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There will be no Kentucky Derby today

By Mike Watson

Kentucky has been the center of the universe on the first Saturday in May for decades more than a century. Rarely has the 'most exciting two minutes in sports' been delayed or canceled. Not since 1945 have we experienced this no-horse first Saturday.

Well, in keeping with the horse racing spirit, here are a few items on the importance of the 'sport of kings' from right here in Adair County. Our ancestors loved their horses and, of course, the horse and mule made the world go round. Travel was by horse power alone for so long. Adair County has been known as a center of horse breeding since the earliest settlers.

The Kentucky Gazette, premier newspaper from the earliest days of the Commonwealth, published at Lexington, often spent at least twenty-five percent of the column inches of any given issue to horse sales, horse races, lost horses, stolen horses, and stray horses found.

In the issue of 12 May 1825, and several subsequent issues, a large advertisement appeared concerning Adair County and the Race Course here:

"Horse Sporting--The subscriber, Inn Keeper in the Town of Columbia, Adair County, Ky., is now preparing and will have in complete order by the 10th of April ensuing, the Columbia Turf, which is in sight of the Town. On this Turf will be run a match race on the second Thursday in May, next (the 12th of the month) one mile and repeat for $1,400.

"Sampson Casky's Esq., Florazel horse, against Andrew Barnet's Whip mare Spoil-letter. Several other races are contemplated. This turf is about the center between Lexington, Nashville, Louisville and Huntsville; equal and by many said to be superior to the Lexington turf. It shall be kept in complete trim for fall and spring racing and being situated about the center of those places mentioned (whereat the best running horses in the western country are to be found, he hopes to have the pleasure of seeing Gentlemen from those quarters with their fine horses, meet on the Columbia Turf and there try their Speed and Bottom. [Signed] Robert H. Burton."
The old Columbia race course was along Russell Creek just north of town near present highway 55. There were races there as early as the first decade of the 1800s, and possibly as soon as the town was founded--1802.

Robert H. Burton, the 'Inn Keeper', operated a tavern, or as we would say today, a hotel, in Columbia. He was a prominent businessman and the racing circuit provided much capital to the local economy through the 1850s.

The advertisement was published in many prominent papers across the south in the weeks that followed. The original asked other newspaper editors to copy the announcement in order to spread the good word:
"The Editors of the Frankfort Argus, Louisville Advertiser, Russellville Messenger, and Nashville Republican will be so good as to insert the above three times in their respective papers and forward the amount of their respective charges to me which shall immediately be paid or remitted. [Signed] Robert H. Burton. Columbia, Adair County, Ky., March 28, 1825."
The following year the Nashville Banner printed an important paid article of interest to horse breeder's of the day, and to we historians today:

National Banner and Nashville Whig, Nashville, TN, 13 May 1826:
"I hereby certify that I have seen several colts from Maj. John Motley's imported horse, Bluster. They are highly esteemed by their owners--they are remarkably fine in my opinion, and several of them are considered good racers in my country. Mr. Coffee's young stud cold by Bluster, I think superior to any colt I ever saw. Given under my hand, this 25th March 1826. [Signed] Edward Greer, Adair County, Ky.

"At the request of Maj. John Motley, we the undersigned take great pleasure in recommending to the public his imported horse, Bluster, as a sure foal getter and fine breeder. We have seen a number of his colts, which are large, likely and highly esteemed. Given under our hands this 3d day of April 1826, at Columbia, Adair County, Ky."
The Adair Countians who signed this testimonial are listed here. Several of these names will be recognized by those who know their early local history:

"Creed Haskins, John Smith, Sen., Harrison M. Gill, James G. Yeates (Yates), Daniel Trabue, Jr., Merry Willis, Joseph Nelson, John Montgomery, John Butler, G.W. Campbell, C[hamp]. Butler, W. Burton, Alexander Miller, Samuel B. Field, Robert Powell, James Turner, James B. Ewers, [and] Allen D. Patterson."

Bluster, was an animal of renown, and had been imported from England and his offspring brought large amounts in America. To advertise such a blood line from an Adair County stable was good and big business.

This story was posted on 2020-05-02 07:20:00
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