May 2019 Member of the Month: William Shively
William Shively is the TOBA May Member of the Month.
No matter what he turns his hand to, William Shively exhibits a golden touch. Founder of a prominent Florida insurance firm, he has also produced blockbuster movies. In recent years, Shively revived historic Dixiana Farm. Most recently, he bred Focus Group, winner of the March 30 Pan American Stakes (G2T).
Florida-based Shively spent time around horses from a young age. “I originally grew up in Pennsylvania, which this area reminds me of, and I got into horses in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as a kid,” he said. His experience came in pony shows. He added, “And then I moved to Florida and I spent probably 40 years in Florida. And that’s where I built my businesses—in Florida—which is primarily insurance companies.”
Shively also served as a producer on numerous Hollywood films, including 2004’s The Butterfly Effect and 2008’s Sleepwalking. He recalled, “And so my offices were in Gainesville, which is about 30 miles from Ocala, and I had a farm there and I started breeding Thoroughbreds in Florida.”
His entrance into the racing business came as a bit of a surprise. Shively recalled, “I was in Hawaii entertaining my top agents and one of my agents was on the phone, bidding on a horse in Ocala, and she said, ‘I can’t afford the horse. Do you want to buy half a horse with me?’”
Shively went in on the deal, which proved to be an astute purchase.
At the 1999 OBS March Sale, Shively and Dianne Walderon formally purchased a two-year-old son of Personal Hope for $190,000. The horse, aptly named Personal First, went on to capture the 2000 Amsterdam Stakes (G3), en route to earning $469,347 in 30 starts. “He’s a gelding and now on the farm, retired, at Dixiana,” Shively said.
Shively fell in love with the Bluegrass as the years passed. He said, “I just started coming up to the sales and spending time here and it reminded me of home. And then I got the opportunity to buy a farm that was 200 acres—it was named Elk Hill— and it was adjoining Dixiana.” At the same time as he bought Elk Hill, he also purchased Blue Ridge Farm.
He purchased Dixiana Farm—birthplace of the “Black Whirlwind,” Domino—in 2004. Several years later, he added neighboring Domino Stud, separated from Dixiana by a single road. Shively noted, “Now we really feel like it’s completed back again.” He sees himself as a custodian of the historic nursery, noting, “I always say that you don’t feel like it’s yours; you just feel like you’re taking care of it for the next guy.” Shively maintains a 48-strong broodmare band. Alone or in partnership, he owns another 20 horses.
The best horse to come off Dixiana recently has been Focus Group. Shively took a shine to Focus Group’s dam, the Dynaformer mare Cocktail Hour. “The debate is—I really prefer grass,” he noted. Thus, breeding her to grass stallion Kitten’s Joy was a no-brainer. Shively added, “For me, winning the [Prix de l’]Arc [de Triomphe] would probably be my biggest thing.” Cocktail Hour has a Noble Mission yearling colt. Left open for 2019, she is back in foal to Kitten’s Joy for 2020.
Agent Mike Ryan purchased the son of Kitten’s Joy from the 2015 Keeneland September Yearling sale for $140,000. Now, the five-year-old horse races for William Lawrence and Klaravich Stables. Focus Group first earned black-type with a nose victory in last summer’s John’s Call Stakes at Saratoga.
Shively was predictably thrilled at Focus Group’s Pan American’s success, saying, “I felt that he was on the verge, and obviously that was a big win. He showed all the aptitude that I think he needed to. A lot of this game is luck, as you know. You can have all the talent in the world and just not be lucky, but he sure looks like a quality horse.” He added, “I think it was nice to see something we bred to come in like that.”
Shively has worked with the best in the business, like racing manager Steve Cauthen, bloodstock agent David Ingordo, and farm manager Robert Hammond. So it’s no surprise that TOBA has helped him network. He said, “When you first come to Lexington, I got involved, but it was really through the people I knew…I just had a lot of friends that were members of TOBA.”