VIDEOGRAPHER: I'll let you know when my uh, my battery's getting low and
then we'll stop and change real quick.
ELLIS: Hopefully we don't talk that long.
VIDEOGRAPHER: You never know.
ELLIS: Unless it's an old battery (laughs).
VIDEOGRAPHER: Yeah. No (laughs).
SMITH: We'll stop when you're ready to stop.
VIDEOGRAPHER: Okay. Okay.
VIDEOGRAPHER: Oh I'm rolling, yeah.
SMITH: Okay, this is Kim Lady Smith and today I'm interviewing Ercel
Ellis for the University of Kentucky Horse Industry in Kentucky Oral
History Project. It's February 20, 2008 and we are at the Keeneland
Library. We're also doing this interview as part of the Racing Through
Time project of the Keeneland Association. Uh, just to start off, if
you would you tell me your full name and when and where you were born?
ELLIS: Uh, Ercel Frances Ellis, Jr., and I was born in Fayette County
00:01:00right here in Kentucky.
SMITH: Okay. And who were your parents (coughs)?
ELLIS: My dad was, of course Sr., Ercel Ellis Sr., and my mother was
Ruth Menifee Redd. And she was also a native of a Fayette County and
my father was born in Franklin County.
ELLIS: Uh, huh.
SMITH: Now, uh.
ELLIS: Peaks Mill.
SMITH: I know that area.
ELLIS: Do you really?
SMITH: Oh yeah, I'm from Frankfort.
ELLIS: He used to tease my grandmother he came, said he came out of
there on a grapevine. (laughs) I guess it was kind of a, I've never,
I've been there once I think many years ago.
SMITH: You have to want to go there.
ELLIS: Yes you do, it's not, not a whole lot there, is there?
SMITH: Now was um, what did his father do?
ELLIS: His father? Oh, he was a jailer, as a matter of fact--
SMITH: --really? --
ELLIS: --in Fayette County, yes he was, yeah. Leslie was his name,
Ellis. And uh, my mother's father uh, was a, also worked for the
government here. He was a County Assayer and he was a Civil War
ELLIS: --as a matter of fact. Yeah, Confederate veteran. And he died
the year I was born, as a matter of fact, he was 92 years old and
passed away in 1931. He used to lead all the parades around Lexington.
His was name was Richard Redd, everybody called him Colonel. And
he put on his uniform, his Confederate uniform and ride his horse,
Major. Would lead, lead the parades and uh, he was a lay preacher,
incidentally, also. And preached at the Belmont Chapel which is out on
the uh, uh, Georgetown Pike right across from where Spur Road empties
into Georgetown, right there, which that was the Belmont Farm. August
Belmont owned that, at the time, and that's, that's where my mother
and father met. Because my dad was working for August Belmont at the
00:03:00time. And in fact, he was there when, he was there when Man o' War was
foaled. And always claimed that he'd put the first halter on him when
he was a, when he was a foal. Wasn't there when he foaled he said, but
he was there the next day and put a halter on him and lead him out, so.
SMITH: Oh my.
ELLIS: Yeah, so that's my claim to fame, I guess. (laughs) One
generation removed. (laughs)
SMITH: Was your dad working there?
ELLIS: Yeah, he worked there, huh uh.
ELLIS: Yeah, he was a in the horse business all his life and--
SMITH: How did he get involvement in the horse business?
ELLIS: Gee, that's a good question. I guess he was just looking for a
job and wanted to work on a horse farm.
SMITH: It doesn't sound like either his dad or on the other sides.
ELLIS: No, uh huh, they were not involved at all, just my father. And
then he went to work for Charles T. Fisher in 1929. Mr. Fisher was a,
of course, a Fisher Body from Detroit. And he had purchased Dixiana in
00:04:001929 from Mr. Brady, who had unexpectedly died. And uh, uh, dad was
one of the first people who went to work for them there in 1929, he was
there until he died in 1964.
SMITH: So where had he worked before that?
ELLIS: I, you know, I really don't know. What farms and so forth, I
don't know where it was, in that interval in there between, although
he, he served, I know he was a, served in World War II, excuse me,
World War I, because a shortly after uh, Man o' War was foaled he was
drafted and went to the service. He was in there, in the Cavalry as
a Mounted Cavalry which they switched over to Mounted Field Artillery.
And he was sent to France. And then when he came back, I, I'm not
sure if he went to work at a horse farm there, you know, I just a, I'd
00:05:00a, there's a little gap in there as far as that goes.
SMITH: Well if he was in the Cavalry, then he must have had some
experience with horses.
ELLIS: Well he'd worked for Belmont--
ELLIS: --you know, and of course everybody rode at that time. He, yeah,
SMITH: Now when did he and your mother marry?
ELLIS: Gees, uh, it was up in the 1920's, early 1920's.
SMITH: Okay, after?
ELLIS: Yeah, I had a sister, Peggy, who was five years older than me.
So, she was born in 1926 and um, she worked uh, for over 50 years for
the Blood Horse Magazine.
ELLIS: Yes, she was in charge of foreign research. And did all the uh,
worked on the stallion registers and things like that, she was, yeah,
she's passed away now but she about two years ago.
SMITH: So she was interested in horses as well?
ELLIS: Oh yeah.
SMITH: Okay, so your dad started working at Dixiana when Mr. Fisher
first bought it?
ELLIS: 1929, right.
SMITH: And what, what was his job exactly?
ELLIS: Well, he came in as assistant manager and bookkeeper. And the
manager at that time was a gentleman named Ross Long. And uh, uh, dad
made, made manager, I think, Mr. Long died in about 1936, I believe
it was and uh, they brought in Mr. Howard Drymon from Missouri to, and
he was there for a year as manager and then Mr. Drymon left and Mr.
Fisher appointed my dad manager, that would have been in about 1937.
And he was there from, he was manager from 37 up until he passed away
SMITH: So what did that entail, what was the work, how do you describe
ELLIS: His work? Well, he ran the farm and was instrumental in planning
a lot of the matings of the horses there and so forth. And, and uh,
00:07:00I was born there in 1931. And on, we lived right close by, at that
time, we weren't living on the farm at that time but my dad was there.
That was the year Sweep All had, was a Dixiana horse that ran second
to Twenty Grand in the Kentucky Derby. And I've got a neat picture of
him at home, by the way, Sweep All. And I kind of grew up with Sweep
All and his prodigy. And the same year that I was born there were two
very exceptional fillies foaled there, a filly named Far Star who was
by North Star III and a filly named Mata Hari. Who Mata Hari was uh,
by Peter Hastings who was a, just happened. Mata Hari was out of a
mare named War Woman who was by Man o' War and they couldn't load Man
o', that year to, couldn't load her to, she was supposed to be bred to
a stud over at um, Col. E. R. Bradley's, and they couldn't get her on
00:08:00the van to take her over there, so they just bred her to Peter Hastings
who was an unraced son of, he was by Peter Pan out of Nettie Hastings
by Hastings. And, and so, the resulting foal was Mata Hari from that
cover and she was intentionally inbred, of course to Hastings which was
a double dose of fire. And she was a, a brilliant filly. She was the
champion two year old filly in 1933. And but, boy, she was a handful,
I mean she used to whip most of the uh, assistant starters wherever
she ran and, but she beat colts and she was a brilliant filly, ran
fourth in the Derby the next year. Very good forth to, lead right up
deep into the stretch and just got tired because she had a early dual
with a horse named Sergeant Burns who ran up the track but she finished
fourth. And that was Cavalcades Derby. And Far Star, uh, was also a
00:09:00brilliant filly, she had won the Arlington Futurity beating colts and
beating Mata Hari that day, as far as that goes. Yeah and Mata had
thrown one of her wing dings and sulked a little bit and she ran up
the track and Mr. Fisher and my dad where up there and they were all
watching Mata Hari and didn't know they had won the race with Far Star,
they run an entry, you know (laughs) and she was a beautiful mare,
she was by, as I said by North Star III. Those two mares were kind of
the, the foundation mares for the success at Dixiana through the 40's
and the 50's because they were both wonderful producers. And their
daughters were producers and so those, I kind of grew up with the Mata
Hari's and the Far Star's and Sweep All. Mata Hari, incidentally, was
the, the one of her foals was a horse named Spy Song, who was a very
00:10:00good sire. Son of Balladier, (cough) excuse me. And I, I kind of grew
up with Spy Songs also which was.
SMITH: Who was the trainer at that time?
ELLIS: Well the, the trainer in the, Sweep All was Preston Burch. And
then the trainer of Mata Hari and uh, Far Star was Clyde Van Dusen.
Who was a, of course, had trained the 1929 Kentucky Derby winner,
named Clyde Van Dusen and incidentally, that he was a gelding, he was
a, Clyde Van Dusen was and the trainer eventually went to California
to train and took the horse Clyde Van Dusen with him and used him as a
lead pony out there, so.
ELLIS: Yeah, so riding around on a Derby winner. But a.
SMITH: Um, you say you grew up with these horses, what are your first
memories of being around these horses?
ELLIS: Well, the, the first, I can remember the first, course, race I
00:11:00ever saw was right here at Keeneland. And my dad brought me out here,
that had to be in about 1938, I guess. Around that time but I could
look it up in the chart books but, brought me out here to watch a horse
named Erin Torch run. Erin Torch was the son of Torchilla. That was
a nice kind of a race horse and I remember they had, Dixiana had a box
right on the finish line. And we went to the box and I watched him,
it was a mile and sixteenth race and he wired the field lead all the
way and boy, I thought, you know. What a wonderful thing, you know.
And I came back, he brought me back the next week just, and the same
horse did the same thing, he won two in a row. And I, that's the first
memories that I have of seeing a, a horse race, you know that really
rang my bell. And that one did, it was a good story about old Erin
00:12:00Torch too, he was a gelding and he slipped down the ladder and was
claimed. And he was twelve years old running in Detroit. Running for
a $1,000 claiming up there in Detroit and he'd won 44 races at that
time and Mr. Fisher claimed him. And sent him back to the farm and my
dad used to ride him, you know up there in the, my dad made his rounds
on horseback and that was one of the horses that he rode, you know, was
old Erin Torch, so, he, I kind of grew up with him to (laughs). Yeah,
that was a great place to grow up (coughs) on Dixiana because, well you
know, it's out in the country and the horses and my dog, my dad raised
a fox hounds, fighting chickens and race horses, you know, it don't
get any better than that and (laughs). And it uh, riding, I used to
00:13:00ride with him all summer when he would make his rounds, you know. At
that time, Dixiana was oh, almost 1200 acres. In 1947 they sold off
part of it but they ran Hereford cattle and it was, it was a lot of
fun to move the cattle from one end of the farm to the other, you know,
on horseback, do those kinds of things, it was a great place to grown
up. Mrs. Haggin hadn't, Mount Brilliant Farm right across the road
from Dixiana, it's out the Russell Cave Road there and she had a lovely
swimming pool. And (laughs) a friend of mine, that I grew up with, his
dad worked there on the farm also and we used to go over there and swim.
