Purchased by Keller as a yearling in 1956, Gay Yankee was the first of half a dozen fillies he has occasionally trained and raced before putting them into service as broodmares. She was also the most successful of them, winning $70,000 at a time when Keller badly needed cash to expand his budding operation. As a promising broodmare. Gay Yankee delivered three foals. One day in 1966 Keller noticed that the mare was behaving strangely. Later that same night she lapsed into a coma and died, the victim of a brain tumor. She was 11, an age at which broodmares ordinarily have seven or eight productive years ahead of them.
It is the horse breeder's mission not only to produce sound animals, but also to try to keep them sound. When two of his yearling colts ran slight fevers earlier this year, Keller hurriedly called the vet and worried mightily until their temperatures returned to normal. "You can't take any chances," Keller said. "There's always the danger of something like that running through your whole bunch." If nothing else, such experiences help build a sense of perspective. At the same time the colts took ill, a blizzard swept across Keller's farm, toppling two apple trees, freezing up water pipes in the horse barn and tearing off a dozen fence rails. The ex-ballplayer just shrugged. "The normal wear and tear of winter," he said. "Around here you don't even consider that sort of thing trouble."