MIDWAY, Ky. — CJ Thoroughbreds took the final step toward becoming a full-service thoroughbred racing and breeding operation with the launching of CJ Thoroughbreds Farm in the heart of Kentucky’s bluegrass region.
The horse partnership, which has blossomed into national prominence since its creation more than 20 years ago, began leasing 145 acres of prime Central Kentucky farmland in 2022 and opened for both its own and clients’ horses in June, 2022. The CJ Thoroughbreds property comprises tracts on some of the best acreage anywhere for raising racehorses, with the region's fabled limestone, bluegrass and gently undulating terrain.
CJ Thoroughbreds farm provides easy access to Keeneland and Lexington’s Blue Grass Airport (13 miles), Churchill Downs (65 miles) and Louisville International Airport (63 miles), Turfway Park (78 miles) and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (84), as well as the world-renowned clinics Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital (13 miles) and Hagyard Equine Medical Institute (14 miles). Access to Interstate 64 is only two miles away. CJ Thoroughbreds was founded by racetrack owner and executive Corey Johnsen, now full-time into horse ownership and philanthropy; his son, C.J. Johnsen; and former Dallas Cowboys and Houston Oilers wide receiver Mike Renfro. The syndicate has expanded from a racing stable into breeding and sales. “It just made sense to have all of our non-racing stock in one place,” Corey Johnsen said. “We were thrilled to have the opportunity to lease such productive and iconic land that is so perfect for horses and conveniently located. The farm is an important component of CJ Thoroughbreds, and everything we do will be mindful of the land's heritage of raising quality racehorses." The leased property is part of the historic Hurstland-Nuckols farmland that has produced hundreds of stakes-winners, including 2002 Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Eclipse Award champion War Emblem. “This whole area in Midway is really sought-after land,” says Meredith Krupp, CJ Thoroughbreds’ farm manager. “It’s really hard to obtain this land. There have been iconic racehorses raised on this land. We cut all our own hay, bedding from the fields. There’s no better place in Central Kentucky to raise a race horse.” The property’s combination of expansive pastures and small paddocks provides flexibility to accommodate weanlings and other young horses, racehorses needing time off, broodmares, horses prepping for auction and sales horses needing a short-term layover while awaiting transportation to their ultimate destination. “We are really set up for layups and we have these small paddocks,” Krupp said. “We have great staff that have really good horse experience because we’re close to Lexington. This barn is phenomenal. The stalls are really big and well-ventilated. I just think the facility and the location make this property stand out.” The CJ Thoroughbreds property was originally part of Hurstland Farm in northern Woodford County. The legacy of being home to outstanding thoroughbreds traces back to Boston, regarded as America’s first great racehorse in the late 1830s. Boston started out breeding mares in Virginia but was walked over the mountains into Kentucky to stand in stud at Col. Edward Blackburn’s Equiria at Spring Station, site of the current Hurstland/Nuckols property. Boston went on to sire Lexington, a champion racehorse and 16-time leading sire, according to the TBHeritage.com website. The genesis of Hurstland came in the late 19th century, when Dr. Alfred Hurst exchanged it for land he owned near Versailles, Ky. Hurst family member Charles Nuckols Sr. started Hurstland Farm on that property in the early 1900s; his sons Charles Jr., Alfred and Hiram adding to the original tract and assuming ownership upon the death of their father in 1951. Turf writer and publicist Brown Leach, writing in the Thoroughbred Record in 1977, described the land as “more than than 1,000 acres of the best pasture and farmland to be found anywhere,” with locals calling it “the asparagus bed” because of its phosphate-rich soil where asparagus thrived and grew wild on the farm. North American champions Decathlon,Typecast and White Skies and European champions Broadway Dancer and Habitat were bred in the name of Nuckols Brothers and raised on the land, as were major winners such as 1972 Kentucky Derby runner-up No Le Hace, Mr. Leader, Soy Numero Uno, Fighting Fit, Broadway Foil, Sweetest Chant, Ecole Stage, Clever Er Tell, Blue Buckaroo and Wise Times. Filly champion Smart Deb and Distorted Humor, sire of 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide, grew up on Nuckols’ property for major client Russell Reineman, who campaigned War Emblem before selling the colt after his 2002 Illinois Derby victory. In 1985, the farm was split, with Alfred Nuckols Sr. retaining the Hurstland name in a coin flip, and his brother renaming his property Charles Nuckols Jr. and Sons. Charles Nuckols Jr. died in 2005. In interviews, Charles Nuckols Jr. credited his dad with instilling the mantra that “the land came first,” believing well-cared for pastures made a big difference in the bone development as foals became yearlings. The CJ Thoroughbreds team strives to raise horses like the equine athletes they are. Weanlings and yearlings not pointing to a sale grow up in a herd in a spacious field, nurturing their competitive instincts and strengthening their musculoskeletal systems as they play and run around with their buddies. “They get to be horses before they go to the sale,” Krupp said.