'How Lucky are We?' Mill Ridge and the Breeders' Cup

Aloha West at Mill Ridge late last month | Sarah Andrew

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Celebrating 40 Years of the Breeders' Cup with Living Legends

It wasn't so long ago that the magnificent sire Gone West held court at Mill Ridge Farm near Lexington. From 22 crops, all while at Mill Ridge, he netted a mouth-watering 9% black-type winners from starters, including Breeders' Cup winners Da Hoss (twice), Johar, and Speightstown, all back in the days when the Breeders' Cup was still a single day and there were far fewer races.

The son of Mr. Prospector passed away in 2009, but his influence on the Breeders' Cup was not done and neither was Mill Ridge's. Among Gone West's sire sons are Speightstown, who has sired two Breeders' Cup winners, and Elusive Quality, who has sired three. His grandsons include Quality Road, sire of four Breeders' Cup winners. And among the major runners out of his daughters is another Breeders' Cup winner in Awesome Feather.

The Mill Ridge team hasn't stopped there. Eight Breeders' Cup winners have been bred, raised, and/or sold by the Central Kentucky farm. Additionally, Mill Ridge's involvement in Horse Country has created an extra ripple effect of the Breeders' Cup's impact on farms big and small, as well as on the fans who visit those farms. And now, the two young sires who are standing at Mill Ridge are both Breeders' Cup winners.

Oscar Performance on a Horse Country tour along with Mill Ridge's tour guide Ryn Harris and managing partner Headley Bell. Earl the Corgi is quite popular on the tours and on social media. | Sarah Andrew

Oscar Performance won the GI Juvenile Turf in 2016, while Aloha West won the GI Sprint in 2021.

“That's like starting two full teams for the University of Kentucky basketball team,” said Price Bell, Jr., general manager of Mill Ridge, with a laugh about the eight Breeders' Cup winners combined with the two additional championship day winners in the stud barn. “That's the beauty of the Breeders' Cup. How lucky are we to have been able to associate with this many horses on Breeders' Cup days?

“We'll often have visitors say, 'Well, don't you have an unfair advantage because you get to watch them in the field and then watch them win?' We know how special it is to get to do this.”

From the start, Oscar Performance had the Bell family's fingerprints all over him. Fittingly, he was raised on the farm and has now returned to the place of his birth to stand. He is also the sire of Sunday's GIII Zuma Beach S. winner Endlessly from his second crop of 2-year-olds. Endlessly is an unbeaten dual graded winner–for the same connections as his sire–who will try to emulate his sire in the Nov. 3 GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.

“We raised Oscar Performance for the Amermans and helped with the mating. Now for a horse for the same connections to go on and keep that dream alive is very special.

“We feel so lucky and blessed to associate with so many incredible people and breeders and clients and horses,” said Bell. “The Breeders' Cup is what we're all striving for and dreaming about as soon as you do a mating. We feel so blessed to have gotten there and want to keep going.”

Sarah Andrew

Mill Ridge is a popular spot on the Horse Country tours and Oscar Performance has become a showman.

“To connect him with guests is so special,” said Bell. “People have just fallen in love with him. We've really enjoyed sharing him with people and seeing the way he's become a fan favorite. It has been very meaningful as we share that he was the best 2-year-old on the turf in his generation, the best 3-year-old on the turf, and that he set the world record at a mile. One of those three things often sticks with people. To be able to share him with fans is really special.”

As a racehorse, Oscar Performance had a devastating kick.

“What I found so brilliant in his Breeders' Cup is that he had broken from the 13 hole, yet was able to clear the field,” said Bell. “To break from the 13th post to get clear and over at Santa Anita is a big thing. I remember very vividly where I was when he broke his maiden [at Saratoga in August of 2016]. And then his Breeders' Cup, we sat and watched it at the office with my dad because my wife and I had a 15-month-old. It was our son's first Grade I and one we certainly remember as a family. It would be so memorable if Endlessly could do it, too. We're so blessed to have those relationships.”

Aloha West, whose first foals will be born in 2024, took a different route to Mill Ridge.

“He was raised by our friends at Nursery Place by John Mayer,” said Bell. “I think for his Breeders' Cup, what was so telling, is that was the ninth race he had had that year. He'd showed some ability at two, had some shins, hurt himself at three. They were really patient with him. [He debuted at four], broke his maiden in February culminating with a Breeders' Cup win. He danced every dance, had nine starts that year, no real break. He was sort of the clever horse on the backside; people had a lot of chatter about him going into the Breeders' Cup. And then he showed that will to win.”