And we'd go over there oh, four or five times a week and if missed
much, Ms. ,Mrs. Haggin would call and says are the boys alright, they
haven't been over here, you know, she was a wonderful and she'd come
out and watch us swim. And it was a great place to grow up. The only
thing about it, they used, at that time they used cave water out of
00:14:00Russell Cave for that pool and boy it, it was cold, I tell you it was
icy cold that water was. Later on they switched over to city water and
it was a lot better then but, but it was a wonderful place to grow up,
growing up with horses, and dogs, and people and, it was great.
SMITH: So, what else did you do for fun on the farm as a child?
ELLIS: Well, rode of course, and swam and gee whiz, you know. Of course,
I had to a, I had to clean my uh, share of stalls and growing up there,
you know. Matter of fact, we. I could remember the first horse I had
to take care of, she was a retired broodmare named Miss Jemima, who had
been, she was foal in 1917, same crop as Man o' War. And she was the
dam of Far Star, incidentally and she'd been a champion two year old
filly of her year. Little bitty black mare, I can remember very well
and they, they retired her from breeding and they had her turned out
00:15:00and it was my job to take care of her, you know.
SMITH: How old where you then?
ELLIS: Oh golly, I guess twelve, thirteen, something like that, you
know. Then I worked on the farm during the summers. Worked uh, when I
was old enough, you know to where I wouldn't get in the way. I used to
work with the uh, broodmares and I've cleaned Mata Hari's stall many of
time. And she was very, although she was very cantankerous, she was,
she was not mean. You know, you just, you just couldn't cross her,
you know, I mean you couldn't rub her the, Dr. Charlie Haggard was the
vet at that time. Dr. Charlie, she hated the sight of Dr. Charlie
(laughs) she'd, she would see him coming and that a, he used to white,
wore a white coveralls, you know, and she just didn't want to have any
part. He couldn't get in the stall with her.
ELLIS: No, that was funny. But, he was a great gentleman also. One of
00:16:00those people that you grew up with and when he stopped uh, being the
vet, his a nephew, Ed Fallon, became the vet, you know.
SMITH: I've interviewed Ed.
ELLIS: Yeah, Ed's is a nice guy.
SMITH: Yeah, lots of stories there too.
SMITH: Did you, what do you enjoy about being around horses?
ELLIS: I just love horses. You know, I never thought I would ever do
anything else but be around horses and still around horses, you know.
I'm seventy six years old now and I'm still cleaning stalls, so I
haven't, haven't come along way in life, have I? (laughs) But I enjoy
it and we've done just about everything that uh, you know. There is to
do with horses, you know, foaled 'em, bred them, and trained them and
had a lot of fun with it.
SMITH: Going back to your childhood, now what about your education?
Where did you go to school?
ELLIS: Well, I went to the Sayre for the first four years. And then
00:17:00I was transferred to Russell Cave, and at that time, after you went
to Jr. High School at Bryan Station. And then you had to transfer
to go to senior high school to Lafayette because this was in the 40's
and there was a, this two, you know. Henry Clay was a city school and
Lafayette was the county school, so I had a long bus ride, you know,
I had to change buses twice. And went to school at Lafayette and
graduated from Lafayette High School. I went to U.K. for a couple
years and then went in the service. And I was in the Navy. I was
a radioman in the Navy. On the ship and spent 18 months in Korea.
And when I got out from the Navy, I went back on the race track with
Dixiana and stayed working for Jack Hodgins, who was the trainer at
00:18:00that time, at Dixiana. And I was on the racetrack a couple of times
and got couple of years and then got married. Figured out right away
I can't support a wife and, and play around on the racetrack so I went
to work for the Blood Horse, Magazine, in their advertising department.
That was in, what about 1950, 57, 58, something like that.
SMITH: Now when you said earlier that you always wanted to work with
horses, what, what did you want to do with horses? What did you expect
when you were young? Going to college?
ELLIS: I really wanted to train and but it was very hard to do with, you
know, young and we had a family right away and so I got into the Blood
Horse, you know, and writing, writing in advertising department there.
Which has paid off for me right well because, you know, I'm, I'm still
00:19:00writing, that's something else I'm still doing in the horse business,
I'm still writing, not ads, ads, you know, for publication anymore but
I write commercials.
ELLIS: Yeah, so and I meet a gentleman there, while I was at the Blood
Horse, named Art Baumohl who had a radio show. Where it gave the
race results, this was back in 1950's. And about 1959, '58, '59 right
in there, he asked me if I would fill in for him on the radio, at
that time, was on WLAP 630. So I started filling in doing the radio
program. A 15 minute program every night called Post Time. And down
through the years, I stayed with it and then Art kind of backed out
and he said "I took over and he would fill in for me" and then he quit
altogether and that was, I'm still doing that program.
SMITH: Since the the late 50's, you started?
ELLIS: Yeah, uh huh. Yeah, I still do that. Went from the, uh, from
the Blood Horse and Art and I opened up an advertising agency. And a,
right here in Lexington, specializing in horse advertising.
SMITH: What was the name of the?
ELLIS: Colin Advertising. C-O-L-I-N, named after the horse. Colin.
And we were in business together for about 8 years and did very well,
did very well, but you know there, partnerships are like marriages.
Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't, so that one went a
little sour and, and I left and went to work for the Daily Racing Form.
Which was, this was in 1968, that I went to work for the Daily Racing
Form. At that time, there were just two of us in the office, Mickey
McGuire, Hugh J. McGuire, wonderful gentleman. Loved Mickey and he
00:21:00was an old race tracker and he could really tell you some stories and
he was really, I got to know a lot of people through, through Mickey,
you know, like Johnny Ward's dad and people like that would come in
and I could sit there and listen to those guys talk all day, you know.
And Mickey was a recovering alcoholic and boy he could tell you some
stories, I tell you but (laughs). He used to call, he used to, was a
chart maker for a long time before he became head of the bureau. Daily
Racing Form here in Kentucky. And it was just the two of us and I was
specializing in the advertising because that was my background at that
time. I still owned horses and operated the farm all during this time,
by the way. I mean, this was something and was still doing the radio
show. I was stupid, a, you know, workaholic, you know (laughs) but a,
that was, I stayed there for 15 years. Mickey retired after about three
00:22:00years, I think and I took over as head of the bureau, Kentucky Bureau.
SMITH: How did your job change at that point?
ELLIS: Well, I was still, was specializing in advertising and Mickey
had done most of the writing although I was writing a, a national
column, at the time. But just one a week and I really didn't want to
write a column too much so I hired Logan Bailey who was working with
the old Thoroughbred Record, at that time. And put him in charge of
the editorial section and I kept on with the advertising and wrote one
column. And so, the really job didn't pay, didn't a change that much.
Our offices, by the way, were right over here at the, in the Keeneland
ELLIS: Yeah, that was a Mr. Louie Lee Haggin, was head of Keeneland
at that time. And as you go in the clubhouse and you turn left, right
00:23:00about where the, left end of the clubhouse, right about where the gift
shop is now.
ELLIS: Well, they used to, have open up into that hallway that you go
toward the racetrack and the old stalls is what they were so, they
rented us three stalls, that was The Daily Racing Form, ran at the
time, was stall rent, is what they charged, at.
ELLIS: Yeah, it was a great place to work. Met a lot of nice people,
J.B. Faulkner and Mr. Hagen and then Ted Bassett came aboard and I
was there 15 years, with the racing form.
SMITH: You know a lot of the people then at Keeneland?
ELLIS: Yes, I did, yeah. Nice people. Still nice people and it is one
of those things that, it was a wonderful job because the people in New
York that I was working for, just left me alone and we built, built
it up pretty, where we were doing a lot of advertising. And I had to
00:24:00hire someone that would come in and help me and we had secretaries, so
there was four of us in the office. And I kind of got burned out and
my first wife had passed away. She passed away in 1981, she was just
47 at the time.
SMITH: What was her name?
ELLIS: And yeah, uh huh and we had three children. And, I don't know,
I met my second wife and we got married. And I told Jackie, I says
you know, says when I'm, when I'm retired from Racing Form and she
knew I was kind of unhappy there because I was getting a little bored
with it and she says, I said I want to train. And we had, I had four
broodmares at the time and I was selling the foals out of them, you
know. And she says, well, says why don't you just retire now. I said,
00:25:00we have to have money to retire. She said, no we don't you, you just
have to have nerve. So (laughs) I said all right so I retired. And
Jackie and I started training our own horses and we would train and
then race the ones that we couldn't sale. Which usually were the slow
ones. Either because of my training or because they were born that way
(laughs) I'm not sure which but anyway we had a lot of fun and we.
SMITH: Where is the farm?
ELLIS: We have a farm that, when we first started doing this we were
connected with Jimmy Drymon and it was over on Bethel Road. We trained
a couple horses for Jimmy. Couple of Jimmy's castoffs and he was a
wonderful guy too. And, it was on Bethel Road right in Fayette County
and I, then we bought a little place that we still own. In Bourbon
County and we raised them there and trained from the Thoroughbred
SMITH: So about how many horses did you have at?
ELLIS: Oh we just kept 4 or 5 in training, you know, then we would sale
the ones that, like I said, that showed something, mostly, you know.
Sold them all in training and didn't sale any public auction. We
would get them ready to run up to breeze, get them up to breeze about
a half a mile and you could, you could train them and we sold some
to people like Buck Deiful and uh, Bob Murray, Bob Murray founded the
Merrick Inn, you know and he, I, he must have bought, I don't know how
many horses from us. He was buying everything out of two mares because
they could all run. So I didn't get to train any of those (laughs) and
they did very well, with them.
SMITH: Now, what year did you leave the Racing Form?
ELLIS: I believe it was 1984.
ELLIS: 1984. Because my wife had passed away in 81. And you know,
00:27:00that's when we started uh, training and I was, still had the, had the
uh, farm of course. Still had the radio show and that's just, life
just kind of moved along, been fun.
SMITH: What are some of the horses that, that you have raised? Who are
some of your favorites?
ELLIS: That I raised? Uh, well, we raised a couple of nice horses that
won. We sold a filly to Allen Jerkins named All My Mary's won the
Politely Stakes up East. She was a nice filly by Pago Pago. Who is
a stud horse, Australian horse stood down at Claiborne, at the time.
