I get to interview plenty of people in this job. The sessions can come on the phone or in person; be formal or casual. I’ve asked hard questions, easy questions, dumb questions, too many questions and not enough questions.
But the people get me, or the variety of people anyway. They can be everybody and anybody, and ultimately that’s what makes writing about the Thoroughbred industry interesting and – at times – fun.
Almost eight years ago, it was Peggy Augustus. The Peggy Augustus. Keswick Stables . . . Virginia . . . Northern Dancer’s dam . . . Saratoga yearling consignments . . . Johnny D. . . . Sabin . . . Alwuhush . . . Arctic Tern . . . and all the rest. I called her because Stellar Wind, basically the last horse Keswick bred, turned into a champion. Augustus answered the phone, told the whole story (warts and all), made me laugh, made me think.
Her association with racing went back to her father Ellsworth Hunt “Gus” Augustus, an Ohio businessman who bought Old Keswick Farm near Charlottesville, Va., in 1952. Among many ventures, Gus was an amateur golfer who once beat Bobby Jones at a charity event, served in the Navy during World War II, was the civil defense coordinator of Cuyahoga County and president of the Boy Scouts of America.
His wife Elizabeth, in partnership with Daniel Van Clief, bred Northern Dancer’s dam Natalma and when Gus died in 1963 their daughter Peggy moved to the farm and carried on the Thoroughbred tradition with her mother. Peggy bred Johnny D., champion turf horse of 1977 and winner of the Grade 1 Washington D.C. International. Keswick co-bred Sabin and sold her for $750,000 as a Saratoga yearling in 1981.
Trained by Woody Stephens for Henryk de Kwiatkowski, the Lyphard mare won 18 races and earned $1,098,341. In 1986 at Saratoga, Keswick sold homebred Alwuhush to Darley for $750,000. The son of Nureyev won two Group 1 stakes in Italy, won at Ascot and captured an American Grade 1 in 1989. Husband, a buy-back at the 1991 Saratoga sale, won stakes in France and landed the Rothmans International-G1 at Woodbine in 1993 for Keswick.
Keep digging, there’s more. There’s always more. At Saratoga in 1984, Keswick sold a $4 million Roberto colt. In 1982, Keswick topped the sale with a $2.1 million filly by The Minstrel. In 1985, a filly by Al Nasr (Fr) flew the Keswick banner at $1.6 million.
All that was in the past by the time Stellar Wind came along. She carried plenty of Keswick pedigree as her female line went to the Keswick-bred mares Evening Star and Sequins. The latter was by the Keswick-bred Northern Fashion, a son of Northern Dancer who won three races for trainer Bill Hirsch. Bred to Curlin in 2011, Evening Star produced a filly born at Keswick and co-bred by the Virginia farm and Curlin’s owner Stonestreet Thoroughbreds. She sold for $40,000, the lowest price of the 2013 Saratoga yearling sale due to some veterinary questions and the Keswick/Stonestreet partnership that had to end.
Stellar Wind went on to win six Grade 1 stakes, earn $2.9 million and get handed an Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly of 2015. Now, after selling for $6 million in 2017, she’s part of the broodmare band at Coolmore.
Back in 2015, all Augustus wanted to do was talk about the horse she bred and what it meant to her.
“It’s absolutely a thrill,” she said. “Any time you breed a stakes winner is a thrill. I had been out of the business for a while so it’s really fun to stir up the interest again.”
You could feel the importance of it, even if a little bit of her wished she’d found a way to keep the future star as a yearling. The Keswick silks would have looked good on Stellar Wind.
Before turning to racing, Augustus was a star in the show ring, aboard standouts Waiting Home, Little Sailor and Sutton Place among others. She won major championships in the United States and Canada, competing at the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden, Devon Horse Show, Royal Winter Fair, Pennsylvania National and top shows in Virginia and beyond. Augustus was inducted into five Halls of Fame – Virginia Sports, Virginia Horse Show Association, National Show Hunter, National Horse Show Foundation and Virginia Thoroughbred Association (which included her mother and Keswick Stables).
Augustus died at Old Keswick July 30, rescue dogs Minnie Pearl and Monty Heeler by her side. She was 90. The obituary (you can find it online) listed seven nieces and nephews as survivors.
In reality, the woman’s impact on racing in Virginia and beyond was the real survivor. Here’s to not forgetting it.