There are no oil paintings of Triple Crown winners Whirlaway and Citation on the living room walls; no trophies from the Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont on display; and photographs of famed trainers Ben and Jimmy Jones, legendary jockey Eddie Arcaro and all of Calumet's Derby winners are back in Kentucky. The only hint of the residents' identity and interests comes from the
Daily Racing Form
on the coffee table.
"The first thing I do in the morning is read it, even though I need a big magnifying glass," says Lucille Markey, who is 81 and doubts that she will get to Churchill Downs next month to see the race her stable dominated for years and has an excellent chance to win again with a powerful colt named Alydar.
When the weather turns a bit warmer, Mrs. Markey and her husband, Admiral Gene Markey, 82, will leave LaGorce Island off Miami Beach for the rolling green hills of Fayette County, Ky. and the 846 acres of Calumet Farm, which for many years was to racing what the New York Yankees were to baseball, the Boston Celtics to basketball and the Montreal Canadiens to hockey. It was one of the greatest of sports dynasties, and like the Canadiens and the Yankees, it could well become pre-potent again.
When Calumet was at the top of its game between 1941 and '61, it had a better bench than the Supreme Court and the Yankees combined. But just two years ago, Calumet's purse earnings had sunk to a 41-year low of $87,725. Then along came Alydar and an excellent filly named Our Mims, and in 1977 its earnings rose to $673,000; this year's take could exceed $1 million, which is more like what Calumet raked in in its heyday. "Just wait a little bit," says John Veitch, the 32-year-old trainer who has helped restore Calumet's illustrious name. "We have some other good horses. They will be out before long, and I think they will win some very important races."
For Mrs. Markey, Calumet's decline and resurgence awaken memories of the late 1930s and early '40s, when her first husband, Warren Wright Sr., whose family owned the Calumet Baking Powder Co., was thinking of selling his racing interests. At that time, it was Whirlaway that came galloping to the rescue. "Warren was very discouraged," Mrs. Markey says. "But you always seem to be at the lowest before you start up again. We have been through some lean years recently, but you don't give up in the bad times. Calumet has won eight Kentucky Derbies, and if Alydar is good enough and lucky enough to win this year, I'd like to see it, but I can't go because I'm in a wheelchair [she suffers from arthritis], and if we win, I'd want to go down in the winner's circle and hug Alydar.
" Admiral Markey and I go out to the track to see the horses in the morning whenever we can; the car is driven up to the rail and we sit and look out. I always loved horses. When I was a girl growing up in Kentucky my father had horses and I'd stand on a tree stump and coax them over to me and ride them, but I never let him see me do it. He was afraid I'd get thrown off, and one day I did and was hurt but I never let on.
"We go from LaGorce to Lexington to Saratoga, but of all the tracks, I love Churchill Downs the best. The Derby is the race you always want to win."
On Derby Day (May 6) Alydar will be a sentimental—as well as a betting—favorite of racing fans, some of whom have been sending letters to the farm wishing Calumet well. "We have fans all over. They're coming out of the woodwork," says Margaret Glass, Calumet's secretary, who has worked at the farm for 38 years. Last week she oozed pride and hope. She was wearing a homemade outfit of Calumet's famed devil's red and blue colors, consisting of a red dress with double bars of blue on the sleeves, blue buttons and a blue collar.
There are 37 buildings on the grounds, each white with red trim. Running between rows of oaks and sycamores are six miles of roads connecting the buildings and pastures. The Markeys' three-storied house has a trophy room containing 495 awards—120 gold trophies, 283 silver trophies, 90 silver cups, one gold cup and a Steuben Glass trophy from the 1959 Widener. The collection is kept in a vault when the Markeys are away—about seven months of the year. Much of their time is spent in Florida because Admiral Markey, who served as an assistant to Navy Secretary James Forrestal during World War II, also is affected by arthritis.
Before Calumet closed its gates to visitors in the late 1960s, the top tourist attraction was its cemetery, honoring its best runners and dominated by a bronze statue of the great sire Bull Lea. Bull Lea's sons lie to his right, and his daughters to his left. Other Calumet mares occupy the graves in another tier. Directly in front of the Bull Lea monument are the Derby winners—Whirlaway (1941), Pensive (1944), Citation (1948), Ponder (1949), Hill Gail (1952) and Iron Liege (1957). Tim Tam, the 1958 winner, is 23 and still stabled at Calumet. Forward Pass, declared the winner of the 1968 Derby when Dancer's Image was disqualified, stands at stud in Japan.