University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Agriculture Image
the magazine
spring 2002
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The faculty at the College of Agriculture were a great group of people, and the students there were regular folks, studious and interested in learning, and I really enjoyed being there.
-Seth Hancock

UK Ag Grad Among World's Top Thoroughbred Breeders

Claiborne Farm’s Seth Hancock ’71
Represents Best of Equine Industry

By Haven Miller

Not many graduates of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture begin their careers by spearheading a business syndicate that acquires one of the top Thoroughbred stallions in history. But that’s what 23-year-old Seth Hancock did in 1973. The horse was Triple-Crown-winner Secretariat.

Seth Hancock with horse, Unbridled.

“Obviously Secretariat was a great thrill and a very big deal, but when you’re 23 years old you tend to think that’s the way things are supposed to be,” said Hancock, owner of central Kentucky’s renowned Claiborne Farm. “Then you get a little older and get knocked around a bit, and you realize if it ever happens again you’ll appreciate it more.”

Hancock and his family have had much to appreciate. For nearly a century the Hancocks of Claiborne Farm have been in the forefront of the world’s Thoroughbred breeding, racing, and sales industry. The names of stallions that have stood at Claiborne are a “who’s who” of racing royalty: Sir Ivor, Nijinsky, Danzig, Swale, Unbridled, Go for Gin, Seeking the Gold, and Forty Niner. During its history the horse farm has raised more than 54 champions and hundreds more stakes winners.

“One of the biggest thrills for me was our success with that horse up there — Forty Niner,” Hancock said, gesturing toward a painting mounted above the mantel in his office. “Forty Niner won the Travers Stakes in New York. The person who trained him for us was Woody Stephens, who was getting along in years and had won the Derby but had never won the Travers.”

Like his grandfather, Arthur B. Hancock, Sr., and his father, A. B. “Bull” Hancock, Seth Hancock has combined a strong work ethic and a talent for the business to maintain the highest level of quality. His down-to-earth “take good care of the horse” philosophy and remarkable record of achievement have placed him among the world’s most-respected Thoroughbred breeders, a distinction officially recognized by the Thoroughbred Club of America when it honored him in 2000 for his outstanding contribution to the industry.

Hancock spent his early years on the farm in Bourbon County. It was during his senior year in prep school that he first thought about possibly attending UK, but he actually began his college career at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.

Claiborne Farm owner Seth Hancock, with Gus Koch in front of a portrait of Forty Niner, Hancock’s favorite horse.

"I’d gone to Woodberry Forest School for two years in Virginia and knew I was interested in agriculture, but Daddy had other ideas for me,” recalled Hancock. “I applied at Vandy and Centre and Sewanee, and finally decided on Sewanee. But I never really settled in, and was coming home to Kentucky nearly every weekend for football and basketball games. So finally I said ‘Listen, Daddy, I can either quit school or come back here to Kentucky,’ and he said, ‘You’ll pay your own way,’ and we talked some more and finally reached an arrangement where I ended up coming to UK.”

When asked about his student days at the College of Ag, Hancock recalled that they were “good ones.” He credits three classes in particular for providing him information and skills that would prove valuable during his career.
“I had a Feeds and Feeding class with Dr. Buck that was excellent. I also had a Farm Management class with Dr. (James E.) Criswell and a Vet Science class with Dr. (M. Ward) Crowe that were both outstanding,” he said. “The faculty at the College of Agriculture were a great group of people, and the students there were regular folks, studious and interested in learning, and I really enjoyed being there. Now some people might have thought I was going to stroll over there on campus and say, ‘My father owns a big farm in Paris and here I am,’ but I went over there to try to learn something. And I did learn something.”

Hancock said practical experience is also a good education, and one that should never be underestimated.
“Growing up on the farm and working there in the summers was some of the best experience that I could have,” he said. “I don’t care if you’re in agriculture, or studying to be a doctor, or pursuing some other field, practical experience is hard to beat.”

Nearly 30 years after his spectacular beginning, Hancock today credits three groups for his success: his clients, his fellow breeders, and his employees at Claiborne Farm.

“Our vets, our foremen, our managers, and all the other employees have played a huge role in our success because they take pride in what they do and know the value of the work ethic,” he said.
And his advice for the would-be Seth Hancocks now enrolled in the College of Agriculture?

“For the younger students I’d say don’t go to ag school and think, ‘Well, I’ve got this ag degree so now I’m going tocome out of here and set the world on fire,’ because if you don’t know how to work, you’ve got no chance,” he said. “And it doesn’t make any difference whether you’re in ag school or some other school, you’ve got to be ready to pay the price.”