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Florida Farm Sale Part of New Focus for Sykes, Woodford

Woodford Thoroughbreds bought the former Cloverleaf Farms II in 1997.

Woodford Thoroughbreds owner John Sykes

Woodford Thoroughbreds owner John Sykes

Anne M. Eberhardt

Woodford Thoroughbreds' John Sykes has sold his historic 1,000-acre farm in Reddick, Fla., and refocused his operation on high-class race fillies and a commercial broodmare band.

Sykes purchased the former Cloverleaf Farms II in 1997. Tampa entrepreneur and philanthropist Danny Persaud, who has not owned Thoroughbreds previously, is the new owner and has renamed the former Woodford property Persaud Legacy Farms.

Maura Welsh, who served as Sykes' comptroller, is now in the same role for Persaud. She said plans call for a mixture of uses that will include Thoroughbred operations, boarding for three-day eventers and show jumpers, and a therapeutic riding facility.

"We are going to fill this farm up with horses and we are looking for a first-class trainer to hire," Welsh said. "We're trying to bring this farm back to its absolute heyday when Mr. Sykes had stallions, 100 broodmares, and babies running the fields.

"Anybody you talk to in the horse industry will say Woodford is absolutely a special place. We have a great five-eighths training track, the best in Marion County."

Grade 2 winner Congrats, who made his final two starts for Sykes under the Cloverleaf banner and stood his first four years at stud at Vinery Florida, retired to Woodford's Florida division when he was pensioned from Winstar Farm in Kentucky in 2021. Congrats will continue to live out his life at Persaud Legacy Farms, Welsh said.

"Danny's approach is going to be first class," Welsh said. "He is all about the animals and all about the horse."

The sale of the Florida farm completes a transformation of Sykes' Thoroughbred operations. He also had his own sales consignment and a 305-acre Woodford County, Ky., farm that he sold to Mick Ruis in 2019.

Lincoln Collins, who serves as Sykes' bloodstock advisor, said the Woodford broodmare band now stands at 27.

"Mr. Sykes enjoyed having a farm, but there are plenty of headaches associated with it, and he decided to cut down his numbers and board the mares in Kentucky," Collins said. "He decided it was better to streamline his operation and try to upgrade it a bit. Nowadays, it's all about quality, both physically and pedigree-wise, and that's what we're trying to produce.

"It's a pleasure to work with Mr. Sykes. He has absolutely the right attitude for the game. He's built a successful operation that's bred a lot of good horses, including (2019 champion older female) Midnight Bisou. Every year Woodford is somewhere in the top 20 of U.S. breeders. It's all about raising and breeding good horses, and if you do that, the money and so on will work out."

Hip 279 Happy Charger (filly by Super Saver from Happy Week) from Woodford Thoroughbreds<br>
Sales horses at the Keeneland November Sale at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. on November 9, 2020.
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
A weanling at the Woodford Thoroughbreds consignment at the 2020 Keeneland November Sale

Sykes has remained active as a buyer at auction. He sent trainer Will Walden to the 2023 Tattersalls December Mare Sale, where they purchased a trio of classy race fillies, and then to the Ocala Breeders' March Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training, where they picked up two more.

"Mr. Sykes has told me he wants to have horses that can compete on Saturdays, and he has a broodmare band, so these fillies are a safer option than colts," said Walden, 33, now in his third year of training. "Mr. Sykes wants to have some fun, and I do too, frankly. He texts me two or three times a week about the horses.

"He is a hands-on owner who wants to be involved. He lets me make a lot of decisions on the horses I train for him, but he wants to know what's going on and what the game plan is. I love having an owner who is as excited about it as I am. He's a great man, a class act, and he's taught me a lot."

Walden said he and Sykes are excited about the upcoming Keeneland spring meet. Walden is aiming Pipsy, a 3-year-old Kodiac filly that cost 700,000 guineas (US$928,490) at Tattersalls, to the $250,000 Limestone Stakes at Keeneland April 12.