Helen Alexander’s Middlebrook Farm – Mile 7.
Helen Alexander’s Middlebrook Farm can be found at the bottom of the valley before the ascent to the Headly Whitney Museum and opposite Cathy Wieschoff’s Carriage Station. As clearly defined by the white fencing as it is for raising racehorses, the farm has some Texas roots and a family dynasty in the Thoroughbred industry.
The farm’s heritage can be traced back to Capt. Richard King’s King Ranch, in Texas. King started the farm in 1853, with 15,000 acres that he bought for $300! By the time King died in 1885, King Ranch had grown to 614,000 acres!
The King Ranch brand has become well known for cattle, horses and the Ford F-150s that bear the farm’s name. King Ranch raised the first recognized breed of cattle in America – known as the Santa Gertrudis.
Photo credits: Middlebrook Farm.
Then in 1915, Bob Kleberg, King’s grandson, bought a colt called Old Sorrel. He became a champion Quarter Horse sire and put King Ranch on the map as a Quarter Horse breeder. King Ranch also stood a stallion called Wimpy that was the first registered stallion in the American Quarter Horse Stud Book.
Later, King’s widow, Henrietta, and son-in-law, Robert Kleberg, began raising Thoroughbreds at the farm and bought the 1936 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, Bold Venture. At stud, he sired the 1946 King Ranch-raised and owned seventh Triple Crown winner Assault and 1950 Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner, Middleground.
Assault did not have an easy start to his racing career. He stepped on a surveyor’s spike as a foal which split his right front hoof and there was a chance he would need to be euthanized. The injury as a foal caused a foot infection. The vets had to cut away the foot to save him and he needed special shoes the rest of his life, to protect his foot. When he walked or jogged he moved with a noticeable limp, but galloping – he moved as if he had nothing wrong. Runners come in all shapes and sizes – even Usain Bolt’s form leaving the starting blocks has been judged! Assault proved those that judged him - wrong!
In a story that seems right out of a horse novel and maybe an inspiration to us runners, pushing through health issues and injuries, Assault seemed determined to succeed. He suffered from kidney problems, splints, ankle issues, bad knees, and he sometimes bled in his airway when he ran. Yet he went on to tally 18 wins from 42 starts and earned over $670,000, making him a leading money winner of his time.
Kleberg’s daughter Helen Groves continued the Thoroughbred tradition through four of her children, including Helen Alexander. Together and independently, the sisters have raised or been associated with a lineage of successful racehorses. Helen bred and raise 2014 Breeder’s Cup Classic winner – Bayern, managed King Ranch after her grandfather died in 1974 and now owns and runs Middlebrook Farm, that you run past on Old Frankfort Pike.
Helen’s sister, Emory Hamilton, bred Ashford stallion Verrazano. And another sister, Dorothy Alexander Matz, has bred several horses and is married to US Olympic rider Michael Matz, who also trained legendary racehorse and Derby winner, Barbaro.
Other horses raised at Middlebrook include Arch (who now stands stallion duties at Claiborne Farm), and Unbridled Delight. More recently, Middlebrook Farm was connected with Free Drop Billy and Lone Sailor who both ran in the 2018 Kentucky Derby. Lone Sailor’s birthday is actually March 30, 2015, so he will be celebrating his 4th birthday on race day!
Photo credits: Vanessa Seitz