the way to the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games next month, he's taking advantage of the unique opportunity with a prominent "for sale" sign.

Asking price: $45,000 an acre.

That's almost 200 acres of storied glory (birthplace of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew and champion Dehere, historic hemp barn, three charming houses) for about $8.8 million, give or take a few thousand dollars.

That puts Cobra Farm at the crossroads of two horse-related trends: the bloated market for farms and the burgeoning Kentucky interest in horses that do something besides race.

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Realtor Arnold Kirkpatrick, who is listing the two Cobra parcels, said he's gearing more of his marketing these days toward sport-horse enthusiasts who he thinks will want to take advantage of improvements at the Kentucky Horse Park in the next few years.

"Trust me, proximity to the Horse Park is quite a desirable property these days," Kirkpatrick said.

That's evident from the dozens of properties, large and small, listed for sale touting that they are "minutes from the Kentucky Horse Park," with its brand-new indoor arena and growing roster of top-level hunter/jumper horse shows.

"A number of farms are on the market right now because people think the World Equestrian Games are going to be the biggest thing ever to happen to equestrian real estate in the history of mankind," Kirkpatrick said. "I think that's kind of silly. I do think the Games are already benefiting Kentucky and real estate."

And the farm market could use some help right now.

Bill Justice, the biggest dealer in Kentucky horse properties, said there are definitely more than a normal number of farms for sale.

"It's very, very slow," Justice said. "It's a tough market."

For going on five years now, Justice has been offering Black Diamond Farm, an over-the-top luxury estate (the pool house alone is 13,000 square feet). Now bank-owned, the farm with its 20-stall barn was originally listed at $14 million; now it's $6.5 million.

If that's too much pool house and not enough farm for your taste, he has plenty of other options.

So his agency is going all out: Justice will have a booth at the WEG trade fair as well as at the International Equestrian Festival at the Lexington Convention Center.

"We can't lose sight of having new people coming in," he said. "We were hoping we'd get the Europeans that hadn't been here before, the South Americans that hadn't been here before."

Real estate agents are hoping those "first-timers" will fall in love after getting a glimpse of the rolling green (and relatively affordable) pastures of the Bluegrass and the spiffy Horse Park.

"The improvements being made are going to benefit the Horse Park for years to come," said Sue Pinckney of Rector-Hayden Realtors. "These Games are going to stimulate that segment of the market."

Fellow agent Tom Biederman said he has seen an increase in interest from the sport-horse world over the past 10 years.

"It's the draw of the Horse Park and the hunter/jumper world that's made more of a difference," Biederman said. "It has nothing to do with WEG. ... It's a longer-term trend than WEG. This has been happening for some time."

That trend spurred the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, right across Iron Works from the Horse Park, to add a sport horse division about six years ago.

"There is no question but that the center of the equestrian universe has shifted dramatically toward Kentucky," said John Nicholson, executive director of the Horse Park. "We are an important part of the equestrian scene in North America and to some extent the world in an unprecedented way."

In recent weeks, the park has hosted a record number of horses — as many as 2,400 at one time — as several large shows overlapped.

"This is the new normal for us," Nicholson said. "That's what's exciting. This is changing the nature and character of Kentucky's horse industry. ... The horse industry has an increasing amount of diversity, which will help all the support infrastructure."

Prices in Central Kentucky compare favorably with land prices in another prominent horse city, Wellington, Fla., home of the Palm Beach Equestrian Center, the International Polo Club, and some of the biggest and swankiest equestrian events in the United States.

For instance, one 4-acre Wellington property with a 22-stall barn across from the show grounds is listed for $8,995,000.

Mason Phelps, president and CEO of the National Horse Show, said properties in Wellington list at close to $1 million an acre. "Now, getting that is another story. There's a lot for sale," Phelps said.

He said most of those "farms" are used only seasonally.

"A good many of those people in Wellington have barns in Lexington," Phelps said. They have a winter base in Florida, and a summer base here.

The variety of disciplines coming to WEG — driving, reining, vaulting and endurance riding plus the staples of jumping, eventing and dressage — opens the Lexington area to relatively untapped markets, said Hill Parker, a Turf Town Properties real estate agent.

"I think it's a great opportunity for us to showcase our farms; a different market that we don't necessarily see all the time," Parker said. "If there's one thing I think WEG has done for us, and could do, it's help us to grow the horse market."

That already has energized the sport-horse community in recent years, said Linda Willson with Bluegrass Sotheby's International Realty.

"We are seeing people coming in, putting in indoor arenas, high-end outdoor arenas," and other amenities to attract sport-horse buyers. "But they don't need a lot of acreage," she said. "Twenty to 50 acres seems to be the most popular range."

And it's a good time to be looking.

Partly because of the natural turnover in sport-horse interest as children grow up, and partly because of the shifting economic landscape, "we've had a real surge of that type of property," she said. "It's been growing for the last year. We've certainly seen an uptick in the last six months to a year. From what I can see, (the growth in listings) is not so much driven by WEG as by the economics."

The Thoroughbred breeding industry, which dominates Kentucky's horse economy, has been in a two-year financial slide that is forcing some farms to scale back.

That has led to the wealth of farms on the market, both openly and as "pocket," or unpublicized, listings, some of which might find new life with other breeds.

"We have deep inventory. It's going to take a lot more than WEG to absorb it," Willson said.

But, she said, the Horse Park's momentum will help.

"The Horse Park has driven sales in Lexington for years," she said. "In the last two weeks that Horse Park has been absolutely covered up with people out there showing. People from all over the world, and WEG doesn't have a thing to do with it. What WEG has done is plowed money into the Horse Park. It's going to have a ripple."

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