Heaven Trees Farm

Course location: Mile 3

Owned by Dede McGehee, DVM

Horses watch runners from RunTheBluegrass pass by Heaven Trees Farm. Photo credit: Dede McGehee.

Horses watch runners from RunTheBluegrass pass by Heaven Trees Farm. Photo credit: Dede McGehee.

by Vanessa Seitz

Urban legend has it that the beautiful, almost doll’s house-style home that teases you with its beauty as you trace the railway along the lowest section of Bosworth Lane was built by a woman works for Mary Kay. In that exact same shade of pastel pink, the owner of Heaven Trees Farm was so successful with her Mary Kay beauty product sales that she had already been gifted the car and travel perks. So the only way the company could thank her was to build her a home. The house that Mary Kay built. Alas, it is but a legend but does make for a damn fine story!

The farm is actually owned by Dede McGehee DVM, who grew up in Jacksonville, FL, and went on to Auburn University in Alabama before graduating veterinary school at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida in 1984. It was after an internship in Kentucky she decided to move to the Bluegrass State. Originally living just around the corner from Heaven Trees, on Rosalie Lane, McGehee used to walk by the farm regularly. “One day I promised myself that I would buy that piece of land and build my farm,” said McGehee one fall afternoon, as we chatted in the kitchen at her home, pausing in the midst of canning vegetables for the winter. McGehee is quite the gardener.

After buying the land, which at one time was part of Keene Ridge Farm, the home was finally finished in 2000. It took McGehee five years to finish building the farm – and all her barns are also finished in that same pink to match her home. The house is a copy of a home McGehee fell in love within New Hampshire

Dede McGehee’s home at Heaven Trees Farm.

Dede McGehee’s home at Heaven Trees Farm.

“Heaven Trees was actually the name of a plantation in Mississippi in the “So Red The Rose” Civil War book series by Stark Young,” said McGehee. Young wrote four books in the series – this one, Heaven Trees, The Torches Flare and River House – a series about the Bedford’s and McGehee's, two wealthy Mississippi families at the time of the Civil War. (Incidentally McGehee enjoys reading and her favorite book is Run with the Horsemen by Ferrol Sams.)

Famous horses raised at Heaven Trees include Hall of Fame winner and Horse of the Year Rachel Alexander, who’s dam Lotta Kim is still at the farm. (Rachel Alexander now lives at Stonestreet Farm on Elkchester Pike, just before the S-curve.) A colt out of Lotta Kim, Dolphus, raced well for McGehee. Dolphus was named for Rachel Alexander’s late breeder and previous owner of Lotta Kim, Dolphus Morrison. Dolphus won or placed 6 out of 12 starts, including a second behind Shaman Ghost in the G3 Pimlico Special. His last start was in July 2017 and he was just retired to Cabin Creek Farm in Pennsylvania to stand as a stallion for the 2019 season.

Two other tough race fillies born and raised at Heaven Trees are Panty Raid and Saint Johns River. Panty Raid won the Grade II $200,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes in May, 2007. She was nominated for an Eclipse Award for the American Champion Three-Year-Old Filly in 2007 but lost to Octave and Rags To Riches. However, she was one tough mare….as a 3-year-old filly, she beat older fillies and mares in both the Grade I American Oaks on the turf at Hollywood Park and the Grade I Juddmonte Spinster Stakes at Keeneland on the polytrack. She won on all surfaces, from dirt to turf, and at distances from six to 10 furlongs, and won over $1 million in earnings. 

Another filly, St John’s River, by Airdrie Stud stallion Include, is a full sister to G1  winner Panty Raid and was raced by McGehee. St. John’s River won 2 out of 10 starts and earned $613,170. Wins include the Delaware Oaks in 2011 and she was second behind Plum Pretty in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.

St. Johns River went off at odds of 30-1 in the Oaks and was ridden by the female jockey Rosie Napravnik, who is now retired from racing but is a keen event rider. St. John’s River is now back at Heaven Trees as a broodmare.

Other horses of note include Grade I winner Imperial Gesture, co-bred by McGehee, who earned over $1.4 million.

When McGehee is not enjoying her horses, she can most often be found in the garden. The ferns on her front porch are 20 years old and she planted her garden before her house was finished. John Carloftis, a gardener now based in Lexington, Kentucky, had heard about McGehee’s impressive garden at her home. He was scouting gardens to use in the March 2011 issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine and approached McGehee.  

“He first came out in July 2007, in flip flops!”, laughed McGehee. “He took so many photos and then came back and they picked my garden for the magazine!”

“John wanted to shoot in June or July. He sent the garden editor, the food editor, a photographer and an assistant. They shipped BOXES of stuff to the house for the shoot!”, recalls McGehee. “They were here for three days! They made jam here in my kitchen – I cooked with the food editor! They even brought all their own plates, everything!”

