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.