– The History of Winter Quarter Farm
The story of Winter Quarter began in the 1920s with matriarch Mrs. Silas (Suzanne) B. Mason and her passion for Thoroughbred racing. The owner of Duntreath Farm (currently the site of the Gardenside neighborhood in Lexington, Kentucky), Mrs. Mason raced a number of very good horses. They included The Nut, winner of the 1929 Laurence Realization and Latonia Championship Stakes; HE DID, winner of the 1936 Santa Anita Derby; and HEAD PLAY, winner of the 1933 Preakness Stakes and runnerup by a nose in that year’s Kentucky Derby to Col E.R Bradley’s BROKER’S TIP after an infamous stretch duel.
After the death of Mrs. Mason’s husband in the late 1930s, the Duntreath racing stock was sold to settle the estate. However, Mrs. Mason’s son, H. Burnett Robinson, was as bitten by the racing bug as his mother. Young Burnett left high school early to pursue the only life he could imagine, a career in the care and development of Thoroughbreds. The preparation and education to pursue his true calling of life with Thoroughbreds included working alongside sage horsemen such as trainer J. T. “Tommy” Taylor and as an apprentice with Dr. E. A. Caslick at A.B. Hancock, Sr.’s Claiborne Farm.
When America entered World War II, Burnett enlisted in the United States Coast Guard. There, he led a .mounted beach patrol along the coast of Virginia charged with searching for German U-boats. After the war, Burnett returned to Lexington and started a construction company using an army surplus bulldozer. He built farm ponds, progressed to training surfaces, and ultimately landed a job resurfacing the main track at Keeneland as well as constructing the training track under the direction of Keeneland founder Hal Price Headley.
It was with Mr. Headley’s advice and encouragement that Burnett took the step to realize his dream. Burnett had located some rolling land in the southwest part of Fayette County, and in 1948 he purchased the property. “The weeds were over the top of the car,” Burnett recalled, indicating the soil was the rich and much sought after Maury loam. He named the farm Winter Quarter, after a Coast Guard lightship off the Virginia coast that he had patrolled during the war.
Nurturing the land and populating it with quality stock was the goal for Winter Quarter. The seed was sown when one of the farm’s first residents, a broodmare named MAID OF DUNTHREATH owned by Burnett’s mother Mrs. Mason, produced a lasting legacy in MAID OF FLIGHT. This stakes-placed Count Fleet mare was foaled and raised at Winter Quarter and went on to produce five-time Horse-of-the-Year KELSO.
Burnett’s son, Don, born the same year Winter Quarter was founded, grew up .among the first crops of hay, tobacco, cattle, and ,of course, horses. Hands on from the time he can remember, Don recalls teenage summers spent helping to ready young horses for all-important Saratoga yearling sale. In Saratoga, he became acquainted with Tex Sutton who employed him to travel to California with a trainload of horses in the 1960s. Once in California, Don worked for Hall-of-Fame trainers Buddy Hirsh and Charlie Whittingham at a time when conditioning horses sometimes meant swimming them in the therapeutic surf at Del Mar.
Excited by the lifestyle and opportunity of the west, Don attended the University of Denver, then settled in northern California. With his wife, Audrey, they homesteaded and milked Jersey cows. After the birth of their son, Ferran, in 1977, Don and Audrey returned to Kentucky. Don’s father Burnett was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and had asked his son to come home to Winter Quarter.
Encouraged by mentor and client James P. “Jimmy” Conway, Don rededicated himself to the farm and its small clientele, most notably Geoffrey C. Hughes and Charles and Eddie Theriot. Major stakes winners soon followed: Arlington Million-G1 winner GOLDEN PHEASANT, bred by Dr. Mel Epstein from his mare Perfect Pigeon; Stakes Winners STAR OF COZZENE, MATTY G., J F WILLIAMS all bred by Jack Goodwin from his Pia Star mare Star Gem; Florida Derby-G1 winner VICAR bred by Waterville Lake Stables from a mare that Don purchased on their behalf named Escrow Agent; and of course Eric Kronfeld’s Maverick Productions with For the Flag, dam of Vertigineux and granddam of ZENYATTA and BALANCE. Through these good relationships and good horses, Winter Quarter made a new beginning.