The Ocala and Marion County area is home to an exciting variety of horse breeds including Thoroughbreds, Paso Finos, Missouri Foxtrotters, Arabians, Morgans, Quarter Horses, and many more. Marion County also supports a thriving cattle industry, as well as bountiful peanut and hay farms. Ocala earns its titles of “horse country” and “horse capital of the world” with its favorable climate, mineral-rich soils, and rolling pastures that create an ideal agricultural environment. The dense concentration of Thoroughbred breeders and trainers in the area is well-supported by a network of equine services that includes world-class veterinary hospitals, feed and tack retailers, blacksmiths, equine dentists, and major horse transportation companies.
We are proud of Marion County’s contribution to the world of equine sport: our farms and training centers have produced 50 National Champions, six Kentucky Derby winners, seven Preakness Stakes winners, six Belmont Stakes winners, 26 Breeders’ Cup champions and six Horses of the Year. Ranked second in the nation for foal production, 75 percent of Florida’s Thoroughbred industry is located within Marion County. Ocala is also home to Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company, which holds major bloodstock auctions throughout the year. The Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association is also located in Ocala, and its main focus is supporting and promoting the Florida Thoroughbred industry. The FTBOA administers the $15 million state breeders’ incentive as well as awards programs for Florida-bred racehorses.
The first Thoroughbred farm in Marion County, Florida was founded in 1936 by Carl G. Rose, who had traveled from Indiana to oversee asphalt road construction in North Central Florida. Impressed by the area’s beautiful rolling hills, abundant limestone, and a year-round moderate climate, he realized Marion County would be the perfect location for training strong, healthy horses. Rose quickly bought a great deal of Ocala land at $10 per acre, and his new Rosemere Farm along State Road 200 became home to Gornil, the first Florida-raised Thoroughbred to win a Florida race. Oil man Bonnie Heath soon set up his own eponymous and historic farm which produced Needles, the state’s first Kentucky Derby winner. You’ll find prominent highways named after both Rose and Heath throughout Ocala, and Bonnie Heath Farm is still operated by the Heath family today. In 1956, the Ocala area Thoroughbred industry began its meteoric rise. After Needles won the Kentucky Derby, Marion County soon became a major Thoroughbred center of the world.
The History Of Marion County : A Timeline
Rosemere Farm becomes the first Thoroughbred farm in Ocala.
Carl G. Rose, owner of a highway construction business moves to Ocala, Fla.
Rose buys farm property on State Road 200 for $10 an acre and calls it Rosemere Farm.
Rosemere Farm becomes the first Thoroughbred horse farm in Ocala.
Rose was one of the first breeders in the industry to be known as a “commercial” breeder; one who bred strictly to sell, as opposed to racing his own stock.
Rose’s two-year-old filly, Gornil, wins a race at Miami’s Tropical Park, becoming the first Florida-bred horse to win a race in Florida.
18 registered Thoroughbred foals are born in Marion County.
Bonnie M. Heath II and Jack Dudley form D&H Stable.
Hugh Fontaine was hired to train and began buying race horses.
Needles, of Bonnie Heath Farm, in Ocala, becomes the first Florida-bred Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner. His win increases the number of farms from a few to hundreds in less than a decade. A Needles statue honoring the champion is at Heathbrook Mall.
Joe O’Farrell moves to Ocala from Maryland, where he raised horses.
O’Farrell becomes part-owner of Ocala Stud (formerly Dickey Stables), with 993 acres and 21 horses.
Thoroughbred horse farms in Marion County jump from seven to 21, totaling 8,446 acres.
The largest farms become Rosemere, Ocala Stud, Shady Lane and Bonnie Heath Farm.
Ocala’s population exceeds 15,000.
Bonnie Heath II and Jack Dudley form separate farms.
P.A.B. Widener III, grandson of Hialeah Race Track’s Joseph Widener, buys 6,700 acres. It becomes Live Oak Plantation and boosts Ocala’s credibility as a horse-breeding region.
Feb. 25 – O’Farrell organizes the first 2-year-old-in-training sale in the U.S., and 37 race horses are sold.
Nov. – Florida Breeders Sales Association (FBSA) is founded by O’Farrell, Rose, Heath and Douglas Stewart.
June – FTBOA starts a magazine, The Florida Horse.
Ocala-bred horses win the first four spots in the Florida Breeders’ Stakes and Florida Breeders’ Futurity.
News reports say Ocala-bred racehorses are outrunning their pedigrees.
My Dear Girl of Ocala Stud is first Ocala filly to win the two-year-old filly championship.
