Henryk de Kwiatkowski, owner of Calumet Farm since 1992, died Monday at his home in the Bahamas. He was 79.
The cause of death was not announced by the spokesman for Keeneland racetrack who reported De Kwiatkowski's death. Keeneland is in Lexington, Ky.
Born in Poland in 1924, De Kwiatkowski was educated in England and immigrated to Canada in 1952 to work as an aeronautical engineer.
In 1957, he came to the United States and founded De Kwiatkowski Aircraft Ltd., then became interested in thoroughbred racing.
Among his horses was Conquistador Cielo, the 1982 Horse of the Year in North America, who won the Belmont Stakes that year. De Kwiatkowski also owned Danzig, a highly influential stallion, and won another Belmont with Danzig Connection in 1986.
Before De Kwiatkowski's arrival, Calumet had bred nine Kentucky Derby winners and owned eight, including Triple Crown winners Whirlaway in 1941 and Citation in 1948. But for all its fame, the operation could not fend off financial problems.
Mounting debts totaling more than $100 million forced it to file for bankruptcy in 1991.
When De Kwiatkowski bought the historic 762-acre thoroughbred farm in March 1992 for $17 million, he celebrated the purchase by drinking champagne with employees.
"The thoroughbred industry has lost a passionate stalwart, and central Kentucky has lost a dear friend," Keeneland President Nick Nicholson said in a statement. "From the day he rescued Calumet and vowed never to change a blade of grass, he won the hearts of all central Kentuckians and horse lovers everywhere."
Calumet and De Kwiatkowski had also enjoyed recent success.
Calumet's Region of Merit won the Tampa Bay Derby on Sunday, the 3-year-old's fourth win in five career starts. The colt has earned $193,200 for Calumet.
De Kwiatkowski "did a lot of things in thoroughbred racing, but saving Calumet Farm was something the industry will be eternally indebted to him for," said John Asher, spokesman for Churchill Downs in Louisville.
De Kwiatkowski is survived by his wife, Barbara; daughters Michelle, Nicole, Arianne and Alexandria; and sons Conrad, Stephan and Nicholas.