We used to breed to him, used to breed to a horse named Hard Work
at Dixiana, who was in a, bred a nice horse by Hard Work named Elbow
Grease who was a stakes winner. I bred another one by, oh, what was
00:28:00that horse's name? One More Jump. These were horses that I, I sold
and, you know, that went on to do very well and most of them, you
know, where I never could put the big stud fees into them so uh, I was
breeding to horses like Our Michael who bred over to, stood over at
Henry Whites. Henry is a good friend of mine. And a Hard Work and
Pago Pago's, reasonable stud fees horses that could get you runners and
you know, so we were breeding mostly allowances horses, and claimers,
and so forth, you know but last horse I saddled was a, a horse that
I had bought for a dollar. That because he was crooked, he was by
a horse named, Crafty Prospector and he had a nice pedigree but, so
I waited and let him mature. Bought him as a yearling because they
didn't think he couldn't ever stand training and a friend of mine
00:29:00owned a farm that a, where he was foaled and he says I know you will
give him some time maybe get him to racing. So I did and didn't run
him until he was four and the last winner I saddled was that horse
name was Tackle born right here at Keeneland. I said that's a good
one to quit on, you know, (laughs) so we basically we don't, we don't
train anything anymore. Although I lost control last fall and bought
a yearling. So she's now a two year old, so we will probably going to
piddle around with her and have some fun. And my wife fox hunts and so
we got seven or eight horses on the farm now, too many, too many.
SMITH: But you're not breeding anymore or.
ELLIS: No, no, no, no.
SMITH: So do you, were you able to make a living at it after you left
the Racing Form?
ELLIS: Well, I look pretty healthy, now don't I, I mean, yeah? (laughs)
Yeah we had fun. Yeah we did, we did very well, as a matter of fact
00:30:00and we had a lot, I can say, a lot of fun. We raced all over in
Kentucky and Ohio, you know. The ones that couldn't win in Kentucky,
we'd go to River Downs, Beulah Park, or whatever, whatever it took, you
know. And it was fun, you know. We would load up, load up uh, a horse
trailer and away we'd toodle off. Nothing, it's the greatest thrill
in the world to win a race, especially with a horse that a, that you've
raised, you know. Brought up from the time it was foaled. I've still
got a couple of them out there that have pensioned. At the farm, yeah,
that's about all we have on the farm now old, old retired horses, like
me, you know (laughs).
SMITH: Now, the you said you went to a lot of the tracks in Kentucky,
was there any track that you raced your horses on most?
ELLIS: Did better at Turfway better than anywhere. Had some fun at
00:31:00Ellis Park, and, with always fun to race there but it usually the
horses we were left with were not too competitive here at Keeneland.
It's tough to win a race at Keeneland, at any level. So, it was kind
of special when I won that one. Especially since that was the last
horse I trained, you know.
SMITH: What year was that, do you remember?
ELLIS: 2001, still got the horse, by the way. He's turned out on the
farm and he fox hunted for a couple years and then he got injured.
I retire these things sound and then Jackie would break them up fox
hunting 'em. (laughs)
SMITH: You kind of moved through your career pretty fast but let's go
on and talk a little bit about a, Horse Tales. When did you start
ELLIS: That, I guess it was in about 1999, time flies, you know.
SMITH: How did that get started?
ELLIS: Chris Cross, who was a program director at AM 1300. Approached
me, I was, this was when I was doing the evening show there already,
you know, the Race Results Show, that had been on for so long.
Approached me and said about doing the show. And I said "no I don't
think so, you know, it's a two hour, what would I talk about for two
hours" you know, so I, I turned him down. But he went out and he's,
he lined up some sponsors uh, that uh, wanted me for some reason. One
of them was Keeneland and the other was Claiborne. So he came back to
me and well Claiborne was one of my sponsors for my evening show, you
know, so how do you say no. (laughs) How do you say no to the people
00:33:00that you really like at Keeneland to, you know so I said, all right,
I'll try it, you know. I said but you're going to have to babysit me
for awhile because I don't know what I'm going to talk about for two
hours. And he did, bless his heart, Chris did and he came on with me
and gradually I worked out a system, you know, where I would, I would
do history and read things from the old writers, you know. Like Joe
Palmer and Joe Estes and uh, things like that, you know and I finally
got some confidence, I think it took me about almost a, six months or
something like that, where they cut me loose on our own.
SMITH: This is a weekly show right?
ELLIS: Yeah it comes on every Saturday morning and it's on 1300 ESPN
affiliate AM here in Lexington. It's from 10 until noon and it's a,
people seem to enjoy it for some reason. I've yet to figure out why.
00:34:00But, and Jackie does the show with me which makes it, a lot of fun.
I also am the clocker now at the, at the Thoroughbred Center. They
didn't have a clocker there and when Keeneland bought it, they wanted
one. And they asked me if Jim Pendergest is the manager at the, at
the Thoroughbred Center. Asked me if, if I would do it and I said,
well I'll get you started. Because I had quit training in 1961 and
I'd spent all that winter waking up at 4:30-5 o'clock in the morning
working jigsaw puzzles and crossword puzzles and I said this isn't going
to get it. (laughs) Yeah, so I said I'll get you started and that was
in March. Either three of four years ago, once again I've lost track
of time and it was fun. Now I get up and go to the training center and
00:35:00get there early in the morning and you know, they're paying me to sit
there and look at horses. Nothing could be any better than that. And
it's, we've been doing that ever since and then we do the radio show on
Saturday's right from the clocker's stand. We just, we stop clocking
at 10 o'clock although there's usually some late ones that come on
afterwards that we have to jump up from the radio program and dash and.
SMITH: I heard that.
ELLIS: Yeah and clock, you know, but its, it's been a lot of fun and
I've, I've met so many new people especially the younger generation
that I probably wouldn't have met, you know, that I get on the show
and it's, it's been a lot of fun doing it and I have great sponsors
and so it's, you know. Keeneland is one of my sponsors and, and the
NTRA, and geez, I don't know, I could go down a list to the Coolmore,
and Juddmonte, and Shadwell, and the KTA, and couple of tack shops and
00:36:00Quillinn Tack and it's been really been fun.
SMITH: It's a very popular show.
ELLIS: I, once again, I don't understand why, because we just, we don't
take ourselves to seriously on that show. We just kind of have some
fun with people and we, we have Michael Blowen on every week, who is
from Old Friends, that stallion retiring program, which is a little
story about that too. When Michael first moved down here he was with
the Thoroughbred, Thoroughbred Retirement Farm down in Midway. He
moved down here from Boston. And, is that what they call that? Anyway,
it was a different outfit and uh, he wanted to advertise on the show
for that and I said "I didn't know what it was, you know". And then he
came on the show and I finally realized what he was doing and he left
that and set up the Old Friend's retirement program and I realized what
00:37:00was going on and I said "gees, I can't charge him for that" you know,
(laughs) I mean, this is one of those things, you know that. How do
you charge for somebody that's doing something great like that? And so
he just a part of the show now and he comes in about 10 to 15 minutes
every Saturday. He is fun to talk to, also and we try to take care of
the, the Horse Park and my friend John Nicholson, out there and, well,
part of the show is we announce things, that pertaining to the horse
world. Not only just horse business but Riding for the Handicapped
and whatever is going on at the, at the Horse Park and the steeplechase
that they have out there, the High Hope, whatever, you know and that's
Jackie's department, she gathers all that stuff and she announces that,
you know. People like that, I think, and she is a lot of fun. She is
00:38:00a smart mouth, you know. (laughs)
SMITH: Jackie actually called me when she first read about this project
to make sure that we talked to you.
SMITH: Like almost a year ago.
ELLIS: Is that right?
SMITH: We are a little slow.
ELLIS: I'm not surprised. (laughs)
SMITH: I enjoyed her, she was fun.
ELLIS: Yes, she is fun. I've been blessed to; I've had two good
ELLIS: Three from my first marriage and none of whom are interested at
all in horses and Jackie had three when we married so I had three step
children and they're not interested in horses either.
SMITH: Huh. Usually.
ELLIS: All going their own way.
SMITH: Well, I am going to uh, take you back again to your childhood and.
ELLIS: That's a long ways back.
SMITH: That's a long ways, back but that's okay. Couple of things, one
thing I wanted to talk to you about was your relationship with Man o'
War. I'm not sure; I know you said your father worked with him but how
ELLIS: Well, of course, Man o' War was, Dixiana was out the Russell
Cave Road and Man o' War was on Huffman Mill which you, the second
road, first road on your left after you cross Ironworks and you turn
left and drive back up in there. Which was, as the crow flies wasn't
very far from Dixiana. It was a pretty good bike ride though because
I used to pedal over there to see him and my dad would take me over,
first of all, dad took one over there several times with dad and then
I would go over and, and watch him, you know. Especially when he was
in his paddock. When Will Harbut was tried to catch him giving his
spiel, which was wonderful to hear. So, you know, I kind of grew up
with that horse as far as that goes. I can remember, at that time he
wasn't in the, in the original barn which was down on Faraway, it was
when you go down the Russell Cave, you pass Domino's grave on the right
and then the first barn on your right, first entrance on your right, I
00:40:00think they still call it Man o' War Farm. But that's where Man o' War
was at that time. First stall on the left and War Admiral was there
and War Relic, I remember the both of them, you know. War Admiral
looked nothing at all like Man o' War, he was, looked more like his
dam who was Ben Brush line, you know. Small, Sweep, she was by Sweep
and, sprinter type, medium size bay dark bay, of course Man o' War big
massive chestnut horse and War Relic looked quite a bit like him.
SMITH: What did you think about Man o' War at that time? He was getting
along in years about then?
ELLIS: Oh, I thought he was unbelievable, you know. He was something
about that horse that took your breath away. It's hard, it's hard for
me to talk about it.
SMITH: But you went over to see him a lot?
ELLIS: Oh yeah. First funeral I ever went to, that's one of the reasons
is real hard. I'd go into that because I went with my dad.
SMITH: To the funeral? Yeah. I've heard there is a, a record of the
ELLIS: Oh I have it.
SMITH: Do you have that?
ELLIS: Yes I do.
ELLIS: Yeah I've played it on the show.
SMITH: Oh, I need to listen to that.
ELLIS: I have it. Yeah, it's uh, one of Jimmy Drymon's descendents
gave it to me. I forget exactly which one it was, but he had it from
somewhere from his, from Jimmy's mother, he got, I think it was his
aunt. But I have it and I've played it on the radio show couple of
SMITH: So you have, so you went to the funeral. Was it as extraordinary
as it sounds?
ELLIS: Oh yeah, it really was, yeah, yeah. Big crowd. We had to walk
a quarter of a mile I guess. Line of traffic, you know was, course, up
00:42:00----------(??), a little country road. All the speakers are gone now
with the exception of uh, Dr. McGee is still alive and he was the Man
o' War's vet, you know, but if you love horses, you know, if you ever
saw him, shew. You know, it was, it was uh, took, he took your breath
away, he really did.
SMITH: Did you ever feel that away about any other horse?
ELLIS: No, no, and I've seen some good ones. Secretariat was gorgeous.
