Services In Lexington On Jan. 18 For Virginia Kraft Payson - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Services In Lexington On Jan. 18 For Virginia Kraft Payson

Virginia Kraft Payson

Services for Thoroughbred owner and breeder Virginia Kraft Payson will be held on the afternoon of Wednesday, Jan. 18, at the Newman Center in Lexington, Ky., with a reception to follow at the Thoroughbred Club of America that evening. Payson, 92, died Jan. 9 in Lexington.

A pioneer woman in sports journalism, a sports enthusiast, Thoroughbred owner and breeder and author, Payson described herself as an “outdoor adventuress.”  She worked as a journalist on the staff of Sports Illustrated for 26 years, beginning with the first issue in 1954. She was the 12th person hired, and the only woman.

“They brought me in because I had a background in the outdoors,” Payson said in an interview in 2021. The new magazine had a lot of turnover as it worked to define itself. “I certainly will say that every guy who was hired looked around and figured, 'I can knock her off first.' I just did my job and created the opportunities.”

And create she did. She experienced her beat first hand. She traveled to exotic places and tried the sports she wrote about (writing under her maiden name) including shooting, hunting and fishing. She tracked wild boar with Generalissimo Francisco Franco of Spain, hunted tiger with the Queen of Nepal and shot birds from horseback with King Hussein of Jordan.

She piloted hot-air balloons, competed in international sports fishing competitions, and as a scuba diver was inducted into the Underwater Hall of Fame. But her favorite experience, she said, was an historic run as the first woman to compete in and complete Alaska's 75-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. She finished 16th out of 22 drivers. “When I got to the finish line, it was just a sea of people. They were all shouting. They gave me the keys to the city and champagne and a big bouquet of roses,” she recalled.

All in all, her job was “a magic carpet ride,” she said.

As an author, she wrote five books on boating, training dogs, shotgun sports and tennis.

After her first marriage to Robert Dean Grimm ended in divorce, Virginia met Charles Shipman Payson, prominent industrialist, financier and sportsman. She became involved in the Thoroughbred industry after marrying Payson, a widower, in 1977. While they both had life-long involvement with riding horses, neither had any experience with race horses. On a whim while visiting Kentucky, they bought a Thoroughbred yearling at auction, launching a major interest for them both.

She and Payson founded the 300-acre Payson Stud farm in Lexington, Ky., a move that shifted the focus of her life from journalism to breeding and racing horses. The couple also owned Payson Park Thoroughbred Training Center, a 400-acre winter training facility near Stuart, Fla.

Over the years, Virginia became one of the Thoroughbred industry's most respected owners and breeders. She kept her operation small, no more than 12 mares, deciding that breeding her own race horses was more likely to yield success than buying at auction.

A year before her husband died in 1985, their 3-year-old colt, Carr de Naskra, won the prestigious Travers Stakes. Payson Stud produced 78 stakes horses, of which 30 won or placed in graded stakes and three were champions.

She considered St Jovite as her crowning achievement as a breeder. The son of Pleasant Colony, winner of the 1981 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, St Jovite was 1992 European Horse of the Year and named champion in England, Ireland and France.

Her mare, Northern Sunset, was honored as 1995 Kentucky Broodmare of the Year. In 1997, Virginia was honored as Breeder of the Year by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.

Other Payson Stud successes included L'Carriere, Salem Drive, Lac Ouimet, Rutherienne and Scipion. Her mares produced Vindication, the 2002 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, and Farda Amiga, winner of the 2002 Kentucky Oaks. That year both Vindication and Farda Amiga were awarded Eclipse Awards as champion 2-year-old male and champion 3-year-old filly, respectively.

In 1994, Virginia married Thoroughbred horse owner Jesse M. Henley Jr. After his death, in 2008 she married David Libby Cole, real estate broker in Vail Valley, Colo.

A native of New York City, Virginia was born Feb. 19, 1930, the daughter of George John and Mary Florence Gillis Kraft. She graduated from Barnard College. In 2012, she received an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y.

Survivors include her husband, David Libby Cole, of Lexington; three daughters from her marriage to Robert Dean Grimm – Jill Aurland (John), Vernon Hills, Ill.; Tana Aurland Bostian (Jeff), East Hampton, Mass., and Tara Grimm, Paris, France. Survivors also include three grandchildren – Ashton Doyle, Haven Aurland and Robert Tres Aurland and three great grandchildren.

She was predeceased by her son Robert Dean Grimm, grandson Payson Grimm, and sister Jacqueline Wickers.

Services will be held Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023, at The Newman Center, 320 Rose Lane, Lexington Ky 40508 Visitation 4:30 p.m. ET, Mass 5:30 p.m. and reception at the Thoroughbred Club from 7-8:30 p.m., 3555 Rice Road in Lexington.

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