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Transformed from cattle to horses, historic Mt. Brilliant Farm awash in restored elegance

“Around the house and where we live … there’s a lot of old trees and shady areas. Russell Cave is on the farm. There’s a lot of history with Russell Cave that’s fantastic.”

Even during the worst of droughts, the cave has running water. And even during the hottest days of summer, he said — such as the recent hundred-degree heat wave — Russell Cave keeps a temperature that is at least ten degrees cooler, with air flowing out from the cave’s entrance.

It was also near Russell Cave during an 1843 political rally that debates led to the Clay/Brown brawl. There, abolitionist leader Cassius Clay (the 19th century orator, not the 20th century boxer who became Muhammad Ali) was attacked. Samuel Brown shot Clay in the chest, and according to one historical report, only Clay’s knife prevented his heart being pierced. In response, the furious Clay is said to have attacked Brown, stabbed him, and threw him over an embankment, seriously wounding him.

One house on the farm, built in the 1790s, could be worth its own book, said the farm’s chief operating officer, Gay Bredin. It was part of the Underground Railroad, she said — the route taken by slaves in Southern states to escape to the free North. That adds to the rumor that slaves also took shelter in Russell Cave, hiding behind a false wall made of stone, Bredin added.

An even older house, built in 1790, is still being used as a guest house, Goodman said. That is not the same as another structure the family had first tried to refurbish, then finally chose to demolish — bringing a few neighbors’ consternation and some local controversy. For the actual oldest house, he added, they have made some repairs inside, but maintained the building’s exterior. “It’s probably one of the oldest brick houses in Lexington,” he said. “We love it.”

Newer buildings on the farm include a main residence and a chapel, Bredin said. Mt. Brilliant’s employees — about 19 people work on the farm — also enjoy its formal gardens, she added.

Farm work

Mt. Brilliant Secondary 7.20.12 225 Transformed from cattle to horses, historic Mt. Brilliant Farm awash in restored elegance

For instance, “we don’t turn our horses out at night, our broodmares out at night, until after Derby,” Goodman said. “We turn them out during the day and bring them up to the barn.” For that method, he can thank farm manager Jody Alexander, a fourth-generation farm manager. When Goodman asked him about the method, Alexander said he didn’t know why. That’s how his father, grandfather and great-grandfather always did it, he said. Whatever the reasons for the method —frost on the ground, poisonous grasses or insects — it apparently kept the farm from having problems with Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome (MRLS).

Mt. Brilliant takes care with the mares it buys and with handling their foals, Goodman went on. About 25 brood mares can spread across 144 stalls, allowing plenty of room and preventing overgrazing of pastures, he said.

Foaling mares are kept in certain areas of the farm, then after the foals are born, staff move the mares to completely different portions of the farm, which have been untouched for at least six months. “We’re fortunate to be able to do that,” he said.

“We really are isolated,” Goodman continued. “We have horses that are born on the farm, and they don’t leave the farm until they go to the sales or the races,” or to be trained, or to go to a clinic. “Besides that, we have a very closed herd. And — knock on wood — it protects us from diseases or other issues, because we don’t have horses coming in and out of here all the time.”

The only section used for other horses is the area designated for the younger Goodmans’ polo tournaments, Goodman said. Those continued throughout July and require much preparation.

“July will be what I call our crazy month, because we’ve got polo every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday,” Bredin explained. “All our staff is pretty much dedicated to those things and entertaining out-of-town guests for the polo [games].”

Then comes the next stage of the farm’s annual schedule, Goodman said. “Breeding season’s over, and I think we had a pretty good breeding season. Now the focus is on prepping the yearlings and getting them ready to sell. That’s what we do every day, and we’re always looking at them and thinking what we can do better, how that horse is going to turn out, where he belongs in the sale, and what book should that horse be in.

“We have ten horses that we’re putting in Book 2 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale and three or four in Book 3, and three or four in the other books, and three or four that we’re keeping to race,” he explained. “We’re grooming the yearlings every day, getting them used to things, getting them used to walking in the ring and being shown to them. … It’s a busy place this time of year.”

Apart from that, Goodman has also had a hand in local charities and farmland-preservation efforts. He helped found the Fayette Alliance, an advocacy group to promote development within Fayette County’s urban service area and to encourage preserving farmland. With that and other efforts, the farm owners’ goal is to make Fayette resemble the tourism-oriented wine country in California, only with horses, Bredin said.

“I love the horses,” Goodman said. “I think anybody who is fortunate enough to get to be around horses every day, it’s a great life. … To me, they’re the most beautiful animal on Earth.

“To watch them grow and see them in the different stages, for me and for everyone, you learn something new every day about a horse. They never cease to amaze me, how unbelievable they are and how giving they are.”

“The environment is beautiful,” Bredin continued. “To be able to drive onto a farm that is well-maintained and kept, with the blood stock they have, is pretty special, and I’m very thankful that I can do that every day. Being part of a farm that’s 15 minutes from downtown Lexington that’s as big and lovely [as this] — I think we’re lucky that we live here.”

“I just can’t imagine anything better,” Goodman agreed. “There’s a lot of people in this business who can do whatever they wanted or live wherever they wanted, but they choose to be in Kentucky. To me, there’s no place more beautiful.”

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