“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou
Traveling through the lush farmlands of central Florida, one might notice a set of regal metal gates that sit just past a fork in the road—a white sign standing by their side the only indication of just how significant the place is and, even then, only recognized by those who know the name:
As the black gates swing open, a visitor finds themselves traveling down a long, winding driveway flanked by seemingly ancient trees and small ceramic jockeys, with silks painted in the bright, recognizable colors representing so many influential owners or partners in the life of this place.
Just around the sharp right hand corner in the drive, at the top of a steep bank, sits a small white building with a green sloping roof and wraparound porch, the same McKathan signs hanging on either side of its door. Quiet and unassuming, the building sits perched at the edge of a training track and at first would give a visitor little indication of the grandeur of this place, but as you slowly begin to take inventory of the reminders tucked away within its four walls, you can’t help but realize the significance of both the place and the contributions of those whose name it bears:
The bench outside the front door of the clocker’s stand with American Pharaoh’s photo on it…
The “Silver Charm Avenue” and “Real Quiet Boulevard” signs that are affixed to the door of the round pen…
The director’s chair made from the worn leather of Silver Charm’s saddle sitting untouched in the corner…
The framed photos and racetrack credentials and articles that don the interior walls of the small enclosure…
The golden plaque that hangs outside stall 30 in a barn just across the way, where one two year old colt grew from unknown to Triple Crown hero.
From corner to corner, the stories of legends that have been made under the watchful eye of two brothers surround you, creating an almost instinctual feeling of awe combined with nervousness at the significance of your surroundings.
But if one stood there in the presence of J.B. McKathan, almost always by his brother Kevin’s side, one immediately felt at home.
The stories flowed from J.B.’s kind soul with an ease, an openness, and a softness as if they were just yesterday’s moments—nothing held back. There were deep laughs while reminiscing of the moment American Pharaoh hushed a crowd of prominent owners and trainers, while scaring J.B. with his obvious speed as he flew over this very track. Or the story of when the brothers paid every last cent they owned for Silver Charm, knowing if the deal didn’t go through they couldn’t pay their bills by the end of the week. There were sentimental smiles while reminiscing of Real Quiet and grateful gazes when watching horses take to the track in front of them.
The conversations in that clocker’s stand were easy and familiar, no matter how prestigious the clients were or how inconsequential the fan—no one was a stranger to J.B. And though his pride was palpable, so was his humility, his humanness, his humor, and his love for his work and his wife and his family—which one quickly felt welcomed into.
Though his name is now synonymous with the Triple Crown champion we all waited decades to encounter, J.B. McKathan was a man far beyond that legacy; and while his directors chair on the back deck of the clocker’s stand will now sit empty, the warmth he filled so many of us with will live on in his own legacy.
J.B. was a beloved brother, husband, uncle, son, and friend to all those who stood in his warm shadow, ears eagerly bent towards every word of his stories…stories of history. He was a man who reminded us that accomplishments are only so valuable in life; it is instead how you treat those around you that leaves a lasting impression.
Driving back down the winding driveway flanked by seemingly ancient trees and small ceramic jockeys in their brightly painted silks after an encounter with J.B., the history of the McKathan achievements could never have been lost on anyone. It was, in fact, clearer than ever—strengthened by the way J.B. McKathan always made you feel—a feeling that will forever be missed by those who experienced his presence.
The McKathan Family has requested that in lieu of flowers donations be made in his honor to Old Friends Farm.