“But the issue didn’t come out until a few years after the shoot in 2011,” said McGehee. “Martha Stewart was at the Oaks the day the filly ran [Saint Johns River]. She knew everything about my garden and my filly. She is in charge.” Stewart even confessed to putting a wager on McGehee’s filly.

McGehee’s garden is quite something to behold. An English-style bed garden behind the main house is home to herbs, vegetables, flowers and beautifully manicured shrubs. As practical as it is beautiful, McGehee takes great pride in her gardening and enjoys the bounty from her garden in the kitchen during growing season.

Rose Hill Farm.

Location: Mile 1. On Rice Road and Bosworth Lane, behind Keeneland.

Owner: Tony O’Campo, along with his wife, Lisa, and three children, Wyatt, Victoria and Hillary.

One of the first farms you run past on the right, after exiting Back Gate Drive from Keeneland onto Rice Road, is Tony O’ Campo’s Rose Hill Farm. Spanning 375 rolling acres, with seven barns and 100 stalls for the mares, weanlings, yearlings and foals on the farm, Tony has turned this beautiful farm into an impressive and well-located nursery.

Entrance to Rose Hill Farm from Bosworth Lane

Entrance to Rose Hill Farm from Bosworth Lane

Tony graduated from Louisiana Tech University in 1988 with a BS degree in Animal Science (with minors in Equine Management and Spanish). After graduating Tony moved to Lexington and worked for Prestonwood Farm from 1988-1990 (Prestonwood is now the same land where our honorary farm for 2019, WinStar is now located).

He then managed Gleneagles Farm in Versailles, KY from 1990-1999, and in 1999 bought the business from Ken Baker and renamed it Rose Hill Farm. In 2003, Tony relocated the farm to the current location, which borders Rice Road, Bosworth Lane and Elkchester. You will therefore also pass Rose Hill Farm again on the right around mile ?? on Elkchester as you run back in to Keeneland on the home stretch of the RunTheBluegrass half marathon.

Tony has had an impressive roster of success in the 15 years at his current location. In November 2017, owners Vincent and Marie Colbert sold a beautiful bay weanling filly by Street Sense out of their multiple stakes-producing mare Quickest for $1 million at the Fasig-Tipton November sale. Quickest is the dam of Callback, a Grade 1 winner, and Defy Gravity, all bred by owner Colbert. Tony boards the Colbert’s mares and foals at Rose Hill Farm. The $1 million filly is a full-sister to brother Callback, who sold for $2.8 million in the 2015 Fasig-Tipton November Sale.

 Tony boards horses for several owners and raises his own horses; breeding the mares to stallions at the central Kentucky farms, foaling the babies and then prepping the babies once weaned from their mothers at 6 months of age (and thereafter known as weanlings until January 1, when they are then known as yearlings.) These weanlings and yearlings are then sold at the Kentucky horse sales at Keeneland and Fasig Tipton, in New York at Saratoga, and even at sales in England and France. Tony pays incredible attention to detail with the horses he raises, with the yearlings exercised both on the horse walker and walked or jogged in-hand to bring the horses to their best physical condition in time for the sales. He also takes great care with their feed routine, grooming and daily care, evident with the success he has had both at the sales and at the track with Rose Hill Farm-raised horses.

Recent winners bred and raised at Rose Hill Farm include, in 2018, Mojo Man (2015 colt Stay Thirsty-Cooking Mama), bred by Tony O’Campo, has been running well at Arlington Park. Devious Charm (2016 filly, Into Mischief – Limbo) is now a maiden special weight winner at Kentucky Downs. Full of Grace (2016 filly, Strong Mandate – La Glamorosa) won a maiden special weight at Canterbury Park in September as a two-year old. Filly Shanghai Tariff (Shanghai Bobby -Star White),was second twice this year in four starts. Bodefecta (Bodemeister – Brave Michelle), had two seconds and a third from four starts in 2018 and sold as a yearling for $100,000. And finally, Encumbered, winner of the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf in 2017, by Violence – Dying To Dance, was bred by Tony O’Campo and partner, Frank Stroope.

Mares currently at the farm include multiple stakes winner Capella Dancer; Limbo, dam of the above mentioned Devious Charm; and Quickest, who is currently in foal to Pioneerof The Nile (sire of American Pharoah!) and who had a filly by Darley stallion Frosted in 2018.

Capella Dancer and 2017 filly by Mr. Speaker at Rose Hill Farm.  Photo credit: Tony O’Campo at Rose Hill Farm.

Capella Dancer and 2017 filly by Mr. Speaker at Rose Hill Farm.

