Interview with John Williams, July 10, 2019

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:00 - Early work as a groom in Maryland

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Partial Transcript: Are, are, you kind of set?

Segment Synopsis: John Williams, a native of Maryland, describes his move to Kentucky in 1976. Williams also shares his experiences beginning as a groom and how that early start shaped the rest of his career, stating, "I'm just a groom that had a good shot.”

Keywords: Apprenticeships; Bill Haun; Billy Haun; Bridles; Children; Claiming races; Edgar Lucas; Edgar Merryman Lucas; Families; Grooms; Halters; Haun, Billy; Helmore Farm (Baltimore Co., Maryland); Humble; Jeans; Kentuckians; Lucas, Edgar; Maryland; Marylander; Monmouth Park; Owners; Paddock boots; Race tracks; Smiles; Versailles, Kentucky; Wilmont D. ‘Billy’ Haun; Winners Circle

Subjects: Compass Rose (Race horse); Horse trainers; Horsemen; Horses--Training

00:11:01 - Helmore Farm

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Partial Transcript: Well, I, I, first--uh, my first job on a Thoroughbred operation...

Segment Synopsis: With the encouragement from his father, John Williams decided to leave college at the University of Maryland to pursue learning the trade of farm management first-hand.

Keywords: A.B. Hancock; Arthur B. Hancock; Arthur Boyd Hancock; Blue Ridge Farm (Virginia); Bull Hancock; College degrees; Combs II, Leslie; Dads; Dr. D.L. Proctor; Dr. I.W. Frock; Draw reigns; E.P. Taylor; Edgar Lucas; Edgar Merryman Lucas; Edward Plunket Taylor; Ellicott City, Maryland; Farm managers; Fathers; Grooms; Hancock, Arthur B.; Hancock, Arthur Boyd; Hancock, Arthur Boyd "Bull"; Hancock, Bull; Hancock, Jr., Arthur Boyd "Bull"; Helmore Farm (Baltimore Co., Maryland); Horatio A. Luro; Leslie Combs II; Lucas, Edgar; Luro, Horatio A.; Mares; Maryland; Mentors; Pedigrees; Pimlico Race Course; Race tracks; Spendthrift Farm (Fayette Co., Ky.); Taylor, E. P.; University of Maryland; Yearlings

Subjects: Farm management; Farm managers; Horse breeders; Horses--Health; Mares; Mr. Prospector (Race horse); Northern Dancer (Race horse); Ohio State University; Thoroughbred horse; Veterinarians

00:23:47 - An inherited love for horses

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Partial Transcript: And, ah, returning to what we have here on, on the table.

Segment Synopsis: Though John Williams never met his grandfather, John Quigley, he believes that he inherited his love and interest in horses from him. In this short segment Williams recalls stories of his grandfather, who was adept at horse husbandry and medicine.

Keywords: Barbers; Chemicals; Fathers; Grandfathers; Italians; John Quigley; Liniments; Medications; Moms; Mothers; Pimlico Race Course; Pimlico daily double; Poultices; Whole oats

Subjects: Horsemen; Horses--Health; Thoroughbred horse; Veterinary medicine

00:27:56 - Early career horse sales

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Partial Transcript: Well you had to do it the long way around instead.

Segment Synopsis: John Williams describes his early work and success in horse sales. He recounts a specific 1967 sale when he and Lee Eaton first met--the two would later become business partners.

Keywords: Blair Scott; Business partnerships; Eaton, Lee; Edgar Lucas; Edgar Merryman Lucas; Friendships; Horse sales; Insurance agents; Keeneland November sale; Keeneland Race Course; Keeneland sales; Lee Eaton; Lexington (Ky.); Lucas, Edgar; Sales agency; Scott, Blair

Subjects: Horse industry; Horse industry--Kentucky; Horsemen; It’s Luck (Race horse); Management

00:30:42 - Starting at Spendthrift Farm

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Partial Transcript: But, uh, we're, um, passing lightly over there the most dramatic furlong period of your career at Spendthrift.

Segment Synopsis: John Williams describes his early years at Spendthrift and shares how he came to have the job.

Keywords: Bradley, Col. E. R.; Brownell Combs; Calumet Farm (Fayette Co., Ky.); Cinnamon, Johnny; Cinnamon, Melvin; Col. E.R. Bradley; Combs II, Leslie; Combs, Brownell; Conditioning horses; D. G. van Clief, Jr.; Danny van Clief; Eaton, Lee; Edgar Lucas; Edgar Merryman Lucas; Farm managers; Fasig Tipton Co., Inc.; Fasig-Tipton Sales Company; Gentry, Olin; Gilpin, Tyson; Grooms; Helmore Farm (Baltimore Co., Maryland); Idle Hour Stock Farm (Fayette Co., Ky.); Johnny Cinnamon; Keeneland September Sales; Keeneland Yearling Sales; Lee Eaton; Leslie Combs II; Lucas, Edgar; Melvin Cinnamon; Olin Gentry; Tyson Gilpin

Subjects: Black Toney (Race horse); Bold Ruler (Race horse); Farm management; Graustark (Race horse); His Majesty (Race horse); Horse trainers; Horses--Training; La Troienne (Race horse); Little Current (Race horse); Ribot (Race horse); Tambourine (Race horse); Yearling manager

00:38:54 - Leslie Combs II

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Partial Transcript: Why don't you start with that dollar bill.

