When Chris Gracie was 16 and growing up in Kennett Square, he didn’t have a driver’s license. But he didn’t really need one for the type of transportation he was looking to pilot. In 2003, he rode a horse named Swayo to first place in the Maryland Hunt Cup, becoming the youngest rider ever to capture that title.
These days, it’s not riding that dominates Gracie’s life. Now 34, his true passion is breeding and selling horses. Based in Middleburg, Va., Gracie Bloodstock has become a respected part of the thoroughbred community, largely due to Gracie’s talent for identifying and developing first-rate horses. “To me, it’s a great way of life,” says Gracie. “I’m fortunate that I work for myself.”
For a while there, a big part of Gracie’s story was his size—and whether he’d be able to get down to the 165 pounds necessary to qualify for a ride. “I’m 6-4,” he says. “I’ve always been a big guy.”
Gracie didn’t come from a family of riders. Introduced to the sport in grade school, he rode often and hung around farms. He was 15 when Nancy Hannum, lady master of the Cheshire Hunt, gave him a ride in his first point-to-point. “I was lucky to be around good people who made an effort for me to ride,” Gracie says. “It’s not something you can just walk into.”
In 2006, Gracie won the Hunt Cup again, this time aboard Bug River. He didn’t ride again until 2018, finishing fifth in the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup in 2020. He’ll continue to compete when he can—and when he can make weight. “He’s very athletic,” says Laird George, a trainer at Whitewood Farm in Plains, Va. “Chris isn’t going to get fat. He can keep riding as long as he wants, until he gets sick and tired of losing weight every spring.”
When he’s on a horse, Gracie doesn’t look overly tall, and he certainly doesn’t appear out of place. “He just always looks really comfortable,” George says. “If you didn’t know he was 6-foot-4, you’d think he was 5-foot-4. He always looks right sitting on a horse, whether he’s jumping, galloping or on a hack through the countryside.”
While Gracie’s riding is impressive, his business sense may be even more worthy of praise. He worked for a bloodstock agent while he was a student at the University of Kentucky, graduating with a degree in business management in 2006. Since then, he’s built a successful bloodstock concern. “When you buy a good horse, it’s often a gut feeling,” says trainer Jim Fitzgerald, who operates Knock Griffin Farm in Marshall, Va. “Chris has a lot of natural talent. He’s ridden so many horses. I think guys who’ve ridden a lot of horses have a better understanding of their body and mind. No matter how big you are, you can’t overpower them. You’ve got to get into their heads.”
Last summer, Fitzgerald connected with Gracie in Saratoga, N.Y., where Gracie sold a colt for $275,000. “I wish I had a piece of him or owned him completely,” Fitzgerald says.
But not every horse leads to such a lucrative outcome. “It’s a tough game,” Fitzgerald says. “You don’t get it right all the time.”
Gracie can be found at just about every major sale in the country. It’s an exciting life—and a grueling one. He’ll ride as long as his body allows, and he’ll continue to grow a vocation that he’d hardly call work. “I live in a beautiful place, surrounded by horses,” he says. “It’s most people’s hobby. I do it every day.”