The Calumet farm name is legendary in the history of Thoroughbred breeding and racing. Calumet, located next to Keeneland Racecourse, was established by William Monroe Wright in 1924, but started as a Standardbred racing operation. His family owned the Calumet Baking Powder Company of Chicago, which Warren's father, William Monroe Wright, eventually sold to General Foods in 1928, just before the Depression hit.
Stallion paddocks at Calumet
In 1931, Mr. Wright died and the farm passed on to his son, Warren Wright Sr., who transitioned over to Thoroughbreds with the goal of winning the Kentucky Derby. The year he died, the farm's Calumet Butler won the Hambletonian, the top race in trotting. (Calumet is the only farm to have sent out winners of both the Hambletonian and the Kentucky Derby.)
In 1936, Calument bought an interest in the stud career of English Derby winner Blenheim II and purchased eventual five-time leading Calumet foundation sire Bull Lea for $14,000 as a yearling. Three years later, Calumet hired horse trainer Ben A. Jones, who was soon also joined by his son Jimmy. In 1941, Whirlaway finally won the Kentucky Derby for Calumet - the first for the Lexington nursery – and went on to win the Triple Crown and kick started a phenomenal era in the history of the farm.
Over the ‘40’s and ‘50s Calumet dominated American racing and in 1947, became the first owner to exceed $1 million in purse earnings in a single year. And in 1948, Citation (sired by Calumet’s leading stallion Bull Lea) also won the Triple Crown. Between 1947-’49, 1952-’53 Bull Lea was America’s leading sire. And from 1941 through 1961, Calumet won two Triple Crowns and seven Kentucky Derbys and topped the Thoroughbred earnings list a phenomenal 12 times.
In 1950 Warren Wright Sr. died and his widow Lucille Wright inherited the farm. She ran Calumet for another 30 years. Although to that point, Lucille's main contribution to Calumet had been naming the horses, her husband left the farm in her hands rather than in those of their adopted son, Warren Jr. "He set her up as the lifetime tenant in charge of running it, or she had the right to sell it if she so desired," says Margaret Glass, who served as Calumet's office manager from 1940 through 1982. But upon Lucille's death, according to the will, if the farm had not been sold, Calumet would go to Warren Jr., his wife, Bertha, and their four children.
Calumet Farm office
Maggie Glass - as she was usually known - worked for Calumet for over 40 years. She came to Calumet the year before homebred Whirlaway won the 1941 Triple Crown and in the ‘90s helped spearhead saving the 500 Calumet trophies at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington and keeping them on display.
Under Lucille’s guidance, Calumet Farm won the Kentucky Derby four times beginning with Hill Gail (1952), Iron Liege (1957), Tim Tam (1958), and Forward Pass (1968). Among her other horses, in 1977 her filly Our Mims (named after her second husband's daughter, Melinda) won the Eclipse Award as the American Champion Three-Year-Old filly, in 1979 another filly, Davona Dale won the Triple Tiara of Thoroughbred Racing (and finished fourth in the 1979 Travers Stakes against colts), and in 1981 another filly, Before Dawn was voted the Eclipse Award as Champion Three Year Old filly.
In 1952, Lucille Wright married Admiral Gene Markey – a screenwriter, a retired Navy commodore, and Hollywood scriptwriter. He enjoyed a good social life and parties and had been married previously to three of the world's most beautiful actresses—Joan Bennett, Hedy Lamarr and Myrna Loy.
Lucille had a Jack Russell terrier named Timmy Tammy that went with her everywhere she travelled, and it is rumored that Calumet stallion Tim Tam was named after the dog. Hobbies included travel, needlepoint and collecting statues of eagles. (In 18th century Kentucky, eagles were widely believed to be a symbol of good luck.) Today visitors are greeted by an eagle sitting on top of each pillar at the main farm gates.
Back at the track, in 1968 Forward Pass, who finished second, became the only horse to date to win the Kentucky Derby via disqualification after Dancer’s Image’s positive drug test. This brought Calumet its eighth Derby win.