Swaps was a fantastic runner. I saw him set a world record at
Hollywood Park, shew, boy he could run. Great race horse. Great race
horse. Saw Citation, I didn't get to see him run. Saw Coal Town win
00:43:00the Bluegrass, course, I thought well Coal Town's going to win the
Derby but, he was coupled with Citation and, of course, he couldn't
handle Citation. (laughs) That was the story that Eddie Arcaro didn't
know which horse to ride, you know. He was, he thought Coal Town
could win it to and uh, uh, Ben Jones told him he'd better stick with
Citation, says he can beat anything he can see and says there's nothing
wrong with his eye sight. (laughs) So he, that was, but he was great
race horse and course, saw Forego and seen some great horses. Been
blessed to see a lot of great horses down through the years. I guess,
oh I guess Secretariat would have been, would rank number two, as far
as, but he and Swaps. Swaps had a handicap all his life, he had a bad
foot all his life which he ran with quite a bit and, but he, he ran
00:44:00with it and they had to work on it all the time. I know that. Then
I saw him at stud, because he went to stud at Darby Dan and ended
up at Spendthrift. He and Nashua both, as a matter of fact, were at
Spendthrift. So I saw Nashua too, as far as that goes. Yeah.
SMITH: You've seen them all?
ELLIS: I've not seem them all but, you know, I've seen a lot of them.
Tom Fool is a great horse, I got to see him race and.
SMITH: But none of them like Man o' War?
ELLIS: No. No, I've never had one affect me like that.
SMITH: Did you ever ride Man o' War?
ELLIS: No, but a friend of mine did and I'm so jealous I can't stand it.
Henry Alexander lived right across the road when he was a little boy.
Henry is good friend of mine. He is a real estate agent and been in
the horse business in and out. Wonderful guy and he was a little boy
and he crossed the road which you wasn't supposed to do. He tells me
this story that Will Harbut was putting in Man o' War up at the time,
getting ready to put him in and put Henry up on Man o' War and lead
him in, you know. And that, (laughs) he told me that story and I said,
"I don't want to hear this." (laughs) But he was quite an animal that
00:45:00I think he affected a lot of people that away, not just me, you know.
Abe Hewitt, who was one of the all time great horseman and , he said
all the same thing and Joe Palmer wrote about him in, like, and wrote
beautifully about him. Joe Estes was another one and, and he wrote
about him, you know and those guys could write. And it, it was, of
course, you know, my father's connection with it, you know, with the
horse made it kind of special to me too So I'm probably biased walking
in, you know.
SMITH: Does your father feel the same way?
ELLIS: Oh yeah.
SMITH: Your father's role on the farm, you know, I've talked to a lot of
people who are farm managers and sometimes that's the really business
end and sometimes it's really with dealing with the horses. Was he
sort of hands on with the horses?
ELLIS: Oh yeah he was uh, yeah, he was. He did all the teasing of the
broodmares. He used to ride the teaser, as a matter of fact and they
would lead the, lead the mare up and put them up in this kind of little
chute, you know and he ride the teaser right up the them and tease
the mare that way. At that time, they, they, didn't palpate mares
like they do now, you know. They bred off a speck and the teaser was
very, very important. Find out when the mare was in and horsing and
then call Dr. Charlie and he would, he would speck and they would
bred. They did very well. The broodmare band there was about 20
mares at Dixiana it was never that, you figure farms now, you know,
got a hundred mares and things. Dixiana was always rather small.
Mr. Fisher was a wonderful gentleman uh, and he and my dad were very
close and he died a year before my dad. He died in 1963 and then his
00:47:00daughter, Miss Mary Fisher, who is a lovely person to, she took over
the farm. They had sold part of a Dixiana in 1947. Miss Mary Fisher
had, had been involved all through the 30's and 40's in show horses.
So they had two divisions. They had a show horse division and a
race horse division. And as she grew a little older, matured a little
bit, I guess, stopped showing horses and they decided that they would
disband their show horses and, and Mr. Fisher decided that he would
sale the southern half of the farm, which is, it's now Domino Stud. At
that time they sold it to Woodvale Farm, which was Mr. Royce G. Martin
00:48:00and Royce G. Martin was Autolite. I can tell you a story about him and
statue of limitations has, has gone out.
ELLIS: Is disappeared. But he told my father this, so I guess he. He,
Mr. Martin, had been involved with the Poncho Villa.
ELLIS: And during the Poncho's reign in Mexico, in fact, uh, Mr.
Martin's job was to come up here, into the states and buy arms for
him and he would bring gold and he'd come up and buy arms and take them
down, you know, transport them down to, to Poncho Villa, well he was
on a trip up here uh, and he caught Poncho and left Mr. Martin just
holding the bag. (laughs) So that's how he got started.
ELLIS: Right. Although he was doing very well, doing at what he was
doing anyway. But now this is the story he told my father and it's
00:49:00a good one to believe because its fun. (laughs) And then he started
Autolite and, and made his money that way and bought Dixiana.
SMITH: That portion of it?
ELLIS: That portion of it, yeah. He bought a portion of it and I
believe at that time, Mr. Combs bought a portion of it and it might
have been a little bit later but Mr., Mr. Martin sold it to the Mr.
and Mrs. Harold Reineman, Crown Crest Farm.
ELLIS: They are market breeders and about that time, it might have been
at that time that Mr. Combs bought a portion over of it, over on the,
that fronted on Ironworks Pike. Ironworks, McKinney Lane that corner
there and Mr. Combs bought a piece of it and then it passed from the
00:50:00Reineman's, trying to think who bought the farm next. But Jimmy Drymon
ended up with it, with W. T. Pasco and he named it Domino Stud and
he, he sold it to Bill Terry, who was a Coca-Cola man. And then the
Terry's sold it to the present owners, Mr. Jones.
ELLIS: Yeah, that's where it is now and they kept the name Domino
Stud. Jimmy's the one who changed it to Domino Stud. Someone, Mark
Leech owned it in there to, I believe he had purchased it from the
Reineman's. So, it was.
SMITH: Okay, a lot of different hands there.
SMITH: A lot of different hands.
ELLIS: A lot of different hands, yeah.
SMITH: Now, but now Miss. Fisher, Miss. Fisher kept Dixiana?
ELLIS: Miss Mary Fisher, yeah, everybody called her Miss Mary.
ELLIS: Always like, not Miss Mary Fisher and not Mary. It was Miss Mary.
00:51:00She never married. Lovely person and she, she took it and the, which
was the original section that had been founded by Major Barak Thomas,
back in, back right after the civil war, incidentally. Where Domino
was foaled, was right there and Himyar, his sire. Himyar was foaled
there, was foaled there. So, anyway that's, she kept that section.
SMITH: Was she, had pretty good success with racing, didn't she?
ELLIS: She did, she did very well. I think the best horse that she had
was Hard Work and then Golden Ruler, who's the sire of Hard Work. She
has, I mean, she had some nice horses uh, but it was kind of a funny
thing, the, the daughter's and the, those two mares that I talked about
earlier, that line, that kind of, they faded away and they were never
00:52:00successful uh, after that. Although they won races, won some stakes
in the 60's, and the 70's, and 80's. But was not like they were in the
40's and the 50's when they were really, really running extremely well.
ELLIS: Yeah, yeah because they had, they raced some really nice horses
back at that time. Raised a champion sprinter named Berseem who was
the champion sprinter in 1955, son of Bernborough. Was an Australian
champion and came over and stood for Mr. Combs at Spendthrift Farm
and fact uh, uh, he was out of a Sweep All mare, we talked about him
earlier out of a mare called Little Priss by Sweep All. She had three
stakes winners all sired by Bernborough. One of which raced for my
SMITH: Oh, your father raced?
ELLIS: Yeah, just occasionally. This was a horse that they, Mr.
00:53:00Hodgins who was training for Dixiana at that time, I don't know what
happened but the horse had some leg problems and he got what we called
sour. He would not, they couldn't even get him on the track. He
refused to go on the track and everything. (coughs) and my dad liked
him and Mr. Hodgins, said get rid of them. So dad took him and turned
him out with a couple work horses down and belong to a friend of his
down in Jessamine County and it got cold and snow was flying and so he
loaded up the, went down there and loaded the old horse up and he about
tore that trailer down getting on it. He wanted out of there and he
fed him sugar and they babied him and a gentleman named H.P. Pieratt.
Pappy everybody called him, Pieratt, trained him for, and he was a
nice horse. He won, won several stakes; they started out racing River
00:54:00Downs and went to Thistledown's and the old Randall Park which was uh,
in Cleveland. Right across the street from Thistledown's, by the way.
I don't know why but there but Thistledown's on one side of the street
and Randall Park on the other. It is a subdivision now.
ELLIS: And he won some stakes there and they brought him back to
Keeneland in the fall and, in an allowance race and the favorite in
there was a Dixiana horse. A filly named Fidelis and Old Larrikin was
his, was his name, Larrikin and he was a second choice in there and
he won and set a new track record for 6 and a half furlongs', it stood
for a long, long time, 116 and 2, I remember it very well and that was
a big day. (laughs) And Miss Mary, bless her heart, she says well,
oops there goes my phone here, Miss Mary said if we couldn't win it,
00:55:00I'm glad you did, (laughs) and he came back the next year and won it,
won at Keeneland again and running in the allowance company. Yeah,
beat a good horse named Dogoon who belong to E. Gay Drake who was a
major stakes winner and I kept that little horse until the day he died,
Larrikin, yeah. He was 19 years old, I didn't think he was ever going
to check out, (laughs) fed him for a long time.
SMITH: How do you spell that?
ELLIS: Larrikin. I believe it's Gallic for Naughty Lad, Naughty Irish
Lad, you know, I believe that's right.
SMITH: I'll let you try to get that back on.
SMITH: That's okay.
ELLIS: I can hold it if you want.
VIDEOGRAPHER: In about ten minutes then I'll need to change the tape.
SMITH: Okay, we could take a break then. Did your father have any other
00:56:00horses that he raced? Or was that.
ELLIS: Hum, no I don't think so. Uh, there were a couple of horses
named after him but they weren't that good. (Smith laughs) Boss Ellis
and Ercel and I think Boss Ellis, Mr. Pieratt trained those two.
Incidentally, that's, he was a grandfather of Bruce Pieratt, who owns
Pieratt's Appliance Land.
ELLIS: Yeah. Wonderful gentleman. Had a little restaurant out on
um, corner of 7th and Lime, at that time where a lot of the horseman
used to go and eat. Yeah. Mrs. Pieratt was the chef. It was just
a little place. He called everybody John, which was, you know, I was
John, my dad was John, everybody was John (laughs) but, but he was a
wonderful, one of those people that you met you know in the horse world
that you know you never forget, you know. I loved him.
SMITH: And he trained, some of the horses?
ELLIS: Yeah, he trained and, and owned that restaurant and, you know,
yeah he was a wonderful gentleman.
SMITH: There's another place that Henry White told me about. A place
where the horseman used to frequent, that's the Jot 'em Down Store?
ELLIS: Oh, Jot 'em Down is still there.
SMITH: Oh, okay.
