A Thoroughbred Dynasty

Danada Farm

by Audra Bonnet,
Communications and Marketing

At the center of the Danada Forest Preserve in Wheaton, a racetrack beckons to an era when Thoroughbreds once trained in the name of racing enthusiasts Dan and Ada Rice, breeders of champions.

As many Thoroughbred racing fans turn their attention to the Kentucky Derby this May, some will remember the horses born by Danada Farm and raced by Ada L. Rice Stable. Of Model Cadet, Delta Judge, Lucky Debonair and Advocator — each story is unique, and each horse is, in and of himself, a champion.

Familiar with the operations of a farm and hence with raising draft horses, the Rices purchased Danada in 1928. When friend Ben Lindheimer purchased Arlington Park in 1940, Dan Rice, a stock and commodities broker, became a partner in funding. Perhaps this venture along with Ada’s suggestion that “it would be fun” to race horses initiated the Rices’ investment in Thoroughbreds.

Dan purchased eight Thoroughbreds for his wife’s pursuit in 1943 when Fasig-Tipton Horse Farms held a dispersal sale at Keeneland Racetrack in Kentucky; the Rices’ racing dynasty was born that same year. For more than 30 years, Danada Farm produced numerous champions. At any given time, the Rices may have had as many as 65 horses in training in addition to as many combined numbers of stallions, broodmares and foals. The majority of the Thoroughbreds were born in Lexington, Kentucky, at a sister farm also named Danada. Fashioned after the Lexington farm, the Wheaton farm served as a premiere training facility. Its 26-stall Kentucky-style barn, with stalls positioned in the center, allowed horses to be worked even in inclement weather on an indoor track that encircled the stalls. A half-mile regulation racetrack with four-post starting gate, buzzer and bell was near the barn to condition the 20 to 40 yearlings that came up from Lexington each year.

Among the first of the Rice stakes winners, Model Cadet claimed the Washington Park Futurity as a 2-year-old in 1948. With one win to the colt’s credit under trainer Tom Smith (who later claimed notoriety as trainer to the legendary Seabiscuit), Ada entered Model Cadet as the first Danada-bred Thoroughbred to run for the roses in the 1949 Kentucky Derby.
After breaking from the Derby’s starting gate, Model Cadet gained on the others after the first half mile but eventually fell back and failed to place. Even with this disappointing finish, Ada believed in her colt’s abilities and paid $2,250 two weeks later for Model Cadet to run as a supplementary entry in the Preakness, where he placed seventh of nine in the field.

As a 2-year-old, bay colt Delta Judge won the Sapling Stakes and two other races, placed second in the Pimlico Futurity, and third in both the Tremont Stakes and Futurity Trial Stakes. Though the colt did not race at 3, Delta Judge won five stakes when raced as a 4-year-old including the Fall Highweight Handicap and the Gravesend Handicap. Although Ada held only 20 shares of a 30-share syndicate in Delta Judge, the colt’s winnings from eight races ranked among the highest in purses earned by the Rices, totaling $159,762.

Ada L. Rice Stable’s prospects had only been entered in the 1949 and 1957 Kentucky Derbies with Model Cadet and Indian Creek respectively, and neither placed. But in 1965, history was to change with a colt named Lucky Debonair. In the Kentucky Derby, Lucky Debonair broke from the starting gate for the lead, held through the open furlong, and then dropped back at the 16th marker when jockey Willie Shoemaker held him. Shoemaker moved him up to take Flag Raiser midway of the first turn and through to the final quarter to the fore at a lengthy advantage. A wholehearted late bid by Dapper Dan made Shoemaker fully extend the horse to the finish, where Lucky Debonair crossed the wire first in a neck-to-neck finish at 2:01 and 1/5 second for a purse of $112,000.

According to Rice Stable historian Eileen White, Ada and her husband departed early from post-Derby celebrations that night, but not before visiting their champion in his Churchill Downs’ stall. With his win, Lucky Debonair was the grandest of Ada’s Thoroughbreds, and she draped herself in the stole of red roses awarded in the winner’s circle. Still garbed in flowers, Ada kissed her Thoroughbred sweetly on his muzzle before turning in. The following day Ada threw a birthday party for the colt in expression of gratitude; the colt turned 3 the day after the Derby by numerical rather than Thoroughbred date of birth.

Foaled in 1963, bay colt Advocator claimed three first-place wins including the Cowdin Stakes and lesser wins already by age 2. In the 92nd Kentucky Derby in 1966, the 3-year-old broke away from the starting gate, held the pace for three quarters, moved up on the second and back in the midstretch, and ultimately challenged Kaui King for the finish, placing second. That same year, Advocator showed third in the Belmont Stakes, gracing the Rices with purses in two of the Triple Crown Stakes. Advocator raced until 5, with a career totaling wins in 10 races and an impressive $338,658 in earnings.

The Rices experienced some of Thoroughbred racing’s greatest moments in victory, establishing a merit-worthy dynasty with legendary horses the likes of Model Cadet, Delta Judge, Lucky Debonair and Advocator. Through 1974, the Rices earned more than $8.5 million with horses that raced in Ada’s name and just over $13 million with Danada-bred horses that raced. Alone in the sport after her husband’s death, Ada desired to leave the Rice legacy at its righteous best. And so after a 32-year shared venture in breeding, management and racing Thoroughbreds, Ada dispersed of her horses by sale in 1975.

Today, the Danada racetrack stands as much more than an amenity for equestrians; it represents a historic era resplendent with racing greatness.

Visit Danada Equestrian Center to take in some Derby history on May 2. See our Calendar of Events for Lucky Debonair's Kentucky Derby 50th Anniversary Celebration.

Dan and Ada Rice (second and third from the left) stand in the 1965 Kentucky Derby winner’s circle with Thoroughbred Lucky Debonair, jockey Willie Shoemaker and trainer Frank Catrone (third from the right). Photo by Churchill Downs and Kinetic Corporation

Ada and Dan Rice stop for a photo, holding one of their horses after a race. Photo courtesy of Nikki Dahlin
Visitors to Danada Forest Preserve can see the starting gate and racetrack where the Rice Thoroughbreds were trained in Wheaton. Photo courtesy of Nikki Dahlin 
Grooms tack a horse for training at Danada Farm. Photo courtesy of Nikki Dahlin
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