LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) – The entertainment begins the minute tourists step aboard Shaun Washington’s bus.
“Folks, I’m Shaun Washington from Lexington, Kentucky,” he said on the public address system. “I’ve been to 30 Kentucky Derbies. I’m three for thirty. I can’t pick a winner.”
Maybe Washington can’t pick a Derby winner but people who want a winning tour of Bluegrass horse farms pick him all the time. His business, “Unique Horse Farm Tours,” has hundreds of five-star reviews on Trip Advisor.
“We read the reviews and they weren’t lying,” said Jackie Mongan, a tourist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She and her husband, Bill, knew right away they would be recommending this tour to friends and relatives when they got back home.
Washington started giving tours 20 years ago, after spending years working for well-known horse owners, Preston, Anita, and Patrick Madden.
He said one day Patrick was supposed to give a tour to some visitors to their farm, but he didn’t have time and asked Washington to step in.
“Then, he said a light bulb went off,” Washington said. “Patrick told me, ‘Shaun, this is what you ought to be doing!'”
One of Washington’s jobs was to be a chauffeur for Anita Madden. And he became used to transporting celebrities who came to her famous Derby Eve parties in the 1980s and 90s.
“I chauffeured Zsa Zsa Gabor, Priscilla Presley, Mohammed Ali, Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors), Phyllis Diller, Larry Hagman, Kato Kaelin, Danny Glover and all of them.”
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Now, he drives tourists to some of the most beautiful horse farms surrounding Lexington.
As he passed a well-manicured field, he told his passengers, “We’ve got beautiful thoroughbreds here and all of them are for sale. If you see one you want, let ol’ Shaun know and I’ll get the deal done for you!”
That kind of banter makes a connection with tourists almost immediately and his stories are as rich as the bloodlines in the barns.
“I brought my wife (on a tour) and said, ‘Honey, I want you to watch how I call these girls and they come running.’ She said ‘Shaun, I ain’t a horse,’ but she didn’t say it that nice.” That’s a joke, of course, and the passengers laugh on cue.
Washington may make unplanned detours, to give visitors a taste of Kentucky food, ice cream for kids, or a closer look at things they see on the way. On a recent tour, he stopped in a field to give the visitors from Wisconsin their first look at tobacco ready for harvest.
The highlight for many visitors is the chance to pet thoroughbreds that may someday be worth millions of dollars.
Jackie Mongan was especially happy after being allowed to feed a peppermint to a horse.
“My dreams are coming true,” she said. “It was great.”
Every tour is different, but Washington hopes the outcome is always the same – that tourists will share his enthusiasm for his old Kentucky home.
“I’ve been giving these tours 20 years and I’m excited about getting up the next day and coming to work every single day.”