Sporting

The Next Generation of Derby Contenders

Just call it the spring foal-age: From January till May, foaling season dawns in the bluegrass hills of Lexington, Kentucky, and wobbly youngsters by the dozen begin springing up at local horse farms.

All of the foals born in the northern hemisphere share the same official “birthday”—January 1—based on the way Thoroughbreds are categorized. So horses born earlier in the year have the advantage of a longer maturation period before they begin competing in races restricted by age (the Kentucky Derby, for instance, is open only to three-year-olds).

Indulging in this cuteness overload comes easy—you can book tours of Lexington horse farms through the nonprofit Horse Country. And if you head to Mill Ridge Farm, just southwest of downtown, your guide might well be Price Bell Jr., whose grandmother founded the farm in 1962. Her winning horses not only brought acclaim to Mill Ridge but to Kentucky stock in general. Today, the farm still breeds and boards mares and raises foals—since 2000, says Bell, Mill Ridge has raised or sold thirty-four grade-one race winners, an impressive number considering most horses have just a 0.5 percent chance of ever winning one of these top-tier races. “We’ve been very blessed this year to have mostly uncomplicated births,” Bell says. Click through these photos of Mill Ridge’s newborns, and you’ll start to feel pretty lucky, too. Lucky enough, perhaps, to start placing your bets.

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At sunrise, mares and foals are turned out to “stretch their legs before settling into a morning snack,” Bell says.

Photo: Jared Hamilton

Mill Ridge groups horses together in large fields because “as herd animals, horses are very social and enjoy playing, especially at a young age,” Bell says. “We believe it is in these moments they develop their playful competitive spirit that carries them forward on the track.”

Photo: Jared Hamilton

Simply Magic and her son by the stallion First Samurai, whose great-great grandfather was the legendary Triple Crown winner Secretariat.

Photo: Jared Hamilton

Pearly Blue and her two-week-old filly, also by First Samurai. Pearly Blue is owned by Bell’s grandfather, and was named for the star of the Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs song “Down the Road.”

Photo: Jared Hamilton

Intensify and her three-week-old filly by the stallion Honor Code, the grandson of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew and the great-grandson of Triple Crown winner Secretariat. Intensify is also the mother of two top race horses: Intense Holiday, who ran in the 2015 Kentucky Derby, and Money Multiplier, who most recently competed in the HH The Emir’s Trophy—“the richest race in Qatar,” Bell says.

Photo: Jared Hamilton

Gone Overboard, also owned by Bell’s grandfather, and her week-old colt by the winning racehorse Flintshire. “At this stage in their life, they are very similar to humans,” Bell says of the foals. “Eat, sleep, repeat.”

Photo: Jared Hamilton

The ridge line that inspired the name Mill Ridge Farm.

Photo: Jared Hamilton

“Horses are curious animals, and love to be social and get to know you,” Bell says.

Photo: Jared Hamilton

In the foreground, a colt nuzzles his dam (mother), Monarchia. His sire (father), Broken Vow, is the son of the 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled.

Photo: Jared Hamilton

Intensify’s daughter exploring the paddock.

Photo: Jared Hamilton

Pearly Blue and her son grazing in the paddock. “At this young age, mare and foal are turned out together for a few hours at a time,” Bell says.

Photo: Jared Hamilton

Pearly Blue’s son strikes a pose.

Photo: Jared Hamilton