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Bush and Breeder Go Way Back : Profile: Will Farish, who enjoys an extremely close relationship with the President, aims to raise the best racehorses in the world.

May 06, 1990|MICHAEL YORK | THE WASHINGTON POST

Will Farish is driving across his Kentucky horse farm, mashing the accelerator of his dark green Range Rover, nudging the speedometer just over 50. It seems very fast on the rolling, 12-foot-wide roads Farish has laid out on his picture-perfect 3,000-acre spread.

All the way, Farish is dialing up numbers on his cellular phone, first to the farm's office in town, next to the landscape architect working on the new stallion complex, then to his wife, Sarah, who's waiting for Will in Florida at one of the couple's four other homes.

Lane's End Farm, just outside Versailles (that's ver-SALES in Kentucky) looks more like a small national park. The grass is cut to a uniform length, the dark-stained fence rows look as if they were laid out by the Army Corps of Engineers. Most of the buildings--there are 10 horse barns and four houses on the farm--have a shared architecture, a takeoff from the brick columns of Farish's farmhouse, an early 19th-Century home that looks like something Thomas Jefferson might have built as a weekend getaway.

For at least 30 years, Farish says, he's had one dream: to build, own and run a major thoroughbred farm. And although he has sometimes wandered from that ambition, he has always returned to that single-minded pursuit. It's a personality not unlike that of his mentor, one-time employer and now close friend: George Bush.

Most Presidents this century have had their one or two intimates, people to hang out with and not worry about some of their loose talk showing up in the newspapers. John F. Kennedy said it was important to have someone to relax with, and he joked that he was stuck with the friends he had when he came to the White House because he certainly wasn't going to make any new friends while he was there.

Bush might be making new friends during his presidency, but it's a safe bet that none of them will supplant Farish. Will Farish is that kind of friend to George Bush.

But unless you mention Bush's name, it might take several hours--even days--before his name comes up in conversation.

When Bush won the presidency, he vacationed at Farish's Florida home. Soon afterward, he flew down for a weekend at the horse farm. Every New Year's for 20 years, the two men have gone quail hunting on Farish's Lazy F Ranch near Beeville, Tex.

After Bush was elected, there was speculation that Farish would be named ambassador to England. Those stories became so rampant that Farish got a call from then-Ambassador Charles Price, who urged him to take the job. Farish says the post was never offered, and if it had been, he couldn't have taken it. Couldn't afford to, he says. Way too much work for him on the Kentucky farm.

It's been said that Bush sees in Farish the kind of successful business career he might have had if he had not chosen politics. Farish has been in the investment business--he owns the W.S. Farish & Co. investment firm in Houston, the company that once managed Bush's blind trust--and he's had dealings in oil and gas exploration, mining, cattle ranching and local television stations.

It's also been said that for Bush there might be a bit of envy for Farish's comfortable, very private existence. But Farish scoffs at the idea. "I think that's not even close," Farish says. "He's always had his eye on one thing, he's been terribly determined."

The same, of course, could be said about Farish.

Ask a Kentucky horseman, and he'll probably tell you it's a whole lot easier to become President of the United States than it is to set up your own racing and breeding operation in central Kentucky. Perhaps because Farish never lived in Kentucky before the 1970s, he didn't know that what he was planning just couldn't be done. After all, one just cannot aspire to be a leading horseman; one has to be bred to be a horseman.

Farish did have some bloodlines. An only child, William Stamps Farish III was 4 years old when his father, Army Lt. William Stamps Farish Jr., died at 31 in a training flight near Waxahachie, Tex. Farish just barely remembers his father or his grandfather, William Stamps Farish, who had died of a sudden heart attack six months earlier.

Farish's grandfather graduated from law school in Mississippi in 1900. After just three months of legal practice, he moved to Beaumont, Tex., and within a year had started his own oil business.

It was no get-rich-quick deal.

The business faltered, but Farish's grandfather persisted, picking up drilling jobs for various Texas oil partnerships. In 1917, he became a founder of the Humble Oil and Refining Co., part of what is now Exxon, and five years later became its president.

In 1933, he became president of Standard Oil of New Jersey. Farish's other grandfather was Robert E. Wood, who was the chief executive officer of the Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Farish's paternal grandfather dabbled in thoroughbreds, but at the outset of World War II he decided to expand his stable, to seriously get into racing.

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