Segment Synopsis: John Williams discusses working with Leslie Combs, specifically detailing the notable clientele of Spendthrift Farm, who were drawn to the farm for its incredible reputation and stock.

Keywords: Bets; Brownell Combs; Cartoons; Clientele; Clients; Colts; Combs II, Leslie; Commercial horse breeders; Horse breeding; Horse farms; Horse sales; Legacy; Leslie Combs II; Sons; Spendthrift Farm (Fayette Co., Ky.)

Subjects: Alibi (Race horse); Elsie Two (Race horse); Horse breeders; Horse buyers; Horse farms--Kentucky; Horse industry--Kentucky; Horse syndication; Wajima (Race horse)

00:47:23 - Nashua

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Partial Transcript: First of all, um, let's talk about the horses.

Segment Synopsis: John Williams recalls his early days at Spendthrift Farm, recounting numerous horses he worked with, as well as the influential people he met along the way. One particular horse of focus within this segment is Nashua.

Keywords: Arcaro, Eddie; Balance; Bill Shoemaker; Brownell Combs; Canon bones; Champion horses; Combs II, Leslie; Combs, Brownell; Conformation; Cousin Leslie; Durable; Eddie Arcaro; Fasig Tipton Co., Inc.; Fasig-Tipton Sales Company; Fitzsimmons, Jim; Garden State Park; Gaver, John; George Dunton Widener, Jr.; George Edward "Eddie" Arcaro; George Widener; George Widener Jr.; Guggenheim Barn; Hirsch, Max; Horse races; Horse shoes; Horse stalls; Jim Fitzsimmons; John Gaver; Kelley, Walter; Leslie Combs II; Max Hirsch; Nashua Motel; Shoemaker, Bill; Spendthrift Farm (Fayette Co., Ky.); Stallion barns; Stud books; Sturdy; Syl Veitch; Sylvester Veitch; Thoroughbred Record (publication); Veitch, Sylvester; Walter A. Kelley; Walter Kelley; William Lee "Bill" Shoemaker; Yearlings

Subjects: Alibi (Race horse); Bold Hour (Race horse); Cornish Prince (Race horse); Exclusive Native (Race horse); Fleet Nasrullah (Race horse); Gallant Man (Race horse); Kentucky Derby; Nashua (Race horse); Never Bend (Race horse); Pretense (Race horse); Prince John (Race horse); Rainy Lake (Race horse); Raise a Native (Race horse); Secretariat (Race horse); Tambourine (Race horse); Wajima (Race horse)

01:02:03 - Harbor View Farm's Louis and Patrice Wolfson

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Partial Transcript: And did you--what--were you--you were obviously dealing mostly with, with the horses but did you get to know some of these clients?

Segment Synopsis: John Williams shares stories of both clients and horses at Spendthrift Farm, with specific focus on clients Louis and Patrice Wolfson of Harbor View Farm and their horses Affirmed and Exclusive Native.

Keywords: Attorneys; Belmont Stakes; Blacksmith; Brownell Combs; Calumet Farm (Fayette Co., Ky.); Carotid arteries; Combs II, Leslie; Combs, Brownell; Contract law; Don Sturgill; Dr. Don Witherspoon; Foals; Guttural pouch infection; Harbor View Farm (Marion Co., Florida); Hialeah Park; Hialeah Racetrack; Hill, Jim; Hill, Sally; Horse breeding; Horse of the year; Insurance policy; Jim Hill; Jonabell Farm (Fayette Co., Ky.); Karen Taylor; Lawyers; Leslie Combs II; Louis Wolfson; Louis, Wolfson; Mares; Markey Cancer Center (Lexington, Ky.); Mickey Taylor; Patrice Wolfson; Patrice, Wolfson; Pedigrees; Purse money; Sally Hill; Stallions; Stud books; Sturgill, Don; Taylor, Karen; Taylor, Mickey; Triple Crown winners; Tumors; Undefeated two-year-old

Subjects: Affirmed (Race horse); Exclusive Native (Race horse); Farm management; Horse breeders; Horse farms--Kentucky; Horse industry; Horse industry--Kentucky; Horses--Health; Veterinary medicine

01:15:50 - Seattle Slew

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Partial Transcript: In your collection of Triple Crown winners, there's one that, that you credit for your snowy hair.

Segment Synopsis: John Williams shares the story Seattle Slew's syndication as well as the challenges involved breeding him.

