Renowned Florida Horseman Luke McKathan Dies at 89

Renowned Florida horseman James Bryan “Luke” McKathan, who helped shaped the 2-year-olds in training market and was a mentor to hundreds of racing professionals, died peacefully Feb. 14 in Ocala, Fla., according to his family.

McKathan, 89, was born in Andalusia, Ala., where his family grew cotton. He left home at 13 seeking a better life and discovered horse racing first with Standardbreds. He started working for driver and trainer Billy Haughton, a member of the US Trotting Association Hall of Fame. McKathan soon discovered Quarter Horse racing and became a trainer, with horses running throughout the country at Ruidoso Downs, Pompano Park, and Seminole Downs and other tracks. Quarter Horses took him to Georgia where he became the farm trainer for The Ponderosa Ranch near Adel, which was owned by Jim Paulk, who also owned the Del-Cook Lumber Co. Through Paulk, McKathan with Florida horseman and Quail Roost Farm owner Elmer Heubeck. In 1968 McKathan transitioned to Thoroughbreds and opened a public training stable in South Florida just as Calder Race Course opened its doors.

Described by friends and family as a “natural horseman,” McKathan became a mentor to many, including jockeys Larry Hunt and Richard DePass and horsemen Casey Seaman and Bo Hunt. McKathan moved to Marion County in Central Florida in 1983 and got involved during the early days of pinhooking weanlings or yearlings to 2-year-olds in training sales. He was responsible for shaping the format of the under tack shows as they’re run today.

“I had to convince the sales company to have a horse work by itself and not in the company of another horse,” McKathan told Florida Horse magazine in its April 2004 edition. “You always had to work horses together, and you’d find yourself selling one horse and bringing the other horse home. Everyone should have a few seconds to showcase what their horse can do so that the buyers will have the opportunity to see what the racing prospect is capable of doing.”

McKathan passed along his horsemanship skills and his work ethic to his sons James Bryan Jr. “JB” and Kevin, who started their own consignment named McKathan Bros., which provided the foundation to champions, including Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Silverbulletday, and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah

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“The words ‘no’ and ‘can’t’ weren’t acceptable answers,” Kevin McKathan recalled in the Florida Horse about growing up in the horse business with his father. “He would either make you or break you. He would give you all you could handle and in the end you were better for it.”

Most recently McKathan operated out of a 152-acre farm near Reddick, Fla., north of Ocala that he ran with his wife, Jocelyn. He was an entrepreneur as well having developed his own line of supplements sold under the brand “McKathan’s.”

McKathan is survived by Jocelyn McKathan and his ex-wives Neoma McKathan and Norma McKathan; his siblings Shirley and Miles; his children Kevin, Bo, and Brenda; and several grandchildren. He is preceded in death by his son JB, who died in February 2019, and his siblings Garnel and Gwen.

A service will be held Feb. 20 at 4:00 pm ET at Friendship Baptist Church located at 15115 NW Gainesville Road, Reddick. He will be buried in Pleasant Home, Ala., Feb. 25 at 11:00 a.m

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