william s. brown
William S. “Bill” Brown, one of the sport’s most prominent, multi-talented and respected farm managers, was born in Lebanon, Ohio on November 10, 1927 to Jeanette and Karl Brown. His grandfather, Sam Snider, who was the trainer and farm manager for the King Stock Farm in Kings Mills, Ohio, introduced him to harness racing at an early age and began taking him to Ohio fairs during the 1930s. By the time he was twelve, Brown was helping not only with the Standardbreds at the Lebanon Fairgrounds, but he also was galloping and bicycling Thoroughbreds that were stabled there. As a teenager he began working during the summers with the show horses owned by Hall of Fame Immortal Samuel Huttenbauer, a Cincinnati meat packer and prominent Standardbred owner. He served an apprenticeship under Immortal trainer W. N. “Doc” McMillen at the Madison County Fairgrounds in London, Ohio, rubbing Bonnie Butler p,3,T2:03 ($10,307), the granddam of Immortal Adios Butler p,4,T1:54.3 ($509,875). He then joined the London, Ohio-based stable of C. O. Thompson and was the caretaker of the Spencer filly Lark 2:06.2 ($7,143), a two-year-old trotting luminary of 1944.
After completing his high school education, Brown attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio on a football scholarship. He left after his freshman year to pursue his real interest, working with horses. The next year, 1946, he was hired by Immortal trainer Fred Egan, with whom he spent the next four years touring the Grand Circuit. Among the champion horses under his care were Immortal Hoot Mon 3,2:00 ($74,950) and Miss Tilly 3,2:01.2 ($98,061), winners of the Hambletonian Stake in 1947 and 1949, respectively.
In 1950 Brown accepted an offer to join the stable of Immortal trainer Frank Ervin after he had been persuaded to do so by L. E. Lake, a wealthy Indiana horse owner who was turning his stock over to Ervin. They toured the Grand Circuit for a year, including stints at Roosevelt and Yonkers raceways.
Brown was drafted into the army in 1951 during the Korean War and served for two years in Italy, where he assisted engineers in building ammunition pads and barracks. Upon his return to the U.S., and while attending the 1953 Little Brown Jug, his path again crossed that of Frank Ervin. Facing the loss of his second trainer, Ervin offered Brown the position, which he happily accepted. During the next five years he worked with numerous champions including the fillies Good Counsel p,3,1:57 ($48,900), a multi-world record holder at two and three in 1956 and 1957, and Yankee Lass 3,T1:58 ($58,117), who in 1957 became the first two-year-old trotter to break the two-minute mark.
By the mid-1950s Ervin had disbanded his public stable to become the private trainer for Castleton Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. When the position of farm manager became available in 1958, Ervin persuaded Brown to take it. Brown became an avid student of pedigree and breeding management, and for the next twelve and one-half years he oversaw the careers of such notable stallions as the Immortals Bret Hanover p,4,T1:53.3 ($922,616), Good Time p,1:57.4 ($318,792), Florican 5,1:57.2 ($152,222), Speedster 4,1:59.4 ($97,184) and Victory Song 4,1:57.3 ($73,859). Among the broodmares in his care were Miss Tilly 3,2:01.2 ($98,061), Spinster Hanover 4,T2:00.4 ($17,496) and Scotch Love 2,T2:04.3 ($8,345), who produced 1963 triple crown winner Immortal Speedy Scot 3,1:56.4 ($650,909) and 1967 Hambletonian winner Speedy Streak 3,1:59.4 ($95,576). Ervin would later say that Brown was the best farm manager in the country and also the best groom and assistant trainer he ever had.
In 1971 Brown was hired by Immortal Oscar Kimelman to manage the Kimelman family’s fledgling Blue Chip Farms in Wallkill, New York. Brown became personally involved in the design and construction of additional barns and in the expansion of pastures. Working with the late Oscar Kimelman’s sons Michael and Ted, Brown saw the farm grow from 650 acres to an 800-acre internationally renowned Standardbred nursery. He developed a high-class broodmare band, and among his stallions were the 1970 pacing triple crown winner Immortal Most Happy Fella p,3,T1:55 ($419,033), who sired the Immortals Cam Fella p,4,1:53.1 ($2,041,367), Silk Stockings p,3,1:52.2 ($694,894), Tarport Hap p,4,1:56.3f ($688,664), as well as Tyler B p,3,1:55.1 ($687,388), Happy Motoring p,3,1:56.2 ($538,495) and Oil Burner p,4,1:54.2 ($535,541). He also stood Hall of Famer On The Road Again p,4,1:51.4 ($2,819,102), Magical Mike p,3,1:50.2 ($1,682,085) and Sir Taurus 2,1:56.3 ($484,810). Brown retired as president and general manager of Blue Chip in 1998. Daughter Jean is senior vice president of operations at Blue Chip; son Steve, the farm’s former stallion manager, is now retired. Son Dan is retired and living in Ohio, and son Mark, who resides in Virginia, is a member of that state’s horse racing commission.
Brown has received numerous honors recognizing his commitment to harness racing and his willingness to share his knowledge with others. Among the people for whom he served as a mentor are Carter Duer of Peninsula Farm in Kentucky, Thom Young, formerly of Castleton Farm in New York, and Chris Coyle of Olive Branch Farms in North Carolina. In 1996 he was selected to receive the Harness Horse Youth Foundation’s Service to Youth Award. As a member of the HHYF board of trustees, he spearheaded its scholarship selection committee. In 1997 Bill Brown became the twenty-third member of the Ohio Harness Racing Hall of Fame, and the following year he was inducted into the national Harness Racing Living Hall of Fame.
Bill Brown passed away at the age of eighty-one on December 6, 2008 in Poughkeepsie, New York. He was predeceased by his wife of 50 years, Lydia, who passed in April of 2007.
Published in the Harness Racing Museum's "The 2006-2009 Immortals" (2011)