Photo credit: Tony O’Campo at Rose Hill Farm.

Tony’s teenage daughter Hillary may continue in her father’s footsteps in the horse business. She currently enjoys competing in hunter jumper classes, many at the Kentucky Horse Park, on her show jumper named Casino.


Mile 2: Keene Ridge Farm

An interview with Farm Manager, Charlie McKinlay. By Vanessa Seitz.

Breathing in the sweet smell of fresh cut grass on a warm July day as I pulled in to the rolling hills of Keene Ridge Farm, I was greeted at the gates with stunning views and the chickens owned by Gerardo – the farm’s assistant manager. (Not to be confused with “the Chicken House” at Mile 3.3!)

Other non-equine residents that runners might glimpse in these parts are the foxes. Near the bottom of Bosworth Lane, before crossing the Elkhorn Creek, foxes can often be seen playing in the field on the left. Keene Ridge farm manager, Charlie McKinlay, explained: “They live in the field along the creek. They don’t bother the horses and the horses don’t bother them. They co-exist.”

Charlie, along with wife Michelle, have lived at the farm for the past 15 years, now along with children Ginny (16), and twin son, Aden, and daughter, Belle (9). But Charlie had some alternative career guidance. “I went to Henry Clay School in Lexington and used to skip class to go to the track,” Charlie laughs. He then went to Louisville to study Equine Management. “I walked hots for Phil Oswald at Churchill, then was assistant trainer to Mike Bell,” Charlie added. “But after working at the track for a bit, I realized the track wasn’t really for me”.

Charlie now manages the Keene Ridge Farm for Kentucky-native, owner Ann Bakhaus. “Ann had always wanted a farm. Her father started Kentucky Eagle Inc., the Lexington-based Anheuser-Busch distributorship”, Charlie added. In time, Ann took the reins of Kentucky Eagle, who distribute domestic and craft beers, wine, spirits and alcohol-free energy drinks, from her father. But in November 1994 she also realized her childhood dream of owning a horse farm and bought the old Australian-owned Kingston Park Farm. She renamed it Keene Ridge because from the tallest ridge on the farm you can see Keeneland racetrack.

At 170 acres, Keene Ridge has elevations perfect for hill repeats and RTB training runs. “The elevations and hills help the foals’ development,” said Charlie. “Makes them strong.” The front main field on race day is usually home to “Doc” the chestnut teaser, arguably the most important horse on the farm. His job during breeding season is to evaluate whether a mare is receptive or not to being bred – not a job for the faint hearted.

In March the farm is home to about 80-100 horses, mostly owned by Bakhaus. With a business plan of breeding to sell mainly at Keeneland and Fasig Tipton, Charlie estimates he foals out about 50 foals per year.

As well as racehorses, Keene Ridge is home to a handful of riding horses. “Ann rode hunter jumpers as a child but never had a horse of her own and wanted to ride again,” Charlie said. “There’s a beautiful 8-stall barn and arena on the corner of Rosalie and Bosworth. She rides for fun – but it’s quite a barn. She got her barn and arena, I lost a field,” laughed Charlie ruefully.

“I hunt and fish,” added Charlie. “I actually hunt at a farm on Redd Road,” (This is around mile 5 – just before the lowest elevation on the RTB course). “I hunt mainly duck and geese.”

Back at Keene Ridge in the day, Charlie reminisced about other game: “Buffalo used to run through here years ago – they made a trail here on the farm. It looks like a flat railroad bed but its where the buffalo ran and trampled a path.”

“Ann does race. We have about six horses at the track now with Buff Bradley, Bret Calhoun and Graham Motion,” added Charlie. Ann sometimes keeps fillies to race and then bring back to the farm to breed. “We currently have a 2yo year old filly at the track called Scary Animal who is training well. She was bred and raised here.”

“The most famous horse raised here so far would have to be Eclipse-Award winner English Channel”, Charlie commented. “He was born and raised here. We sold him as a yearling in 2003 for $50,000. He was small, by Smart Strike, before he really hit it big. Boy, was he mean as a baby. He was evil. I was the only one who could handle him,” recalls Charlie, shaking his head. “I was so happy to sell him. His reserve was $34,900, but he earned $5.6 million at the track!”. Bred by Ann Bakhaus he won 10 stakes races, including the 2007 Breeders Cup Turf at Monmouth Park, NJ.

Belva, the dam of English Channel, is still on the farm but retired and living out her days at Keene Ridge. And English Channel? Oh – he made it to the elite group of colts who achieve stallion status in Kentucky and stands for $25,000 at Calumet Farm, at RTB mile 12. Interestingly, he is now resident in the same stall that once was home to Alydar, most famous for finishing a close second behind Affirmed in all three races of the 1978 triple crown.