ELLIS: Course, it's right on the corner of the Ironworks and the Russell
Cave Pike. My goodness, I was almost raised on the, at the Jot 'em
Down Store. Belong to the Terrell family; they opened it up in um, the
ELLIS: 1932, 33. Lucien Terrell and his wife Molly, wonderful,
wonderful people. They used to live up over the store until they built
the house next door and he, he was would farm tobacco; too, it was a
general store at that time. You could go in and they sold gasoline,
Texaco. 16 cents a gallon, I think it was at the time. And, general
00:58:00store you could go in there and buy your, your overalls, and your Red
Ball galoshes and ice cream. I had my first ice cream there, cone
there, when I was a kid. I was born right up, well I wasn't born there
but I living right up the road on Ironworks. When my dad was at, you
know at Dixiana and its past down through Bob Terrell who was, who ran
it after his father died and then, and then now Robby who is Bob's son
is running it and Bob had passed away. So, it's a third generation
of the Terrell's that are running that and it was named after the, the
old radio show, Lum and Abner, you know. They had, had the Jot 'em
Down store there and fact, they visited one time. They got pictures
00:59:00of them in there. Mr. Terrell, Mr. Lucien Terrell had a brother,
Ed. Everybody called him Goo-Goo. What a character he was. He would
sit behind that warm morning stove, you know, (laughs) and appear out
at you, you know and you want so gasoline and, how much you want and
you better want more than a gallon, he wouldn't get up to help you, you
know, (laughs) he'd, I'd listen to him one day and they were doing some
inventory and ran across something, I forget what it was, he said I
don't get anymore of that stuff, don't order any more of that, says we
can't keep it in stock. He says (laughs) Ed didn't want to get up and
wait on people (laughs) but mostly everybody went in there and helped
themselves anyway and then put the money down and left, you know. But
it was, that was another great thing of growing up in that area, you
know was the Jot 'em Down Store. I had Dixiana and riding horses and,
01:00:00you know. Great place to play and the swimming pool. I had Man o' War
to go visit, had the Jot 'em Down Store, it was, you know, it was for a
kid heaven, you know.
SMITH: It sounds like it.
ELLIS: Yeah, it was wonderful. Yeah, it's a still open and you can get
a good sandwich in there. I eat in there quite often.
SMITH: I may have to go there then, I've heard so much about it.
ELLIS: Yeah, it's not a general store anymore now they specialize in,
in serving lunches and go in there and have a beer if you want to.
It's, but Robby's, Robby's also is in, Robby Terrell is in the horse
business, he's, yeah he bought a mare and has done very well with her
selling foals out of her, you know. He dibble dabbles and of course,
you go in there and you've got, they've got TVG on, you know, it's
all racing, you know. Go in there and the vets are there and the farm
helps there, it's a nice place to go.
SMITH: It's a place where the, for the horse crowd?
ELLIS: Yeah. Yeah, a lot of people from the training center go over
there. The other training center, 505, or Victory Gallop, or Victory
01:01:00something they call it up on Russell Cave now. Well, it's right across
from Dan Scott's place. As you go out the Russell Cave, it's on the
left, it's Victory's, I forget the name of it now. Its Ira Drymon's
old Gallaher Farm, is what it is, where Polynesian went to stud there.
Challedon was stud; Polynesian was the sire of Native Dancer. In
fact, right across the street there was uh, Dan Scott's farm, was where
Geisha was being boarded. She's the dam of Native Dancer and she was
a little difficult to get on and off of the, of the horse van too, you
know. So it might have been one of those scientific readings that they
lead her across the road there and bred her to Polynesian and viola!
(laughs) there was Native Dancer (laughs) you know, so, that's, that's
ELLIS: Mr. Drymon was, he had been connected with, he managed Dixiana
for years and then he went up and started his own place up there, and
that's who my dad took over for manager.
ELLIS: It was Jimmy's dad, Jimmy Drymon's, uh, Jimmy Drymon's father and
Jimmy had owned Dixiana and changed the name to Domino, you know.
SMITH: Oh, okay.
ELLIS: Just to connect the dots there.
SMITH: A lot of dots to connect in this industry, I've learned.
ELLIS: Yeah. Challedon stood there, he was a Maryland bred who had been
a champion three year old and probably, well I was going to say, uh,
the best horse to come out of Maryland, but maybe not. Gallorette was
foaled up there and she was a great race mare.
ELLIS: So, I don't know we'll, but he was a great race horse.
SMITH: Lots of, lots of great horses. I tell you, you know, know so
01:03:00many of them that the names all sound familiar to me but I can't place
VIDEOGRAPHER: We have four minutes
SMITH: Why don't we go ahead and stop now then and take a break and then
we'll come back and get started while he changes the tape.
ELLIS: All right.
SMITH: Are you ready?
SMITH: Okay, the Fisher's. Your dad worked for Mr. Fisher for a very
long time, what are you memories of Mr. Fisher?
ELLIS: Oh, very nice gentleman. He always drove a Chevrolet. Although
they made the bodies for Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile's, Buicks, and
Cadillac's but he loved Chevrolet. Straight stick. Always kept one on
the farm when he'd visit, you know. Drive it around and he would clash
those gears, best damn car ever made he says. (laughs)
SMITH: He didn't live on the farm most of the time?
ELLIS: Oh, no, no he lived in Detroit.
ELLIS: Yeah and they would visit, you know. He and, just, they would
just come down and stay a couple of weeks and things like that you know.
A little bit, one, I remember one Thanksgiving they stayed a little
bit longer than they wanted to, that was, that had to been in about
01:04:001950 and we had a big snow storm and everybody was snowed in, you know
I mean, I'd been in town with a friend with Lucien Terrell. A friend
of mine from the Jot 'em Down Store, we, we got stuck just right on the
outskirts of Lexington coming home and had to spend the night there for
two nights with the Burn's family who lived right there and the Fishers
were visiting at that time and, and they couldn't leave and Mrs.
Fisher said to Mr. Fisher, says can't we go by way of St. Louis? He
says hell mama, we can't get off the farm, (laughs) and dad was, they
were running a little low on groceries there, they had to, he would, he
got on horses, on, on his horse and rode up to the Jot 'em Down and got
01:05:00some groceries and rode back, you know. (laughs) So that was, he was,
a really nice gentleman. As I said, my dad, my dad loved him.
SMITH: So your dad was really running the farm?
ELLIS: Oh yeah, yeah.
ELLIS: Yeah, he was a farm manager. People worked there forever.
SMITH: How many people were there say like 30's and 40's?
ELLIS: Oh, maybe 15 or 20 working on the farm, you know and most
everybody had been there for, gee, well my dad was there 35 years and
there was a couple other people there, Henry Padgett had been there
at least probably 30 years. John Ginter went there the same day my
SMITH: Couple names I came across, Kelly McFarland.
ELLIS: Yeah, Kelly was the stud manager. Kelly had been there forever
and a day. He was, he was one of the first ones to go there. Yeah, he
took care of the, he was the stud man. Yeah.
SMITH: Henry Padgett?
ELLIS: Henry? Yeah. Henry was a, had been there forever. He had a
little stint in where he had to leave in World War II but he came
back and he was in the Pacific. Got a bronze star. He was in the
Philippines and uh, he never would talk about it, but Henry was
awfully, he's, these people are all gone now.
SMITH: But they stayed a long time at the farms.
ELLIS: They, they worked there forever, yeah.
SMITH: Pretty good place to work?
ELLIS: My dad, oh yeah, it was wonderful. Yeah. Nobody got rich and
everybody lived a wonderful life and they would send a truck in to pick
up the farm hands every day, you know and they would take them home.
I never forget it was a green truck. Everybody just climb in the back
of it, it was a paneled truck, you know and it was covered and guys
would climb in and you know, and they would show up with a, had our own
01:07:00blocks, huh, own blacksmith to for back in the 40's a gentleman named
Griffin was his last name. Had a, had his shop, kept his shop right
there on the farm. Trying, I try and can't remember his first name now
but used to go down there and watch him. Made his own shoes and you
know and they, they worked the farm with mules. Had two sets of mules.
Grey mules that they worked and of course, didn't have any tractor
until after World War II and prior to that they used those mules to
mow with and had a mile race track they had to take care of with which
my dad hated because it took constant care, you know. I mean, they
had one guy that all he did was work that track. That's all he did.
Raymond Carmichael was his name, always dressed in kakis.
SMITH: Oh, really?
ELLIS: He would get out there (laughs) and that's all, that was his job,
is to usually take care of that track and, but people like, you know,
like Kelly, where did you get Kelly's name for goodness sake?
SMITH: A newspaper article.
ELLIS: Is that right?
ELLIS: Yeah, well .
ELLIS: And his brother, Calvin worked there. He was kind of the handy
man, he could fix anything. Calvin, and lets see who else was working
SMITH: Did most of them live off the farm? Did any of them live on the
ELLIS: Kelly lived on the farm. Um, who else lived on the farm? Well,
when Harold Jordan was there, he was the, my dad's assistant for a
number of years and he lived on the farm and then Henry lived on the
farm for awhile. Padgett and Harold's son, incidentally, is, is in
01:09:00the horse business. Yeah, own a farm down, way down Newtown Pike.
Nice people and there were a few people who lived on the farm. They
always had a couple that lived and took care of the big house, as we
called it, where the Fisher's lived and they didn't live in the big
house but there was an apartment up over, like a three car garage there
that, very nice apartment that they lived there. Yeah. I remember one
couple was from Finland. Couldn't understand a word they said but they
were, they were there for a long time.
SMITH: Did they take care of the house?
ELLIS: Yeah, they took care of the house and, and took care of the
Fisher's when they were there, you know. So it was, and a lot of
summers if, if we had a lot of horse farm help, that was one of my
jobs, was, was mowing that yard down there. Lord have mercy. That
01:10:00was, that was a big yard, I'll tell you what. (laughs) You'd start
mowing, you know, and you'd finish and then you'd have to start all
over again but it, you know. It was a summer job for a, for a kid and
those were mowers that they were, you couldn't ride but you didn't have
to push, you know. You just guided them, you know.
ELLIS: So, it was, because there was a steep hill going down to the
creek there where the big house is, you know. But it was a lot of fun.
SMITH: Now, when did you go to UK? What years were those?
ELLIS: 19, went there 1950 and started in 1951 and then I went into
SMITH: Now did you join the service or were you drafted?
ELLIS: Yeah, I joined. I was going to be drafted. I mean at that time
01:11:00they were drafting everybody, you know, this was Korea. So, I went
to San Diego for boot camp and then they sent me to San Francisco uh,
to Treasure Island to radar school. Treasure Island was right in the
middle of the Bay. It's a, the Bay Bridge there at San Francisco one
side and Oakland on the other. So that's, went to school there. Loved
it, because I, Golden Gate Fields was running at the time so, I got to
go to Golden Gate, (laughs) and, and also I saw some racing that was in
51. They were running the Santa Anita Derby and I hitch hiked to Los
Angeles to uh, see the Santa Anita Derby and that was, Hill Gail that
01:12:00won it. Beat Windy City that day, Windy City was the favorite. Windy
City pulled up bad but anyway Hill Gail won it, so I got to see him run
that day. I got there after the first race and picked six winners out
of seven races winning you know.
