I’ve lived here in the beautiful Bluegrass area of Kentucky all my life. The sight of acres of rolling green pastures full of sleek thoroughbred horses, bordered by miles of painted four-board fences, is a common experience here. Among my acquaintances are bloodstock agents, horse breeders and trainers, racetrack officials, equine vets and artists, horse farm landscapers, secretaries, grooms and exercise riders. Since 1936, Lexingtonians have been marking time by the spring and fall meets at Keeneland; the entire world participates in the excitement of Derby Day at Churchill Downs in Louisville. With Keeneland gearing up for an April 8 opening date, and Derby festivities beginning April 14, I am compelled to write down some of the stories from my family research about horsemen, horsewomen, and the horses themselves.
The first such biographical sketch is of Alan and Marvin Gaines and Bally Ache. The Gaines brothers were my sixth cousins once removed, life-long residents of Walton in Boone County, Kentucky. Their ancestors were among the first families to settle in Boone County. Alan Gaines owned and managed the Walton Lumber Company for more than fifty years, was president and chairman of the board of the Dixie State Bank in Walton, and was a great equine sportsman, breeder of thoroughbreds and judge at saddlehorse competitions. Marvin owned Spring Lake Stud Farm. At Alan’s Twin Oaks Farm in Walton, Alan and Marvin bred Bally Ache, the 1960 Preakness winner, Kentucky Derby runner-up and the leading thoroughbred money winner that year.
Bally Ache was sired by the Irish import Ballydam out of Celestial Blue. His great-great-grandfather was Man O War, one of the greatest race horses in history, who won 20 out of 21, including the Preakness and the Belmont in 1920.
As a yearling, Bally Ache was described as a blocky, short-backed colt with a short, choppy stride. He was sold as part of a two-horse transaction for $5,000 to Leonard Fruchtman, a steel company executive from Toledo who had a small string of horses racing under his Edgehill Farm colors. As a two-year-old, Bally Ache won five stakes races, set a new track record at Jamaica Racetrack for five furlongs, and finished out of the money just once. He ended the year ranked second in earnings.
At age three, Bally Ache won the Flamingo Stakes and the Florida Derby, which made him eligible for the Kentucky Derby. In the 1960 Run for the Roses, Venetian Way, already beaten four times by Bally Ache, won the race, and Bally Ache came in second.
He was bought by the Turfland racing syndicate for $1,250,000, which Sports Illustrated magazine characterized as a “staggering price.” He then went on to win the 84th running of the Preakness by four lengths.
Bally Ache was entered in the Belmont but came up lame the day before the race and had to be withdrawn. He bounced back from that injury, only to suffer a career-ending ankle injury causing him to end his last race on three legs, in October 1960.
Bally Ache was moved to Bosque Bonita Farm in Versailles, Kentucky, owned by one of the syndicate members, where he was scheduled to stand at stud. Sadly, and ironically, he developed an intestinal ailment and died on October 28, 1960. As a race horse, Bally Ache had made 31 starts, won 16, placed nine times and was third on four occasions, bringing in $758,522.
Also sadly and ironically, Marvin Gaines died in an automobile accident on his way home from Keeneland the next year, on April 9, 1961. Alan lived to age 88, passing away in 1984.