Keywords: Breeding sheds; Brownell Combs; Combs, Brownell; Combs, Linda; Gentry, Tom; Hialeah Park; Hialeah Racetrack; Horse of the Year; Insurance policies; Joe Williams; Karen Taylor; Linda Combs; Mares; Mickey Taylor; Pedigrees; Pure speed; Purse money; Purses; Speed; Spendthrift Farm (Fayette Co., Ky.); Stud; Taylor, Karen; Taylor, Mickey; Tom Gentry; Williams, Joe

Subjects: Count Fleet (Race horse); Fleet Flight (Race horse); Horse breeders; Horse racing; Horse syndication; Laugh Aloud (Race horse); Seattle Slew (Race horse); Secretariat (Race horse); Triple Crown (U.S. horse racing)

01:24:45 - Modern-day breeding problems

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Partial Transcript: It's a good job that they didn't have 200 mare books in those days or, or you wouldn't have any hair.

Segment Synopsis: John Williams suggests that the issues horses face today are directly related to incestuous inbreeding. While he stresses that he's no expert, he can't help but think that the reason today's horses are less sound and less durable has a direct correlation to the increase in stud book sizes.

Keywords: Bloodlines; Bones; Covering; Delicate; Diversity; Durability; Feet; Hooves; Inbreeding; Issues; Mating; Pedigrees; Problems; Soundness; Stud books; Trends; Unsound

Subjects: Hail to Reason (Race horse); Horse breeders; Horse industry; Horses--Health; Mr. Prospector (Race horse); Nashua (Race horse); Northern Dancer (Race horse); Raise a Native (Race horse)

01:29:45 - Caro

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Partial Transcript: I need one more, and I'll--we'll, we'll let you go soon.

Segment Synopsis: John Williams recalls the time he was responsible for bringing home the horse Caro. Caro was a French horse purchased for $4.2 million.

Keywords: Air France; Airports; American Horse Council; Breeding; Breeding seasons; Breeding sheds; Brooks, Clem; Brownell Combs; Cargo planes; Clem Brooks; Combs, Brownell; Contagious equine metritis (CEM); Countess Margit Batthyany; Curtin, Ted; Department of Agriculture; Dr. Don Witherspoon; Ireland; Mares; Normandy, France; Quarantines; Stallions; Ted Curtin; Tranquilizers

Subjects: Caro (Race horse); Chambord (Race horse); Europe; Fortino (Race horse); Horse breeders; Horse buyers; Horse buyers--Kentucky; Horses--Health; Nasrullah (Race horse); Veterinary medicine

01:38:26 - The Spendthrift team

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Partial Transcript: Well Chris, I've, I've just been talking about these horses, you know.

Segment Synopsis: During John Williams' time at Spendthrift Farm, staffing needs required 130 employees. In this segment, Williams recalls his team and their experiences.

Keywords: Bill Haun; Billy Haun; Brooks, Clem; Buster Gordon; Careers; Clem Brooks; Employees; English National Stud; Executive positions; Foals; France; Gordon, Buster; Grandparents; Haun, Billy; Hispanics; Ireland; Irish National Stud; Mares; Maternal instinct; Mentoring; Mentors; Michael Osborne; Osborne, Michael; Parental pride; Staff; Student exchange program; Student exchange visas; Teamwork; Virginia; Wales; Wilmont D. ‘Billy’ Haun; Yankees; Young horsemen

Subjects: Farm management; Hispanics in the United States; Horse farms--Kentucky; Horse industry--Kentucky; Horse trainers; Horsemen; Horses--Training; Horsewomen; Raise a Native (Race horse); Veterinarians

01:47:46 - Godolphin Flying Start / Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum

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Partial Transcript: But I, I, know you were very honored to be part of Flying Start.

Segment Synopsis: John Williams shares his pride of being a trustee for the Godolphin Flying Start, an international management and leadership training program for the Thoroughbred industry. Williams emphasizes the importance and influence of the program. He also stresses the work done by the Maktoum family and the impact of their influence on Central Kentucky.

Keywords: Bluegrass; Central Kentucky; Flying Start; Industry leaders; Joe Osbourne; Maktoum family; Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum; Osbourne, Joe; Philanthropy; Scientists; Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum; Sheikh Mohammed

Subjects: Horse industry; Horse industry--Kentucky; Horse racing; Horsemen; Horsewomen

01:52:32 - Ballindaggin Farm

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Partial Transcript: Now, you also did some breeding in the, in the name of your grandfather's hometown.

Segment Synopsis: John Williams purchased his farm in 1982, Ballindaggin Farm, named for his grandfather's hometown. Williams discusses his farm and the result of the investment.

Keywords: Ballindaggin Farm (Fayette Co., Ky.); Bassett, III, James Edward "Ted"; Bassett, Lucy Gay; Brownell Combs; Calumet Farm (Fayette Co., Ky.); Chris McCarron; Combs, Brownell; Fayette County (Ky.); Gainesway Farm (Fayette Co., Ky.); Grandfathers; Harbor View Farm (Marion Co., Florida); James Edward "Ted" Bassett, III; Loans; Louis Wolfson; Lucy Gay Bassett; McCarron, Chris; Mothers; Property; Public offering; Spendthrift Farm (Fayette Co., Ky.); Stallions; Teddy Bassett; Wall Street; Wolfson, Louis

Subjects: Farm management; Flawlessly (Race horse); Horse breeders; Horse industry; Horse industry--Kentucky; La Confidence (Race horse); Nijinsky II (Race horse); Stallions