'Our Gates Are Open'

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When Horse Country was announced in 2015, one of its biggest champions was Headley Bell of Mill Ridge Farm. Bell, a fifth-generation horseman, and his son, Price, are on the board of directors, and Mill Ridge is one of farms that welcome visitors-and is one of the most enthusiastic participants to do so.

The organization, which promotes horse racing by letting fans go behind the scenes, is still in its infancy, but Bell points to it as a positive indicator for the industry as a whole and has also been personally inspired by those who have visited his family's land.

“That has been as energizing as any experience I have had,” said Bell. “It is so cool getting to share the farm with the Horse Country initiative and allowing people through the gates. We are dealing with the day-to-day issues, so we don't always see the beauty. It reminds you how very special you have it. It's been truly uplifting that we can do that. We get as much out of it as they do. We are blessed to have this land. It's a gift.”

Over the weekend, Mill Ridge produced another success story, when the undefeated TDN Rising Star Sunset Ridge (Algorithms) added a stakes win to her resume with a win in the Fleet Indian S. at Saratoga as the 1-20 choice, hinting that the Mill Ridge jackets embroidered with `34′ to represent their Grade I stakes winners since 2000 might soon be in need of an update.

The 900-acre Mill Ridge on Bowman Mill Road in Lexington, Kentucky, was founded in 1962 by Bell's mother, Alice Headley Chandler, and six years later she became the first woman to breed an Epsom Derby winner courtesy of Sir Ivor. Through the decades, the farm has continued to produce significant racehorses.

Since 2000, no fewer than 34 Grade I winners have been raised and/or sold by Mill Ridge Farm. Included in that number are nine Breeders' Cup World Championship winners, five Horse of the Year titleholders, and a Kentucky Derby winner.

“It's gratifying, it's humbling, and it's not about us,” said Bell. “It's about the fact that those 34 Grade I winners are for people we associate with, and they are being successful. That is truly what we are all trying to do, and the competition is fierce. We don't money-whip this thing. We just try to be efficient and successful.”

This year, horses tied to Mill Ridge range from the likes of multiple Grade 1 winner Oscar Performance (Kitten's Joy), who also won the 2016 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), to the up-and-coming Sunset Ridge.

“Our clients truly are friends, and that's the gift that we have had through these generations,” said Bell. “I was watching Warren Buffett with Bill Gates, and he was saying that if he is going to buy a company, it's going to be a company he wants to associate with because it has to be a relationship. The same applies here. We aren't necessarily for everybody, but we are for a lot of people-people who are passionate about the horse.”

Horse Country's slogan is `our gates are open,' and Bell now, for the first time in years, finds that applies to Mill Ridge in more ways than one. When Bell took over the day-to-day operations of Mill Ridge in 2008, he did so at a time of great transition within the industry. Now, as the farm continues to adapt to inevitable changes, it is looking to accept new boarders.

“I think the public isn't aware that we are taking boarders,” said Bell. “We, too, have had shrinkage here at the farm in our population, and we welcome the opportunity to take new clients. We aren't the only ones like this. It's reflective of the times, but we intend on being here for some time.

“When I think about people, clients, and friends we have lost, through death, it includes people like Jim Tafel, Ed Gann, Bobby Frankel and Ahmed bin Salman. It is a combination of transitioning from my mom's generation and transitioning during a depression. Also, there's been a shrinkage in the foal crop from 35,000 down to 22,000. It's a combination, and as such, we have room that we might not have had before.”

It's no secret that simply getting a horse to the races is a hard endeavor, much less raising a graded stakes winner. Bell points to the land and the people that make up Mill Ridge as sources of pride.

“I have a strong opinion that in order to be successful, you need to have all of your links connect, and a vital link is where that horse is raised,” said Bell. “It's the foundation. Where the horse is trained early on and where it is trained during its career, all those things are important, but if you want a successful program, it needs to start with that foundation. I think our record speaks for itself.”

Before taking over Mill Ridge, Bell founded Nicoma Bloodstock, which remains active in providing consulting services to both farm clients and outside clients. Through that operation, Bell has assisted with many matings that have resulted in top runners.

One of those is the aforementioned Oscar Performance, and the honor roll also includes two consecutive Kentucky Derby winners in Barbaro (Dynaformer) and Street Sense (Street Cry {Ire}) as well as 2011 American Horse of the Year Havre de Grace (Saint Liam) and 2011 Canadian Horse of the Year Never Retreat (Smart Strike).

Today, Price is also an active part of Nicoma.

“An important thing is Price is here,” said Bell. “You are talking about six generations, and that's significant. We are not 'dying on the vine,' and in fact it's just the opposite. It's really rare to have a sixth generation involved.

“I just think many people think we don't have room, that we aren't open, but actually, they can be a part of this family.”

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