SMITH: That's pretty good.
ELLIS: Yeah, and then I flew back to San Francisco. (laughs) Those were
the good old days, money didn't matter at that time, you know. But.
SMITH: So how long, when did, what was your next step in your service,
where did you go from there?
ELLIS: Well, I went on board a ship called the Merrick which was an APA
troop carrier and I put in for every school that I could get so I could
get off the ship and see something, you know and I, they sent me to uh,
radio operators school in Sasebo, Japan and so, I went to school there,
that was like a 3 month school where I could copy Morse code and learn
01:13:00procedure and so forth, you know.
SMITH: Is that what you wanted to do, or?
ELLIS: Basically that was to get off the ship to go (laughs) but it
turned out that I enjoyed it. It turned out that uh, I had a knack for
it, which it had to be a knack because there is a whole lot of things
that I can't do, I mean when it comes to nailing something you know,
I've got six thumbs and I hit all six of them. I just, I have no knack
for that at all. Math, I'm, I'm lost in math and everything but when
I went to the school for some reason it uh, it uh, came very easy to
me, I mean it was like somebody talking to me, I mean it was, I could
copy it. In fact, I was copying enough code in the first two weeks
to graduate, you know but I had to learn the procedure and everything
so it was, and then I went back aboard ship and we were in and out of
Korea, Inchon, and places like, lovely places like that and we operated
01:14:00with a carrier called a Boxer. I was on a LSD, which was a landing
ship dock. We operated with uh, mine sweepers, small mine sweepers
and UDT and air sea rescue. We had a helicopter deck and, you know,
we would go in and pick up these pilots that had been shot down and so
forth, things like, things like that you know. Not much fun.
SMITH: How long were you in the service, in Korea?
ELLIS: 18 months and don't want to go back. (laughs) Japan was fine,
you know it was nice. I, I wish I had been able to see some racing
at that time because this was, of course, wasn't to far, to long after
01:15:00World War II and racing wasn't very big over there at that time I
don't guess because I didn't hear of any, you know. But I got to see
a lot of racing in California, you know, Del Mar and, the first time
I ever saw Shoemaker ride was at Del Mar and Hollywood Park, Santa
Anita, Golden Gate, Bay Meadows, went to all those tracks and got to
see, got to see some good horse racing up there, like I said, I saw
Swaps run there. Saw a nice filly named Miss Todd. Miss Todd was by,
I think she was a Your Host, think she was, saw her horse set a world
record for five furlongs, saw Swaps set a world record for a mile and
sixteenth. I saw some good racing there. Saw Berseem race there was a
Dixiana bred, yeah.
ELLIS: Got to see him run and had a lot of fun.
SMITH: Did he win?
ELLIS: No, he got beat that day. It was one of those days that I didn't
01:16:00cash many tickets. (laughs) He was a sprinter and a, but he, he was
a good race horse, you know, like I said, he was a champion sprinter
of 55. This was before he really got good, I think I saw him in 54
SMITH: So, when you came back from Korea where you still stationed in
California for awhile?
ELLIS: Yeah, for a little while and although I had much to my disgust
uh, I was stationed in San Diego. We went to sea for three months to
test an atomic um, death charge so, got to see that. Big splash, and
then I got out, you know. Got out five days early because they were
going back out to sea again and I couldn't, you know, I was going to be
stuck, so I, so I was discharged.
SMITH: And what year was that?
ELLIS: 1955. Went to um, picked up a friend of mine up, I was
01:17:00discharged in San Diego, picked up a friend of mine in uh, in, up
at Long Beach and we started our drive across country. Original
destination, we were going to try to get to Arlington Park. See a
match race out there but we got hung up in Las Vegas for some reason,
didn't get out of there for about four or five days and I opened up
my trunk of my car and here was a bag that had been left in there by a
friend of mine and it had his swim suit and some clothes and some stuff
in there, you know, and I said my goodness how am I going to get this
to him. He was from Nebraska. So I said well we'll just take it to
Nebraska and drop it off, so we did, (laughs) and we had a nice trip
coming back, drove through Salt Lake, through Denver, around that away,
you know. Didn't make the match race, but oh well. (laughs)
SMITH: Ed Bowen said something about you were in New Orleans after the
ELLIS: Yeah. After I got, I went with Dixiana and went to uh, the
racing stable with a, after I got out of the service, I went with
Jack Hodgins, went to Dixiana, I went to, working for Dixiana and Jack
Hodgins and we went to, we went New Orleans.
SMITH: When you made your trek back across country and got back to
Lexington, that's when you started working for Dixiana?
ELLIS: Right, went back with Dixiana, went with the racing stable.
ELLIS: Went to New Orleans and spent the winter there. That was the
summer of 55, winter of 55, 56 and I got to see some good racing down
there, learned a little bit from Hodgins, Mr. Hodgins. He was a
tough man to work for. I weighed about a 170 pounds when I got out
of the service but I was in good shape and came back in the spring
and I weighed 155. He had to give me a cup of coffee to see me in the
sunlight, (laughs) didn't eat to well down there and stayed with the
01:19:00racing stable and went to Chicago that summer and my first wife was a,
had graduated from U.K. and I'd met her here. She was from Evanston,
Illinois and so, when I went to Chicago we continued dating and we were
married that fall in September.
SMITH: What was her name?
ELLIS: Joan Huffman. Uh huh. Her father was a doctor in Evanston
and we went to uh, Florida that summer with the racing stable, spent
the whole winter down there. At least I did, up in February Joanie
had a miscarriage and I sent her home and I came back in the spring
01:20:00and that's when I decided, well this isn't going to work, you know, I
mean I can't work on the race track and raise a family, you know. Be
married and everything, so that's when I went to work for the Blood
Horse, at that time.
SMITH: What were you doing when you worked at the race track? What was
ELLIS: Oh I was a groom. Yeah. Absolutely. Was cleaning stalls, still
doing it. (laughs)
SMITH: Did you enjoy that?
ELLIS: It had to do with horses, so I enjoyed it, yeah. And I got
to take care of some pretty nice horses while I was there, you know.
There was a horse named Resolved who went on to win stakes for them
and a horse, a big horse named Solution, who was had the distinction
I guess of being maybe the only stakes winner was sired by a horse,
French horse named Cortil, who stood over at Spendthrift Farm at Miss
Mary bought, Mr. Combs had talked Miss Mary into buying some shares in
him and but he was a nice horse, a nice horse. We called him The Bull,
01:21:00he was a, but he was a nice horse. I, I took care of him and a filly
named Blue Hawaii, who was a stakes placed, placed in some stakes up in
Chicago that summer. So, nice horses, you know. I enjoyed it.
SMITH: What were the, what was it like at the tracks, on the backside,
as a groom, was it okay?
ELLIS: Oh yeah. Yeah. The hard part working for Mr. Hodgins was uh,
I was kind of, at that time he had a bunch of old time race trackers
working for him and they drank a bit and after pay day, I don't know
how many stalls I had to clean because several of them wouldn't show
up. (laughs) And then on shipping day, invariably, a couple of them
01:22:00got drunk, we had to load the horses and then we had to load the
drunks, (laughs) and, but it was all right, you know, I mean. I did, I
did it then, most of the great old characters I can't remember the name
Duke was one of them, Bill, I prob-, probably never knew their last
names, you know.
SMITH: Where they pretty good horseman?
ELLIS: Oh yeah, they were great horseman. Yeah, but they had their
problems, you know and a, but it was, it was worth it, it was fun, yeah.
SMITH: So you came back and took a job with the Blood Horse, what was
ELLIS: I was advertising, it was the advertising department. Bill Worth
was the manager at that time. Joe Estes was the editor. Got to know
Joe real well, wonderful, wonderful person. Met Kent Hollingsworth
and got to know Kent, who is another great writer and it, it was a nice
place to work, it was and I was there, what uh, almost three years I
01:23:00think when, we left to form our own advertising agency.
SMITH: Okay, that was Colin?
ELLIS: Colin, Colin Advertising, yeah. Yeah, uh huh. It was uh, Dan
Bowmar was there and, but there, it were, it was a nice place, still
is, still nice people there at the Blood Horse.
SMITH: Do you consider any of these people mentors, people who had an
influence on your career? That you worked with in those days.
ELLIS: Oh gee wiz, I learned so much from so many of them, a lot from
my father, of course. Just, you know basic horsemanship and although
he was a better horseman than I ever thought about being. (pause) As
01:24:00far as the, as the advertising goes, it was another one of those things
that I had a knack for, and Bill Worth taught me a lot, got me started
and the nuts and bolts of it, you know. Putting ads together and
course that time they had the old hot lead type and everything that you
had to deal with, you know and, which I'm, I'm still better than that I
am with computers. (laughs) That's Jackie's department and I, so Bill
helped me a lot there. And, and uh, but it, I guess I had a knack for
that, the imagination and I had enough knowledge of the horse business
where I could write about a horse that I knew what was important and
what isn't, you know. I still write my, all my commercials.
SMITH: Oh, okay.
ELLIS: Yeah, for the farms. In fact, I spent all yesterday morning,
goes in and does the, does the clocking for me on Wednesdays, so I can
stay home and write commercials for the radio show, Saturday show.
Wrote a, wrote a Coolmore ad featuring Thunder Gulch cause he just had
a stakes winner, you know. You know what to say and what not to say
and what they want, basically. With the advertising so, I guess Bill
Worth and my dad, and I learned a lot from Jack Hodgins, and uh, they
would be the people probably that influenced me. The radio, it was
uh, Art was pretty good and that just came, you know, just something
you slowly learn if you do it long enough you get good at it, you know
that's, I still don't consider myself very good at radio and I really
just, we just get on there and, I don't know, just talk our way through
01:26:00the show, it's, it's uh, as far as being a professional radio person
like, you know, Chris Cross and those guys, I'm not, you know. Never
will be I don't guess but.
SMITH: The people respond to how you do the show, they like that laid
ELLIS: Well, it's, it's different, (laughs) I'll grant you that.
SMITH: You've worked with a lot of people, a couple of them you've
mentioned, I'm just going to throw out some names and just tell me what
you remember about them.
ELLIS: All right.
SMITH: What you think maybe their influence was on the industry and if I
don't, ones I don't bring up you can, you can suggest, Colonel Bradley?
ELLIS: Never met Colonel Bradley.
ELLIS: No, he died in the 19, early 1940's and I never met him at, at
01:27:00all, but course he had great, great influence on breeding and a, course
bred three Derby winners but, I guess he imported La Troienne who was
a, generally considered the greatest broodmare every imported to this
country. She is, yeah. So that I read a lot about him and certainly
admire what he did and his work with the orphans and a lot of things
that he did and know the farms out there, you know. But he, where,
Darby Dan was there and was part of his was started now is Darby Dan.
