While Arthur slipped off to Stone Farm to rebuild his life, Seth rose to assume his father's place—a 23-year-old college graduate suddenly thrust to the top of the greatest breeding establishment in the world, in charge of a farm worth tens of millions in livestock. Says Seth, "Arthur had the burden to bear on his shoulders of bein' turned out in the cold, and I had the burden to bear on my shoulders, like some young basketball coach, of following in the footsteps of John Wooden or Adolph Rupp. So, you know, everybody's got to carry their own bag of rocks. Carry them and do the best you can."
Seth carried his triumphantly in February of 1973. In his first major job as head of Claiborne, he syndicated Secretariat, in 32 shares, for a then world-record $6.08 million, convincing breeders to shell out $190,000 a share 10 weeks before the horse would run in the Kentucky Derby. Now all he had to do was wait for the race, and while Seth and Claiborne didn't own Secretariat, Seth now had a reputation at stake. "What would have happened if the horse had failed?" he asks. "I might have gone down with him."
Instead, Secretariat won the most spectacular Kentucky Derby in history, and Seth was feted as a chip off the old block, Bull's son, the bearer of the torch. Arthur was at the Derby, and that night he went home to Stone Farm. "I went back to the little house," he says. "Seth had won the Kentucky Derby. My little brother! I felt terrible."
In the years after Arthur left Claiborne—while he was scuffling around Bourbon County fitting parcels of land together, gathering clients and looking for stallions and mares—hundreds of people would see him and mistakenly call out, "Hi, there, Seth." Arthur Hancock had almost evaporated. "It was strange," he says. "Seth was the man."
At times Arthur drank as if to self-destruct, getting tanked in town and then driving home too fast. In 1975 he saw a pretty blonde named Staci Worthington working at a sale, and his first thought was, She looks like an angel, but I don't deserve her—wasted rogue that I am. He finally did ask her out, and they eloped in 1977. But Arthur was still the invisible man. Staci would introduce herself to people and they would say, "Are you related to Seth Hancock?"
By the time Arthur married Staci, he had purchased Stone Farm from Bull's estate and added a few other parcels of land, for a total of 844 acres. The vow he made to Sullivan that night in 1972 was no empty one. He talked about it all the time to Staci. "He wanted to win the Kentucky Derby, and he wanted to be bigger than Claiborne," she says. "He was trying to prove something to his father. It really didn't matter if his father was here or not. And he had to prove something to himself."
He worked tirelessly building up Stone Farm. In 1977 he purchased another 1,500 acres, and he was on his tractor or bulldozer all day, pulling up old wire fences, clearing trees, filling washes, mowing pastures. He built miles of fencing and collected clients to board their mares at Stone. "Seven days a week, from six in the morning to six at night," he says. "Year after year."
He began standing some unfashionable stallions, such as Cougar II, at Stone Farm, and he bought relatively inexpensive mares, such as Peacefully, to breed to them. He mated those two in 1978, and the following spring Peacefully foaled a horse at Stone that Hancock named Gato Del Sol. Why did he decide to breed Peacefully to Cougar II? "A complete outcross," he says. "Hybrid vigor!"
In partnership with Leone Peters, he entered Gato Del Sol in the 1982 Kentucky Derby. The big gray was 21-1, and Arthur stood numbly, in disbelief, as his horse came from dead last in a field of 19, charged to the lead nearing the eighth pole and won by 2½ lengths. And when the OFFICIAL sign flashed, he and Staci took off for the winner's circle. A Hancock had finally bred and owned a Kentucky Derby winner. "I felt like I could float right over that infield," Arthur says. "I thought, 'Now I know what is meant by walking on air.' I did something that Daddy tried to do all his life and couldn't. I was overwhelmed. I did it all myself! I said, 'I'm not such a stupid, worthless bastard after all.' "
Using Gato as collateral for a bank loan, Arthur quickly bought another 1,200-acre tract of land, making Stone larger than Claiborne. To Sam Ransom, one of Claiborne's old farmhands, now working for Stone, Arthur said, "Just think, we've won the Derby and now we're bigger than Claiborne." To which Sam, who often speaks in rhymes, replied, "We might be bigger in size, but Claiborne's bigger otherwise."