Close to Heaven
Quality Race Horses
by Bill Weaver
photo by George Bredewater
The Kritzer family has been farming their land in south Brown County for generations. “To me it’s as close to the heavens as you can get here on earth,” BJ Kritzer says as we sit with George Bredewater and Dave Crabtree at a picnic table near the barn at Kritzer Farms. Several horses graze nearby, in a green meadow fed by a clear, slow moving creek.
Bill Kritzer, or BJ as his friends know him, has lived here his entire life, working the farm while teaching science at Brown County Junior High for 33 years. The detour into horse breeding came as something of a surprise.
“Actually, my wife Kim was the one that started out in the thoroughbred business,” Kritzer says. “She come home one day and said, ‘BJ,’—this was on a Tuesday—she said, ‘Saturday we need three horse stalls.’
“I said, ‘What for?’
“‘I just bought thoroughbreds.’”
With the help of friends, BJ was able to build the three stalls in an old hog barn. “And that’s how we got in the thoroughbred business.”
Kritzer first decided to become a teacher while attending Brown County High School. “Ralph Burkholder, my senior English teacher, probably did more to prepare me for college then any other teacher that I had. Just the way he taught his classes. He really prepped me for college.”
BJ’s father also encouraged him. “I’m going to tell you something, son,” he remembers his father saying. “I lived through the Depression. Teachers had jobs. If you get an education, that’s something that no one can ever take away from you.”
“So I got the education to become an educator and those words always stuck with me.”
After graduating from Indiana Central College in 1967 Kritzer returned to Brown County, immediately finding a job as a coach and teacher at the high school. After being there four years, “My dad needed some help on the farm. I had to start work on my Masters anyway. Eventually I took the whole operation over. Once you get into farming you get in so deep you can’t get out of it,” he laughs. “You have to stay with it. It’s almost like the horse business.”
I ask him how he was able to work on the farm and teach at the same time.
“Many long hours,” he replies. “Many, many long hours. A lot of times I got along with three, four hours sleep. Harvest time was the worst. We’d have the bins full, the trucks full and the wagons full. It was my job to have them all empty by the next morning. There’s been a lot of times in the winter when I got very little sleep.”
The extra work resulted in his giving up coaching and taking a position as science teacher at the junior high school, where he remained until his retirement. “I enjoyed teaching and I thought that was my calling. You get a kid to like you and they’ll go out of their way to please you. That’s basically how I lived my teaching career.”
The Kritzers began racing horses after acquiring “a little mare at Russell Springs, Kentucky that they didn’t think would ever make a racer. We asked the trainer down there, ‘What do you think?’
“He said, ‘Well, she’s pretty small but boy does she have heart. I think she might make a runner.’ The first race she ever ran up at Hoosier Parks she won. From then on we’re in not only for raising them, but racing them, too.”
But horses are only part of the reason BJ loves the thoroughbred business. “There’s so many good people, like our trainer. You become friends. People that own thoroughbreds are some of the nicest people you ever want to deal with.”
During racing season the horses that are running stay at the track. “In fact, we have three at Indiana Downs now. They came in from Tampa so they got to spend a nice winter down there. The rest of them are training at Russell Springs.”
“Say you’ve got some money and you want to buy a thoroughbred,” George Bredewater asks him. “What’s the first thing that you do? Do you start looking at the bloodline?”
“It depends on how much money you’re wanting to spend,” BJ replies. “You can study out the blood lines.”
Or you can rely on instinct. “Now my wife liked that horse right there,” he says pointing out a particularly calm and beautiful horse grazing nearby. “I think she paid 25 hundred dollars for that horse and won, I don’t know, 215–220 thousand dollars. After she had won her first race they said, ‘Hey, that horse there is going to be something!’ We were offered a pretty good sum for it. But that might be the only horse we ever own that gives us that much pleasure to race. We were invited to Churchill Downs, Keeneland. To have a horse running against some of the best in the United States makes you feel pretty good.”
“Kritzer Thoroughbreds is on the map,” adds Dave Crabtree, who shoes the Kritzer horses. “D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert have both called here about horses. They are the two top trainers in the nation today.”
There are 23 horses residing on the farm now. “We just had two babies and they’re less than a week old, two more to come any time. What I’d like is to have no more than ten mares and maybe three runners. It’s too much work,” he says with a self deprecating laugh. “Like today, a beautiful day, I could go play golf, but no, I got too much to get done.”
“Time is our most invaluable thing,” George observes.” It isn’t money. It isn’t property. It’s just time.”
“We’re all in too big a hurry,” BJ agrees. “I lived here all the way through high school and didn’t realize how fortunate and how beautiful I had it right here. When I was in college I couldn’t hardly wait ’till Saturday got here. There’s some kids up there in Indianapolis that’s never been out to the country. Ever!
“My dad died right there in that shed. Greasing a disc so we could go plant corn. They’ll probably find me out here, too,” he adds with another laugh.