Archives for August 2022


The fall of 2022 should provide the most accurate reading ever about the effects of expanded sports betting in the United States on pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing.  That is because sports betting is now available in so many states and has reached a critical mass…and the season for America’s favorite sport to watch and bet on, football, is about to begin.

Currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia have legalized sports betting and have operations up and running.  Twenty-two states permit internet or mobile betting.

In addition, Florida, Nebraska, and Ohio have passed legislation legalizing sports betting but are not yet operational.  Ohio, for example, should be up and running by late 2022 or early 2023 in time for the NFL playoffs.

In seven states, either bills have been pre-filed in the legislature or there is a scheduled voter referendum to legalize sports betting.  They are Alaska, California, Georgia, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Oklahoma.  Conspicuously absent is Kentucky, the center of Thoroughbred breeding, home to the most famous race, the Kentucky Derby, and occasional site of the Breeders’ Cup year-end championships.

Conceivably, in the near future 80 percent of U. S. states will have legal sports betting available.  Wagering on upcoming regular season NFL games and post-season contests in the 30 states plus the District of Columbia where it is operational now will present a stern test for horse-race betting.  By the time the Super Bowl is played in February 2023, and likely well before, we will know a lot more than we do now about the extent to which sports betting cannibalizes, fosters, or has little or no effect on pari-mutuel wagering.

Copyright © 2022 Horse Racing Business


When one thinks of the epicenter of Thoroughbred horse breeding in the United States, the Bluegrass region around Lexington, Kentucky, naturally comes to mind.  It is a storied place of farms owned by sheiks, business magnets, and old-line Kentucky families that have miles of plank and stone fencing and distinctive barns.

But Epicenter, the favorite to win the 2022 Travers Stakes, was foaled and raised 160 miles away on a nondescript 1,000-acre southern Kentucky family farm named Westwind Farms, located on Three Springs Road just outside the college town of Bowling Green. 300 acres are devoted to raising horses and 700 acres are leased for farming.

The Thoroughbred operation at Westwind Farms was started about 1965 by the late Jewell R. Bettersworth Sr., who bred and raised Hall of Fame My Juliet.  Federal Hill, who finished fifth in the star-studded 1957 Kentucky Derby, stood at Westwind Farms in its early days.

Before Bettersworth began his Thoroughbred operation, he raised and exhibited American Saddlebreds. He owned a Cadillac dealership in downtown Bowling Green and drove an Eldorado to horse shows, where he rode his 5-gaited gelding Fleetwood to many wins on the Kentucky County Fair Circuit.  (His son “Jay” Bettersworth tragically lost his life in 1979 after an accident involving a Thoroughbred yearling.) 

Westwind Farms today is run by Jewell Bettersworth’s grandsons—Brent, Kevin, and Mike Harris—and Mike’s sons Justin and Taylor.  According to various articles about the Westwind operation, the farm has 17 or 18 foals annually, all from their mares bred to Lexington-based stallions. The Harrises don’t spend over $40,000 or $50,000 on a stud fee.  Epicenter was the result of a $15,000 breeding of Silent Candy (by Candy Ride) to Not This Time.  He brought $260,000 at the Keeneland sale as a yearling.

The Harrises don’t pamper their horses: they are left outdoors in the winter with run-in sheds, brought in only to feed and handle.  No hot-house plants for this working farm manned by five people.

When Epicenter runs in the Travers, the surroundings at historic Saratoga Race Course will be about as different as they could be from the secluded farm near Bowling Green where he was born and grew up.

Copyright © 2022 Horse Racing Business


The picturesque 680-acre Hermitage Farm is located in Goshen, Kentucky, about 17 miles Northeast of Louisville, Kentucky, on U. S. 42, the main road between Louisville and Cincinnati in the days before I-71.  Recently, I took a trip down memory lane by visiting, my first time there in many years, back in the era when Warner L. Jones Jr. owned it. 

The main house was built in 1835 on property originally acquired by Revolutionary War general Hugh Mercer in a 3,000-acre Virginia Land Grant.  In 1935, with a loan from his mother, 19-year-old Warner Jones Jr. (1916-1994) bought part of the property and proceeded to turn it into one of the prominent Thoroughbred breeding establishments of the twentieth century.

Hermitage Farm raised horses that won top-flight races.  It is most famous for producing Dark Star, who defeated Native Dancer in the 1953 Kentucky Derby, the only loss in his Hall of Fame career.  Hermitage Farm was the first to breed winners of the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks (Nancy Jr., 1967), and a Breeders’ Cup race (Is It True, 1988 Juvenile).  The farm’s consignments brought in the most revenue at the Keeneland July yearling sales three times.

A further sampling: Hermitage Farm stood Raja Baba, the leading sire in the United States in 1980.  In 1985, Warner Jones, William Farish, and William Kilroy sold a half-brother to 1974 Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew for a world-record $13.1 million at Keeneland’s July Select Yearling Sale.  Queen Elizabeth visited the farm in 1986.

Warner Jones’ great grandmother was from the Churchill family, on whose land Churchill Downs was built.  His great-uncle was M. Lewis Clark Jr., the first president of the racetrack in 1875 and nephew of John and Henry Churchill.  Clark leased 80 acres from them to build the racetrack.  Warner Jones was elected to the Churchill Downs board at age 25, served 51 years, and retired as board chairman.

In 1995, the Jones family sold Hermitage Farm to Carl Pollard, then-chairman of Churchill Downs.  The present owners, Laura Lee Brown (of the Brown-Forman dynasty and 21 C Museum Hotels) and her husband Steve Wilson, purchased the farm from Pollard in 2010.  They still raise Thoroughbreds but no longer have a roster of stallions.

Today, the Stud Barn houses Steve Wilson’s carriage driving horses and vintage carriages such as the one Clark Gable drove in Gone With the Wind.  The Stud Barn also includes a room devoted entirely to Warner Jones and the successes he had.

The upscale Barn 8 Restaurant is housed in a stable with some of its stalls intact, where patrons can dine. The nameplate on one stall is for My Charmer, the dam of Seattle Slew.

The brochure for Hermitage Farm reads: “A historic Kentucky farm preserved for posterity.”  As development encroaches, the conservation easement that Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson have (commendably) secured the farm in will allow future generations to enjoy its tranquil ambiance and take in its rich history.

Hermitage Farm is open to the public and offers a variety of activities, from tours to art walks to bourbon tastings.

Copyright © 2022 Horse Racing Business