Darley America, one of the area’s great farms, is currently owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, one of the leading thoroughbred owners in the world. However, Darley America wasn’t the original name of the farm. That was Jonabell Farm, and it has a long and rich history.
Well known breeder John A. Bell III and Jessica Bell founded Jonabell Farm in 1954. Over the years, many horses were born, raised or stood at stud on the farm, with some of them becoming very famous.
Since you will get to hear much more about the farm and its history during the tour, this blog entry will focus only three of the most well known horses associated with Jonabell Farm: Damascus, Affirmed and Holy Bull.
Damascus was born and raised on Jonabell Farm until he was purchased by Mrs. Thomas Bancroft. Damascus would go on to become the No. 16th ranked horse in Blood-Horse’s “Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century.”
Damascus raced 32 times in his career, winning 21 times and capturing $1,176,781 in prize money. Some of his top wins included the Preakness Stakes, Belmont Sakes, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Wood Memorial, Woodward Stakes and Travers Stakes, to name just a few. He was named Horse of the Year, Champion Handicap Horse and Champion 3-Year Old Colt in 1967. He was also be elected to the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame in 1974.
Damascus stood his entire stud career at Claiborne Farm, where he passed away on August 8, 1995. He is buried on that farm in Paris, Ky.
Affirmed is famous for his thrilling victories over Alydar in the 1978 Triple Crown races. Their side-by-side duel down the stretch in the Belmont Stakes is still considered one of the great races of all time.
In 1991, Affirmed, who is also the last Triple Crown winner, was moved from Calumet Farm to Jonabell Farm, where he stood at stud for the 1992 season. He would stay on the farm for the final 10 years of his life.
Affirmed, a winner of 22 of his 29 starts and $2,393,818 in prize money, won Eclipse awards multiple years. He was 1977 Champion 2-Year-Old Colt and 1978 Champion 3-Year-Old Male Horse, as well as Horse of the Year in 1978 and 1979. He was also a Champion Sire during his stud career.
Affirmed was ranked No. 12 in Blood-Horse’s “Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century” and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980. On Jan. 12, 2001, Affirmed was euthanized and buried on Jonabell farm.
Holy Bull, the 1994 Horse of the Year and Champion 3-Year-Old Male Horse, came to Jonabell Farm to stand at stud in 1995. Jimmy Croll, Holy Bull’s owner and trainer sold a 25 percent interest in the thoroughbred champion to Jonabell Farm earlier that year.
Holy Bull won 13 times in 16 career starts and took home $2,481,760 in prize money. His career ended during the running of the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in February 1995, when he injured a tendon in his leg.
Ranked No. 24 in the “Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century” and elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001, Holy Bull recovered from his injury and was sent to Jonabell Farm, where he stood one paddock over from Affirmed. Holy Bull still stands at the farm today.
In 2001, Bell sold the farm to Sheikh Mohammed. According to an article on ESPN.com, on Aug. 22, 2001, Bell sold the farm to the Sheikh because he did not want to burden his children with financial problems that the farm might cause them in the future. Bell passed away on Feb. 1, 2007 at 88.
Today, Sheikh Mohammed continues the winning traditions of Jonabell Farm under its new name, Darley America. The horses standing at stud on the farm today are a virtual Who’s Who of current great sires in the thoroughbred industry, including Any Given Saturday, Discreet Cat, Elusive Quality, Henny Hughes, Medaglia d’Oro, Quiet American, Street Boss, Street Sense, Berardini, E Dubai, hard Spun, Holy Bull, Offlee Wild, Rockport Harbor and Street Cry.
Sheikh Mohammed loves his horses. He also loves the history of thoroughbred racing, and understands the rich tradition of the farm he now owns in Lexington. It is a tradition he will continue to add to in the years to come.
Note: While all of the horses listed stand at stud at Darley America today, there is no guarantee which ones you might get to see on the tour. That will depend on which ones are available on the farm that day and are brought out by your tour guide.
For more information, go to the Darley America website.
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