Later on Danada, Dan and Ada Rice owned that part and King Ranch was
across the road, it was all Idle Hour, you know. I wish I had known
SMITH: Did your dad know?
ELLIS: Oh yes, he, I don' know how well he knew him but he had met
him because they bred mares over there. You know, to a, I guess Olin
Gentry was there at that time and he and Olin were pretty good friends.
Knew Olin very well, yeah. I guess Olin, Mr. Gentry had his hands on
his, probably more good horses than any man that ever lived.
ELLIS: Yeah, I mean English Derby winners, Kentucky Derby winners, my
goodness, you know. The good horses that he was affiliated with, with,
first with Colonel Bradley and then Galbreath and he was a fun man to
visit to, we used to, when I was with the Racing Form I would go over
there, I'd write ads for him. I was writing ads for him and in the
Racing Form, we'd go over there and chat and he'd tell you these old
tales, he was fun. Yeah. Fun, great gentleman.
SMITH: What about Leslie Combs?
ELLIS: Oh yes, I knew Mr. Combs very well. Great salesman. Funny man,
01:29:00had a great since of humor.
SMITH: Good horseman?
ELLIS: Well, you know he never pretended to be. He had the ability
to have, pick out great horseman to work for him and he was never
specifically a hands on horseman is what I'm talking about that way.
But of course, he knew his pedigrees. Knew how to sale. Knew how to
deal with people and he was, he was, he was a fun guy to know, yeah.
Used to brag about that Spendthrift water. And then they put the
city lines out here. Put city water in Spendthrift Farm and he still
bragging about that Spendthrift water. (laughs) But he raised a lot of
good horses, a lot of good horses, there.
SMITH: Now, the 1980's was a pretty critical time for the industry in a
01:30:00lot of ways, particularly for Combs. Am I remembering my history right?
ELLIS: Well, yeah. You're talking about uh, the late 80's, 1988 when
they changed the tax laws. Yeah, that was a very difficult time for
the horse industry. Jackie and I had a hard time, because we depend on
our sponsors. The, the radio show, I buy the time and broker the show.
That way I can make more money out of it, you know and we lost quite a
few uh, advertisers at that time because they had to cut back, you know.
But certain people stuck on with me like Claiborne and Gov. Brereton
Jones, God bless Gov. Brereton Jones. (laughs) and there's another
wonderful guy that I got to know real well and I love him dearly. He's
a wonderful man. He's done so much for people that nobody knows about
01:31:00and that he doesn't talk about, you know. Just nice things.
SMITH: Like what?
ELLIS: Well, for instance. There was a, I won't say what county it was
that might give it away, but there was a fellow in the horse business
that had a fire lost his home and everything and Brereton called him
and says I got a place down here for you. Come you stay here as long
as you want to, until you get back on your feet and that kind of thing,
you know, that's, that's the way he is.
SMITH: When did you first met him?
ELLIS: Oh, that's a good story. I used to buy, pick out a yearling
every year for myself, that I would buy and send it to a friend of
mine, C.G. Wise. Charlie Wise, who was from Lexington but he trained
down in Florida and we, he'd get it ready to run and we'd sale it,
01:32:00we did very well. Did this, I'd just buy one yearling, that's all if
could afford, (laughs) but I liked a horse named, Etonian, who stood
down at Bwamazon Farm and I was looking into the sales catalog and
Brereton Jones had two Etonian yearlings for sale. Brereton was living
in West Virginia at that time. So, geez this was back in the 60's. I
went to see him. Those two yearlings, I met Brereton then and should
of bought one of them because one of them turned out to be a stakes
winner (laughs) but that's how I first met Brereton and then he was one
of the original sponsors of the show.
SMITH: Of Horse Tales?
ELLIS: No, he's on Horse Tales too but the other show. When I, when
I started, first started to broker the show, which was in 1981. He
01:33:00was my first sponsor, he's still with me. Yeah. Geez, he's doing
good now. He's got the best group of young studs down there, right
now, than he's, than he's ever had, course he had Silver Hawk, was
an outstanding stallion. He's retired, pensioned down there now but
he has Harlan's Holiday and Proud Citizen and Yankee Gentleman who
were all freshmen's sire's last year and they all sire runners, so it
couldn't have happened to a nicer guy, yeah.
SMITH: Uh, I'll take you back to some people who aren't with us anymore,
that's Bull Hancock, remember Bull Hancock?
ELLIS: I knew Mr. Hancock, didn't know him very well but I knew him.
Of course, I know Seth, real well and a very fond of Seth, very fond
of Arthur. Know them, know them both, done business with both of them.
Claiborne's been an advertiser since same when Brereton was. Arthur
01:34:00advertises also, on the show.
SMITH: Very, very successful farm.
ELLIS: Oh, absolutely, yeah, gorgeous place, I love the farm. It's a
working man's farm. I much prefer to the farms where you go, where
there all fancy and new and they are gorgeous to look at, you know.
You know the place I'm talking about, but, places I'm talking about
but you go on Claiborne and it's, it looks like, looks like it did back
in 1940. Course, it's immaculate, but you know it's the same breeding
shed and people work there forever to, yeah. They stay on forever and
ever and I met Mr. Hancock several times. I remember while I was with
Racing Form, he had imported a horse named, La Fabuleux, I went over
there airport and watched him unload the La Fabuleux and had a little
01:35:00chat with him then. Bred down there, bred to Pago Pago, when he was
standing him. Bred to Tell, he was standing Tell. Bred a mare to
him and he was, that family of course, you talk about having influence
on the industry, they really have, you know and Arthur's, is done
extremely well on his own, you know, of course Sunday Silence and a
Seth, he is so modest. I've interviewed him for the show and we were
talking about, I said, well you still one of the all time greats in Mr.
Prospector. Well, he says, course when I went to buy, get him up here
he was already successful at standing in Florida. I says, well Seth,
a lot of people could have gone to get him but you did it, you know and
01:36:00of course, when he got up here he really exploded, and then Danzig, you
know. I says, geez, what a wonderful stud, Danzig, you know. Well, he
says, Woody Stephens told me I ought to stand that horse (laughs) so I
listened to Woody, you know. I said but you did it. But he didn't want
to take credit for it, you know. He's got this horse out there named,
Arch that he bought as a yearling, they bought, Claiborne did. Went
out there and bought him and I said, why did you buy that horse, you
know. Well, Bill Mott recommended him, (laughs), all right. (laughs)
SMITH: He's not going to take credit.
ELLIS: No, no, that's just the way Arthur is, I mean a Seth is. I enjoy
Arthur too, he's, I like his music, I got his, got a couple of his
CD's, you know.
SMITH: That's right
ELLIS: Yeah, he's good. I like Bluegrass music and he's pretty good.
SMITH: These are all people I hope to interview sometime in the next
01:37:00year or two, so.
ELLIS: Oh, you'll get em.
SMITH: Hal Price Headley, did you know him?
ELLIS: I never meet Mr. Headley, no I never did. See I was, when I got
out of high school basically and spent a year in college and, and then
I was gone for four years. Actually, for six years I was, four years
in service and two years with the training stable, you know and so, I
have a kind of a gap, as far as Lexington is concerned, you know but
I'll tell you some things about Lexington, boy has it changed since I,
knew where all the bookies were. (laughs)
SMITH: Where were they?
ELLIS: Oh, the biggest one of course was at the old Drake Hotel, which
was on Short Street, which was uh, right on half a block, if you, if
you turn left onto Short Street off of Broadway, it was right in the
01:38:00middle on the left down there. The old Clark Hardware was on the right,
and of course, the, the Opera House, which was a movie, was old movie
there, you know, I mean they showed theater, movie theater, so the a,
the Drake Hotel and had two entrances and the first entrance you came
to you walked in and it was the bar. And it was a, a long, almost like
a hallway with a bar on the left and booths on the right and stools;
you know and was real long. You walk all the way to the end of it
and you went through a door and you turned right and you went through
another door, which was closed. And you walked into the bookie and as
you walked in right on the right there was this cage where the, where
all the money was and there was a guy in there, believe it or not, even
had one of those green eye shades, you know, he was back there with,
that's where all the money was, right on the right. And I don't know
01:39:00if you ever saw the Sting or not, the movie, but they almost replica,
made a replica of that, what it looked like in there. All across one
wall as you walked in as you faced, they had uh, the tracks listed in
chalk. And, with the horses names chalked in and the odds, you know,
from the different tracks that were running. Of course, this was back
in the 1940's and if you go in there in the winter time, you know, they
had Fairgrounds, they had Hialeah and that was basically just about it,
but anyway, and was a platform where the guy with earphones on walking
up and down and he would call the races and would caulk in the odds
as they changed, you know and, the, he would call, you know like, the
30, Hialeah, their off at the 30, Hialeah, Fairgrounds at the half at
01:40:00so-in-so so-in-so and so-in-so, I don't know where he was getting this
but he was getting through these earphones I guess. It was a live
wire service someway and they had desks sitting around with free racing
forms, at that time racing forms were fifteen cents and you could sit
down and read your facing form and place your bets, you know. They
had a limit; you couldn't bet over, they didn't give over 20 to 1.
Otherwise, they gave track odds. But it was, it was fascinating; you
know to go in there and in there many times there with my dad. Mayor
would be in there, Chief of Police, you know. (laughs)
SMITH: Do you remember the first time you went in and bet?
ELLIS: You know, I was a kid at that time, I never got to bet but I
was in there, I would go in with my dad. That is where one, one of
the bookies were and you could if you went under on down and you cross
Upper Street and on the right, right in the middle of the block there
was Keith's, and that was a bookie. Then one of the big ones was Ed
01:41:00Curd's place, was right next to where the State Theater is, called the
Mayflower. It had a canopy out front said Mayflower on it, you know.
He was big time gambler. He made the line for football games and
things like that for Las Vegas. Ed Curd did and I never got to go in
his place for some reason we always either went to Keith's or then there
was another one down on Market Street almost to what was Water Street
at that time, almost to what is Lime now. There was a bookie down
there, then there was a, a bookie way out on Limestone on the corner of
Euclid and Lime. Right caddy cornered from where the Water Works were,
where you used to go buy your ice and that, there was a bookie up over
01:42:00a liquor store there, I think the Devereux's owned that liquor store,
I don't know if they were in that bookie or not but, (laughs) that was
and there were probably some others that I can't, oh yeah, there was
one right down on Spring Street which was around, it was a block off
of, a block west of Broadway on, on Main Street, right on the left,
on the corner. It's gone now, it's just a, you know, parking lot down
there now I guess or something. But there was a bookie there also.
SMITH: Now, did your dad go place bets for himself or did he also place
bets for Mr. Fisher?