Halter tag keychains, including one of Breeders' Cup winner Life Is Sweet, in Mill Ridge's Horse Country gift shop | Sarah Andrew

In addition to their two Breeders' Cup-winning stallions, one of whom they had also raised, Mill Ridge has been intimately involved with 2000 Distaff winner Spain, 2003 Turf dead-heater Johar (one of Gone West's winners), 2004 Juvenile Fillies winner Sweet Catomine, 2005 Mile winner Artie Schiller, 2006 Distaff winner Round Pond, 2009 Ladies' Classic winner Life Is Sweet, and 2013 Juvenile Fillies winner Ria Antonia. For those keeping score, that was four consecutive winners from 2003-06 and six in that decade alone.

Winning the Breeders' Cup doesn't get old though. On the contrary, it leaves one hungry for more.

“Once you've been there, you want to experience it again,” said Bell. “You want to do it again and again and again and again.”

Bell has distinct memories of every winner. Some stood out early.

“I often put Sweet Catomine as the one that everyone on the farm thought was very special. For her to culminate as champion and the way she had done it was wonderful. Sometimes you do see something when they're young and it's very gratifying.”

Some stand out because of the relationships with the breeders.

“Artie Schiller was awesome because Leroidesanimaux (Brz) was the overwhelming favorite and he beat him handily, squarely, no excuses. He ran by him like he was standing still. It was a great culmination of the relationship we had with the Moussacs [breeders of Artie Schiller]. A great celebration.”

But one of the Breeders' Cup wins that is most memorable to Bell is for an out-of-the-ordinary reason and ties in to the farm's involvement with Horse Country.

“I remember Spain was a classic [D. Wayne] Lukas move. Lukas put them to sleep. She got a phenomenal ride [from Victor Espinoza]. It was Lukas taking a shot and then he wins at 56-1.

“But what I really remember when I think of her now is on one of our tours there was a gentleman who was about my age. He loved Spain. He was in the hospital at the time she won, in a children's cancer ward, and he'd told all the nurses to bet her.

“Here's a horse that we both had great memories of for very different reasons. It was our first Breeders' Cup winner while he's a kid fighting cancer. It meant a lot to both of us, was an inspiration for both of us. Horses touch people in different ways and sometimes we don't even know it.”

A Horse Country tour sign at Mill Ridge | Sarah Andrew

Perhaps that is why Bell and Mill Ridge are so bullish on the non-profit Horse Country, which Bell was instrumental in co-founding and which also has Breeders' Cup roots. It's his way of giving back to the industry and connecting the wider public to our sport.

“We launched Horse Country tours the same year [2015] as the first Breeders' Cup at Keeneland. It coincided with American Pharoah and that was kind of what got us going. We had set a timeline of the Breeders' Cup date and it gave us a starting gate. We were committed. It has taken a lot of iterations between then and now, but we're big believers in it. We love doing it and sharing what we do.

“The tours have welcomed 200,000 people since then, 25,000 of those at Mill Ridge. We're the number two thing to do on Trip Advisor in Lexington. It feels like it's our part in trying to connect people to racing.

“We're all inspired by the horses and tours are people's best opportunity to meet a horse. Farms create a great opportunity for that. It's meaningful for people to share that, just like the gentleman who had a relationship with Spain from his hospital bed.”

One guest at a time, Mill Ridge and Horse Country are changing the wider public's perception of racing. If meeting a Breeders' Cup-winning stallion brings one more person over to the beauty of our sport, it's a win. If it shows another person how well we take care of our horses and how much they mean to us, it's a win. And if it gets one more person to watch the Breeders' Cup, feeling they have a connection because they've feed a carrot to the sire of one of the runners or have walked over the same land where one was raised, it's a win.

“The better we can show guests what we do, the better we all are,” said Bell. “It feels like the right thing to do. We get so much from the guests and the experience. It's a great reminder of how lucky we are.

“Mill Ridge is just one small piece in it, but we've jumped all the way in. It's very doable. And it's beautiful. At the end of the day, we get so much out of committing to it.

“I feel like we get more out of it than we give.”

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