The Thoroughbred Center is located in Fayette County, Kentucky, just outside the city limits of Lexington. Built in 1969, and formally named the Kentucky Horse Center was originally situated on 133 acres of prime central Kentucky farmland. Established as a Thoroughbred training and sales facility by Rex Elsworth and Dr. Arnold Pessin, KHC was immediately popular as an alternative to training at the local racetracks. Amenities at the training facility included a 5/8-mile track with a metal roof, two barns made primarily of concrete with metal roofs that could house up to 260 horses and had 40 tack rooms and a state of the art, 920 seat sales pavilion, complete with a lounge and full service bar. Thoroughbred sales were slower to catch on, with the first in 1972 when Fasig Tipton used the facility for their inaugural Thoroughbred auction. Elsworth’s financial difficulties in the mid-seventies forced the sale of KHC. Joseph Johnson III purchased KHC at a commissioner’s sale to add to his considerable land holdings in the immediate area. Johnson at one time owned nearly 5000 acres in Fayette County and among his holdings was the Log Cabin Farm, which bordered KHC to the east. After Johnson purchased the training and sales facility the barns currently numbered 3 through 8 were relocated to KHC from Miles Park, a defunct racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky. By 1974 Johnson had constructed an additional six barns, which make up barns 18 through 23. In addition, Johnson had begun construction of a larger training track, which would eventually become what is now a one-mile, all weather training track. The original one-mile track was surfaced with a bark footing that had become popular in Europe. This surface proved to be incompatible with the extremes of Kentucky weather and would eventually be replaced with a sand, silt, clay surface typical of most Thoroughbred racetracks.
In 1984, Spendthrift Farm had become the leader among Thoroughbred farms in Kentucky and was rapidly expanding its holdings in the Lexington area. With the two most recent Triple Crown winners standing at stud and their yearling division a perennial leader at the July selected sales, Spendthrift diversified by purchasing the Kentucky Horse Center. During its three-year ownership, Spendthrift constructed additional nine barns on the original 133 acres and purchased, from Johnson, the135 acre Log Cabin Farm with its three barns, manager’s house and heliport. Spendthrift renovated an existing 12-stall barn and added 44 stalls by enclosing the outer perimeter of the barn, making what is currently barn 30. Spendthrift completed a $1,000,000 renovation to the main building, which included hard wood floors and paneling of the North upstairs wing of the offices.
A failed public offering of stock in Spendthrift started a financial slide from which the farm would never recover. Johnson had carried a mortgage on the property and retook possession in 1987. Johnson again operated KHC until June of 1989 when Tinkham Veale of Cleveland, Ohio, along with an assortment of partners purchased controlling interest in KHC. Major renovations of the backside were initiated after the purchase with the intention of selling the barn areas to the trainers/owners in a condo association fashion. When the condo association plan failed Veale bought out the partners, taking the company private once again.
As alternative sources of revenue, KHC developed uses for the existing facilities and equipment, including a tour division, an entertainment division, a children’s theatre program and a division that provides farm care and construction services for area farms and residents.
In 1998 The Kentucky Horse Center was purchased by Churchill Downs out of Louisville and were owners of the facility until April of 2000 when Keeneland, Lexington’s local racecourse purchased the facility. In the transition, the KHC name was changed to The Thoroughbred Center and an expansion was made to the facility with an additional five barns added to enable the facility to house up to 1,180 horses. The facility normally operates with an occupancy of 900-1000 horses and is open year round. Keeneland continues to invest substantial capital into the facility, with the intention of making TTC the most popular Thoroughbred training facility in the country.