We’ve got some pretty cool celebrities here in Marion County, but not all of them are human. Yep, Ocala is so awesome we attract both human and animal superstars. Here are some of the most notable thoroughbred celebrities, both past and present, who have graced our area with their presence.
Ocala-bred stallion Needles was the gateway to Ocala’s status as horse capital of the world, though no one could have guessed it when he foaled at Bonnie Heath Farm in 1953. He was so sickly and endured so many rounds of medicine injections that his nickname “Needles” stuck and followed him into his racing career. Fortunately he grew into a strong colt and became the first Florida-bred to win the Kentucky Derby. His racing style made him immensely popular with fans; he was known for coming from dead last to win going away, a strategy that secured him his historic win at Churchill Downs. He went on to win the Belmont and returned to Marion County to stand at stud, where his high demand launched Florida’s meteoric thoroughbred industry.
Bred at Harbor View Farm in Fellowship, Marion County, Affirmed won seven of his nine starts, four of them against his career-long rival, Calumet-bred Alydar. Affirmed is best known for winning the 1978 Triple Crown and for setting two simultaneous records in the process. It was the first consecutive year the Triple Crown was won (Seattle Slew secured it the previous year), and it also began the longest span between Triple Crown winners. It would be 37 years before another horse claimed the title of Triple Crown Champion when American Pharoah shocked the world by winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont in 2015.
The latest Triple Crown winner may have been prepped for the Derby by the famous Bob Baffert, but American Pharoah began his training right here in Marion County at McKathen Farm.In addition to being the first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown, he also won the Breeder’s Cup Classic.
This wildly popular mare began her training in Ocala at Mayberry Farm. She went on to win an astounding 19 consecutive races in a 20-race career, including 17 Graded stakes and the 2009 Breeder’s Cup Classic. Zenyatta was a beloved fan favorite during her career, and was even featured in O. and W. magazines. She was also profiled on 60 Minutes.
Silver Charm was foaled at the legendary Bonnie Heath farm in 1994. An Ocala Breeder’s Sales graduate, he went on to be trained by Bob Baffert and was a hopeful for the Triple Crown in 1997. He didn’t break the seemingly endless Triple Crown drought Affirmed started in 1978, but the did win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and went on to win the Dubai World Cup. After standing at stud at several Japanese stallion farms, he was brought back to the states and currently resides at Old Friends Equine in Georgetown Kentucky where he can be visited by the public.