Course location: Mile 3
Owned by Dede McGehee, DVM
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
“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.