ELLIS: Oh no, I think, I don't know if Mr. Fisher every wagered or
not, he would bet for himself, you know, and we weren't in there, you
know he was not a regular better but we were in there a lot, you know.
He'd go in there and have a drink and I'd play a pinball machine or
something, you know. (laughs) Take the brat along with him, you know.
SMITH: That's right, so the kids were allowed in huh?
ELLIS: Oh yeah, but Lexington, boy it's changed, you know. On the North
end, it ended right up on Euclid, not Euclid, huh what's the name of
that street? I said it a minute ago. (pause) North Broadway, Russell
Cave bore off right to the left when you went under, it was Seventh
Street then you went under the overpass, where the train station is and
Russell Cave when off to the left and then ended right there. That's
when Lexington ended right there. On the right was the Water Works and
what's the name of that street? You know. Louden Avenue
SMITH: I don't know, I'm not, not from Lexington.
ELLIS: If you went out, uh, if you went west, Lexington Mason Headley
was in the country and was no Cardinal Hill or anything like that there
01:44:00at that time. If you went out East Main Street to Idle Hour Country
Club was in the country and if you went south, out Nicholasville Road,
about the last street out that way was Goodrich Avenue, which is, I
think three blocks or two blocks this side of Southland Drive. So,
it's was a little town. It had, of course the Lafayette Hotel, with
the Golden Horseshoe right across the, right across the road, the
street, the Phoenix. There was the Kentucky Theater and the State
Theater right next to the Phoenix and the Strand and the Ben Ali right
across from Lafayette, the Ada Meade which was down on, almost onto
Broadway on Main Street. Nobody went there because it was rumored it
had rats and the Opera House was a, we used to go in there every now
and then. It was a theater.
SMITH: Did you go to town a lot as a kid then? As a teenager?
ELLIS: Used to go on Saturdays, we used to go and spend my allowance.
SMITH: Well now Lexington has changed a lot but so has the horse
industry. You look from, your entire life has been spent in the
industry. What do you see as the most significant changes?
ELLIS: Veterinary medicine, I think is so much, progressed so much. One
of the most big changes that really affected the working horseman was
when they invented the uh, the paste that you worm with now, that you
give orally. Lord have mercy, you used to have to tube them, you know.
Oooohh and I grew up with those Spy Songs and they're, they were tough
horses to handle. I mean, I've been whipped many a times by a Spy Song
(laughs) and I mean it, it was scary sometimes, it would, you know but
you have to put that tube down in there, that, to, to worm them and
01:46:00that was a big thing, veterinary medicine, I think. Of course, you
know, the help situation now has changed so much now. We have so much
Hispanic help, that there wasn't any at that time. Used to be a lot
of old time grooms, both African American and white, that they are not
around anymore. Also, when I was on a racetrack, there were no women,
you know. And that's changed for the better because a lot of your
better riders now and your better horse people are women.
SMITH: And also on the farms, I've heard that from people, that you have
a lot of women as help on the farm.
ELLIS: Oh yeah, there are now. There weren't then. There weren't then.
Dixiana, when I was growing up, we had one African American, Charlie
Sydney, who worked there and that was the only one. Yeah, nice man, I
01:47:00don't know what ever happened to him, I think he retired. He was there
for years and years and years too. (laughs) But he was, he worked with
the barren mares I remember, took care of the barren mares.
SMITH: What about at the racetrack itself, what are the changes that you
would point to as.
ELLIS: Well, of course the big thing is the private, the lack of private
stables like the Fishers and Dixiana, there's, there's not too many of
them left. The Phipps family is still in and now that's, they've gone
now into the uh, the public stables of course. Of course there always
were public stables but, you know, the Whitney family's stables and the
Wideners and those people. The, the Klebergs, with King Ranch. Those
01:48:00kinds of stables are basically a thing in the past. Now, that you can
buy into Team Valor and own a share of a horse and stuff like that,
you know. Which is good, it gets a lot of people involved in racing
which is good for racing, you know, and that's the biggest change, I
would think and, as far as actual competition, there much, many more
opportunities for fillies now than they were back in the prior to
the 1950's and more grass racing now, which I think is great and of
course, now we're getting the artificial tracks which I also think is a
thing, step in the right direction, anything to cut down on, you know,
on injuries. As far as soundness, I, I wonder about that sometimes,
we're breeding more for speed now. There's a lack of distance racing
01:49:00in which uh, which grieves me because I love the old time cup races
when the horses like, Stymie, Princequillo and, and Assault, and those
horses were running a mile and a half and two miles, you know, when
the Jockey Club Gold Cup was two miles and that's great racing. And
why it's faded out, I, I don't know because I think the public likes, I
think they like distance racing to. I know they like grass racing and
a lot of that is distance racing.
SMITH: But the horses aren't quite as a strong as they used to be is
what I've heard to do that kind of racing.
ELLIS: I think it's, I think it's a more the emphasis now on year
around racing, horses don't get rested enough and emphasis on two
01:50:00year old racing is more now than it used to be. People invest their
money and want some return on it, maybe a little to quick and I think
that's affected uh, a lot of the soundness problems, you know. I
think basically if you took some of these two year olds that and gave
them more time they would end up being sound, sounder, last longer
and rest them. I remember like Mr. E. Gay Drake, who had Swoon's Son
and then Dogoon racing for, full brothers, were racing for him back in
the 50's and shoot, they, he would turn them out all winter and take
them up first of March. Get them ready to run in Chicago, you know,
and they ran for four and five years, you know. And won him a quarter
million dollars a year, you know. (laughs) You know and those horses
stayed sound, you know. It, so I, I think it's the breeding for speed,
01:51:00training them too early, running them too early, and not resting them
and I think that's the big thing. I think tracks are a lot safer
now than they were, even the dirt tracks are, were safer now than the
certainly were back, for instance when Man o' War was running because
they didn't have the equipment to take care of them, you know. Those,
those were tough to run on sometimes. That's my idea.
SMITH: Yeah. There are, how we doing on time?
VIDEOGRAPHER: Ah we're doing okay. Batteries getting a little low.
SMITH: Well, I've got just a couple more questions. Then we'll see if
we want to maybe do something else later. You look at the industry
today, what do you think are some of the more significant challenges?
We hear a lot about slaughter and caring for horses that are being
neglected and abused, excessive breeding, competition from the tracks,
01:52:00immigration, what are some of the issues that you feel are the most
challenging at the moment?
ELLIS: Well, all of the above. (laughs)
ELLIS: Certainly for an image stand point, we need to take care of these
old horses. It's a sad thing, you know, the slaughter thing and it
really, there's not, there's more people involved in rescue now than
there ever have been and it's going in the right direction. You know,
like, what Michael Blowen's doing with Old Friends and these other
organizations that are retiring these old geldings and turning them
out, you know. You know, I've got three of them at the farm, you know,
that uh, that uh, we've rescued and a lot of people are doing that now
01:53:00and it's going in the right direction but it's got a lot, long way to
go. I can't tell you who it is it this time, but I know that there's
one race track that is getting involved where they're buying some
land and horses that running at that track, that are through, they're
retiring them. There in the process of doing that now, it should be
announced pretty soon.
SMITH: Sounds good.
ELLIS: I can't say who it is now but that's the step in the right
direction. And the medication, it needs to be uniform. Rather, you
know, nationally, where uh, uh, the trainers know where they stand.
Because there's so many of these things that you, that you, that you
use, you know and for instance, steroids uh. There, there are medicinal
01:54:00uses for steroids. But you shouldn't run on them, you know, and I
don't think you should give them to yearlings to grow up on or anything
like that I'm probably, probably upsetting a lot of people saying that
but I wouldn't give them. Now when we were training, we did use, I did
use some steroids. I used testosterone on a couple of geldings. But
we were basically putting back what we had taken away when we castrated
them and it made them competitive, where, where before they were not.
Had a little Hard Work gelding named Whoosh, and he wouldn't worth two
dead flies and he just didn't, he wasn't interested in anything so, and
we gave him some Equipoise, we called Equipoise, which was testosterone
01:55:00and that pepped him up a little bit and we won three or four races with
him after that, you know. So, you hate to see it banned all the way,
you know, because there instances like, that but I guess that's the
price you'll have to pay, you know. I mean, he would just never been
worth anything (laughs) you know, without it.
ELLIS: That's just a personal viewpoint of that, you know and of course
phenylbutazone has its purposes. I, but I don't think you need to
run a horse on bute or banamine. The less drugs the better. I think
for the safety of the horse and also for racing's image, you know, the
less, less uh, the fewer drugs you use the better. I never ran a horse
on uh, on lasix, never did. Maybe that's why they were slow. (laughs)
SMITH: Um, I don't know if you want to weigh in on this issues since
its just such a hot topic right now and that' the whole issue of casino
gaming and the tracks.
ELLIS: Well, I'm yeah, I,I would, I'm for it. Simply to keep racing
strong in the state, that'd be the only reason, I mean. I don't care
about casinos. I mean I think they're boring. Uh, but, we need to,
you know, people driving to West Virginia to run rather than going to
Turfway and if we had people shipping all the way to, what's the name,
Presque Downs to run from the Thoroughbred Center last year because the
purses were so big. Up in Pennsylvania, you know and I'm worried that
01:57:00the, with the, with the purses so big in some of these states, that
uh, a lot of the breeding farms will move. You start losing, you know
people start breeding on other, for other programs, you know, where
they're eligible to run in those states and so, I would like to see
them coming in, in a limited basis. I don't think there'll ever be a
casino at Keeneland, no. Not in my lifetime,
ELLIS: I'm, I'm pretty sure it'll go to the Red Mile if they do it, now
that's just me standing here. Good, that's the way I look at it, why
would you junk up Keeneland, you know? (laughs)
SMITH: It's a very special place.
ELLIS: But the purses are especially at Turfway, and they're very,
they're in competition with casino's right across the river and at
Ellis Park, they are to. They need to be boosted where they can be
01:58:00competitive and draw better horses and more horses and if the purses
are good, the horses will come, the good horses will come.
ELLIS: That's the way it is, that's the name, that's the bottom line.
So, I'm for it and they could limit it to the race tracks that would
be perfect but if they have to build a couple somewhere else then build
one down in Harlan County, then that's all right with me too.
SMITH: That's certainly still up in the air. Since we're afraid we're
going to run low on battery, I'm just to ask you one final question and
that's, you spent your entire life you know associated with the horse
industry in one way or another, what has that meant to you?
ELLIS: Fun. It's been a great life. It's been, I've enjoyed it from
the day I knew what a horse was until the day I started talking to you.
It's a, it's uh, great people, love a horse, and it's just, it's been
01:59:00a fun life. I, I wouldn't change a thing. Wouldn't change a thing.
Might of bet on a few more winners. (laughs)
SMITH: Okay, well I think at that, we'll go ahead and end for the day
and then we'll talk a little bit later about maybe doing this again. I
think you've still got lots of stories.
ELLIS: Oh I don't know about that.
[End of interview.]