Needles becomes the first national race horse champion to enter stud outside of Kentucky.
Dudley’s and Heath’s decision to stand Needles as a stud in Ocala accelerates breeding in Ocala.
Ocala Stud brings in the first stallion from Europe for breeding.
William McKnight, chairman of 3M Corp. of Minnesota, buys 320 acres of Bonnie Heath Farm and launches Tartan Farm.
Tartan Farm produces more than 100 stakes winners.
Tartan’s plaid silks match 3M’s “Scotch Tape” colors.
Carl Rose is appointed to the Florida State Racing Commission.
Bonnie M. Heath II is elected president Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’
Carry Back of Ocala wins the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
Rosemere Farm closes.
Rose sells his land for $1,500 an acre for development.
A community college and stores are built on the old Rosemere Farm.
Thoroughbred horse farms in Marion County total 52.
Florida legislature passes a bill allowing one race per day at Florida tracks for Florida-breds.
The Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association (and now Owners’) moves to the grounds of Golden Hills now Ocala National.
Florida Breeders Sales Association’s “annual” sale becomes big.
Auctions are scheduled twice a year in Ocala.
The breeders’ sales were a brainchild of Joe O’Farrell and other horsemen to promote the area.
Carl G. Rose dies at 70.
A stakes race is named in his honor.
Needles passes away at 31 and his ashes are interred at FTBOA
Florida-bred Hail to All wins the Belmont Stakes.
Florida legislature authorizes summer racing, which opens the way for Calder Race Course to operate in Miami.
William McKnight, of Tartan Farms and 3M fame, is instrumental in developing an all-weather, synthetic race track.
The synthetic surface at Calder lasts until 1992.
Dr. Fager, bred by Tartan Farms of Ocala, is named North American Horse of the Year – champion sprinter, champion grass horse and champion handicap horse.
Dr. Fager breaks world record for the fastest mile on a dirt track, that record still stands today.
High Echelon of Ocala wins Belmont Stakes.
Calder Race Course opens.
Florida Breeders’ Sales Association has eight voting members.
John A. Nerud, trainer and breeder at Tartan Farms, is inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Nerud trained 27 stakes winners and five champions including Dr. Fager, the only horse to win four championships in one year.
Billionaire George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees and a global shipping business, buys farm property in Ocala and begins raising race horses.
Joe O’Farrell splits with the Florida Breeders’ Sales Co. after 16 years.
Starts a rival sales company, the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company.
Foolish Pleasure becomes champion 2-year-old colt racehorse (downtown Williston, his birthplace, bears a sign in his honor).
Foolish Pleasure of Ocala wins Kentucky Derby.
Fred W. Hooper of Ocala is named outstanding breeder. His top horses include Susan’s Girl, Precisionist, Crozier, and Copelan.
Affirmed, born at Harbor View Farm in Ocala, wins the Triple Crown.
Only 12 horses have ever swept the Triple Crown.
Affirmed earns nearly $2.4 million in his racing career.
Bob Gulick becomes OBS-director of sales, impacting a significant expansion for the next two decades.
Codex of Ocala wins Preakness Stakes.
Joe O’Farrell, owner of Ocala Stud, and breeder/trainer of My Dear Girl, Roman Brother, Office Queen and breeder of famous sire Rough ‘n Tumble, dies.
Florida-bred Aloma’s Ruler wins the Preakness Stakes.
Florida-bred Conquistador Cielo wins the Belmont Stakes.
Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company buys Florida Breeders’ Sales Company, eventually becoming the biggest seller in the U.S.
Florida-bred Gate Dancer wins the Preakness Stakes.
Repeal of federal laws that provided tax shelters to racehorse investors who were writing off their horse losses against their non-horse businesses. Thousands of wealthy professionals bailed out on racehorses as investments.
Real estate values of Marion County farm property plummet.
Registered Thoroughbred foals drops from 5,000 to less than 2,500.
Ocala’s Thoroughbred industry slumps.
William McKnight, of Tartan Farms and co-founder of Calder Race Course, is named leading U.S. breeder.
McKnight bred and owned Dr. Fager, Ta Wee, Dr. Patches, Unbridled and others.
Unbridled, of Tartan Farms, wins the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Unbridled wins $4.5 million in his racing career.
Unbridled ranks third-highest among Florida-breds in the early 21st Century.
The number of pinhookers (those who buy a weanling or yearling and sell it after a year or less) begins to grow.
Florida identifies the Thoroughbred industry as an agricultural industry providing a Green Belt Exemption.
Daily Wire to Wire, a racing digest, is launched in the county and is one of the only dailies produced in any horse breeding region in the world.