All in all, under the guidance of Warren Wright and later his widow, Lucille Wright Markey, in the famed devil red and blue Calumet colors, Calumet had a remarkable win strike rate of 50 percent! This culminated in 1978, with homebred Alydar finished second to Affirmed in every leg of the Triple Crown. He was a half-brother to Our Mims and came back to Calumet to stand as a stallion.
Lucille’s second husband died in 1980, after which Lucille established the Lucille P. Markey Charitable Trust. The Trust's aims were to benefit basic medical research and this Trust helped set up the Markey Cancer Center at the University of Kentucky.
Lucille Markey died two years later, on July 24, 1982 at the age of 85 in Miami, Florida. She is buried next to her second husband, Admiral Gene Markey, in Lexington Cemetery in Lexington, Kentucky.
As Warren Wright Jr., her only son and heir, predeceased her in 1978, his widow Bertha Cochran Wright and their four children (two sons and two daughters) inherited Calumet Farm. The operational management of Calumet passed to the husband of her granddaughter Cindy, J.T. Lundy. Lucille’s daughter-in-law Bertha, she felt could not handle the day-to-day administration of the farm, and none of Bertha's four children—Warren III, Thomas, Lucille (Cindy) and Courtenay—had shown much interest in the horse business.
Lucille, it is said, hated the idea of Lundy being in charge. In the late '70s, she almost sold the farm to Will Farish, a Texan and friend of a politician named George Bush. However, Markey eventually backed out. Farish, a keen polo player and horseman, went on to buy land in neighboring Woodford County and established what is now known as Lane’s End Farm.
In 1990 Alydar reigned as America’s leading sire when his son Criminal Type took Horse of the Year honors, winning an Eclipse Award for Calumet as leading breeder. But that November, Alydar was euthanized after breaking his leg in a suspicious stall accident. In 1991, Alydar’s son Strike the Gold, bred and sold by Calumet, won the Kentucky Derby but later that year, the farm declared bankruptcy due to debts and loans accrued during JT Lundy’s era.
A tremendous sale was held and the farm contents and the farm itself was auctioned off. In 1992, Henryk de Kwiatkowski bought Calumet for $17 million. After his death, in 2003, the farm was for sale again. In 2012, Calumet Farm sold for $35.9 million to the Calumet Investment Group, owned by Brad Kelley.
Present day Calumet with Eddie Kane, Calumet Farm Manager
In 2012, Kelley won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint with Hightail. Hightail now stands as a stallion in Arkansas. In 2013, Kelley-owned Oxbow became the first Kentucky Derby runner to start under Calumet’s name in more than two decades, finishing sixth. Two weeks later, the colt won the Preakness Stakes, and was second in the Belmont. Oxbow now stands as a stallion at Calumet.
Kelley also owns farms Hurricane Hall, Bluegrass Hall, Fares Farm and Manchester Farm – the latter two are on the RunTheBluegrass half marathon route. Kelley is one of the ten largest landowners in the U.S., owning more than 1.2 million acres. He is also an active wildlife conservationist. Calumet and the other Kentucky farms owned by Kelley cover some 4000 acres and in March, as the foals are being born and as runners are passing the famous white farm fences, the farm can be home to some 450 mares, 300 foals, 300 yearlings and approximately 12 stallions!
In 2017 Calumet was represented in the Derby by homebreds Patch (who only has one eye), Hence and Sonneteer. Todd Pletcher-trained Patch’s best finish was third in that same year’s Belmont Stakes. In 2017, Calumet Farm as an owner was ranked third by earnings and tenth by wins.
In 2018 Calumet homebred Bravazo ran in the Derby and was second in the Preakness behind Justify. He also ran in the 2018 Breeder’s Cup at Churchill Downs and finished third in the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile. Calumet also campaigned Oxy Lady to a win in the G3 Tempted Stakes and Vexatious in the G3 Dowager Stakes.
Other notable horses from Calumet owned farms – were that Lane’s End stallions A.P. Indy and Curlin had their early starts at Fares. Curlin was born at Fares Farm and A.P. Indy did his early training there. A new stallion to stand at Calumet Farm for 2019 is sprinter Ransom The Moon, by Malibu Moon.