LEXINGTON - Fire investigators were trying to determine Friday what caused an early-morning barn blaze that killed eight thoroughbreds at a Fayette County farm owned by the executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and trainer of 2001 Derby winner Monarchos.
"It doesn't get any worse than this," said Gerry Carwood, a trainer who lives in a house near the barn on property owned by trainer and racing commission executive director John T. Ward.
"I spend seven days a week with these horses," Carwood said in a brief interview. "They are like my family."
Firefighters rushed to the burning barn about 1 a.m., but there was little they could do, said Maj. Mark Harvey of the Lexington Fire Department.
"It was pretty much on the ground when we got there," Harvey said.
Ward, who was at the scene of the fire later Friday morning, leased the buildings to another operation, and the horses weren't his, said Dick Brown, spokesman for the racing commission. Details of the horses or the relationship between Carwood and Ward wasn't immediately available.
The property is off Rice Road, behind Keeneland Race Course and across from Gate 3. The Keeneland training track is within sight of the farm.
Keeneland is across from Blue Grass Airport, where control tower workers spotted the fire and notified firefighters, Harvey said.
"It probably had been going for a while before they saw it," he said.
An emotional Carwood said he woke to a dog barking about 1 a.m. and looked outside to see red enveloping the barn and ran to it.
He heard the horses "kicking and screaming" inside.
Carwood said he was able to remove two horses out of a nearby building but couldn't help the thoroughbreds in the larger barn because of heat, smoke and flames. Then the roof collapsed.
One firefighter was slightly injured while battling the blaze, Harvey said.
Fire investigators returned to the barn later Friday morning to examine the site in daylight in hopes of determining the cause.
The two investigators used a shovel and a pitchfork to sift through debris.
Firefighters said the structure, apparently a former tobacco barn, measured about 50 feet by 60 feet.
In addition to the barn, the adjoining building and an office building also were damaged, according to firefighters. The vinyl siding was melted on a building about 30 yards from the burned barn.