In 1972 Jeffry Morris began an apprenticeship under renowned farm manager Gail Hughes of Forest Retreat Farm, and turned his casual acquaintance with horses into a focused career path. He quickly became the designated detail man at Forest Retreat, and built upon his experience for nearly a decade at several operations around Central Kentucky. Jeff amassed his own traveling band of broodmares and foals along the way, before setting his roots in 165 acres near the Fayette-Bourbon County Line in Lexington, which he named Highclere. Morris purchased the land in partnership with veterinarian Dr. John K. Griggs in 1979, and assumed complete ownership of it in 1989.
With a single-minded insistence on the highest level of care and preparation – regardless of the expected value of the horse – Morris’ commercial operation grew steadily. In 1983 Highclere turned heads when Jeff purchased, on behalf of Joe Morrissey at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale, the stakes-producing mare Priceless Fame, a full sister to Bold Forbes who was in foal to Alydar, for $3.2 million. The following year he sold the mare, then in foal to Seattle Slew, for $6 million, and the foal he had purchased in utero, a full sister to Saratoga Six, topped the sale when she brought $2.7 million at the 1985 Saratoga August yearling sale.
In the following years Highclere continued to generate success for buyers and sellers of all levels, with scores in the sales ring as well as on the track. In 1995, in partnership with John Crook, Morris purchased the dams of champion filly Silverbulletday and multiple stakes winner Arrested Dreams for $42,000 each, while they were carrying these hidden treasures. Morris also co-bred with Louie Roussel the Grade I winner Star Standard, the highest money-earner ever by sire Risen Star.
Stuart Morris, who was raised on Highclere and set his sights on the thoroughbred industry as a child, purchased his first mare at age 12, which he co-bred with his father to produce the dam of Grade I Cigar Mile winner Lion Tamer. He expanded his training in fundamental horsemanship with stints in Australia, France, and other farms in central Kentucky. After receiving an Economics degree from Hampden-Sydney College in 1997, Stuart promptly returned home to join forces with his father.
As the partnership has developed, Highclere has thrived. While the work ethic that earned Highclere its place in the thoroughbred industry is still the core of the operation, Stuart has brought his own experience and objectives to the program, hiring and training talented individuals to contribute to the Highclere team. Farm manager Oscar Portillo has been with Highclere for 7 years, and his involvement in every aspect of the operation makes him a valuable asset to the growth of the program.
By preparing every yearling with the singular intention of making it a successful racehorse, Highclere consistently offers animals that produce a remarkably high return on investment. For the past five years, yearlings consigned by Highclere have sold for an average price of $53,000, with average earnings of 72% of the selling price, and a high percentage of horses that win at 2. Highclere has consigned at least one stallion’s highest-priced yearling each year for the past ten years. In short, Highclere’s yearlings make money, and the Morrises have garnered a loyal collection of repeat yearling buyers.
Highclere enjoyed an exceptional response to this year’s yearling crop, selling the highest-priced DYNAFORMER of 2004 when Janine Sahadi, on behalf of Green Lantern Stables, purchased the DYNAFORMER filly out of Doppio Espresso for $450,000 at Keeneland’s September yearling sale. Highclere also sold the year’s 2nd highest-priced DISTORTED HUMOR, when John Ferguson bid $410,000 for the colt out of Lucky Sheikh. This was particularly rewarding as the colt is a third-generation Highclere alumnus; the Morrises bred his mother and still own his grandmother.
In 2003 Highclere entered the stallion business, standing Malabar Gold, a son of Unbridled. Malabar Gold covered 99 and 104 mares in his first two seasons, and his first weanling crop averaged just under $35,000 in November of 2004. Two more promising freshman sires, Ocean Terrace by Saint Ballado, and Soto, an undefeated Grade II-winning juvenile by Dehere, will be entering stud at Highclere in 2005.
On December 1st, 2004, Highclere nearly doubled in size with the acquisition of the long-coveted farm on its western border. This additional land allows Highclere to improve its ability to give horses excellent care even as the operation expands to include a stallion division.
Highclere has consistently produced top performers at extraordinary value, with annual percentages of black type runners on par with the major consignments in the business. To date, 122 stakes winners have come from Highclere, including 14 winners of Grade I stakes and 32 Grade II and III winners.