January – Bonnie M. Heath II leases his 440-acre farm to son and daughter-in-law, Bonnie M. Heath III and Kim Heath.
Champion racer Holy Bull is born five nights later.
Holy Bull, of Bonnie Heath Farms in Ocala, is named North American Horse of the Year.
Holy Bull earns nearly $2.5 million in his racing career and is ranked ninth among top Florida-bred money-earners in the early part of the 21st Century.
Frank Stronach, owner of the Gulfstream Race Track in Miami, buys the 330-acre Lin-Drake Farm on Highway 27 West, just outside of Ocala for $1.9 million, naming the farm Adena Springs South. He buys 2,700 more acres and creates the largest breeding farm in the U.S.
Silver Charm, who was born at Dudley Farm, wins the Kentucky Derby.
Silver Charm is owned by pinhookers J.B. and Kevin McKathan of McKathan Brothers Training Facility in Ocala.
Silver Charm earns $6.9 million.
Honor Glide, bred by Bonnie Heath Farm and owned by Ron Chattel of Tennessee, wins best U.S. turf horse honors.
Skip Away, a Florida-bred, is named North American Horse of the Year.
Skip Away earns $9.6 million in his racing career – the top spot among Florida-bred Thoroughbreds as of Dec. 31, 2002.
Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company posts Thoroughbred sales totaling $63 million.
Bonnie Heath Farm, Dudley Farm and Tartan Farms are sold to Richard Seimans, a developer, to create Heath Brook, a golf course, apartments, houses and retail stores.
For tax purposes, the Heath Brook arrangement is set up so it takes the buyer seven years to possess all the property.
Jack Dudley, Needles’ co-owner, dies.
The Jack Dudley Sprint Handicap is created in his honor.
After an unsuccessful 1998 season, Honor Glide is sent back to Bonnie Heath Farm for rehabilitation.
Needles is inducted into the Racehorse Hall of Fame in August.
Honor Glide, now partially owned by the Heaths, wins major stakes races, earning $1.4 million.
Pinhookers are a major factor in the industry.
Tartan Farm closes down after a 40 years of breeding champion race horses, including 100 stakes winners.
Winding Oaks, on about half of the original Tartan Farm land, opens.
Bonnie Heath II, Needles’ co-owner, dies Nov. 4.
The Bonnie Heath Turf Cup race is created in his honor.
450 Thoroughbred horse farms in Marion County.
Ocala race horses are a $2 billion industry.
The economic impact of the industry includes 10,000 local jobs.
Second Chance Farm is established in Lowell for women inmates to work with retired Thoroughbred racehorses.
Montbrook, of Ocala Stud, is named Florida Stallion of the Year
After earning $2.4 million, Montbrook retired as stud, commanding a $20,000 fee for a live foal.
Horses at Bonnie Heath Farm are sold or trucked to a new location.
The Florida Million stakes race is introduced in November at Calder Race Course.
FTBOA lobbies for video lottery terminals at racetracks to boost purses and better compete against gambling cruise ships and Indian gaming.
FTBOA relocates to airport road, with the addition of the Florida Thoroughbred museum and art gallery.
4,500 Thoroughbred foals are registered from Marion County.
Bonnie M. Heath III puts Honor Glide, who earned $1.4 million, out to stud at in Reddick, Fla.
Heath III closes his office at the original Bonnie Heath Farm.
Dudley Farm relocates from central Ocala to Fellowship, Fla.
A new federal tax law allows race horse owners to depreciate a horse’s purchase price more rapidly.
This new tax law spurs higher gross sales at Thoroughbred auctions.
Heath Brook, a development replacing three heritage farms, stalls. Build-out is delayed until 2013.
Ocala Stud is the only heritage horse farm left in central Ocala.
The Florida Horse Park has its groundbreaking ceremony.
Ocala/Marion County is coined the “Horse Capital of the World” after a national horse council survey showed that there were more horses and ponies in the county than any other in the U.S.
The FTBOA magazine, The Florida Horse, creates national distribution.
Harry T. Mangurian, Jr. is inducted into the Marion County Agriculture Hall of Fame for being such a prominent Thoroughbred racehorse owner and breeder.
The Florida Horse Park builds one of the largest covered arenas in the Southeast to promote equine events and other tourism events.
The FTBOA launches Thoroughbred Week, a horse racing TV show, in Marion County in January, show is so well received it goes nationwide in May.
American Pharoah becomes the 12th Triple Crown winner. The colt was broke and trained in Marion County by J.B. McKathan.