A very Deere relationship

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By Todd Martin

You see John Deere tractors around everywhere. From horse farms to tobacco farms and cornfields to front lawns, and that's certainly the way the company wants it to be.


The John Deere Company has worked very hard at product placement and making sure that the right people have the right information.


The company set its sights on the equine industry more than a decade ago, and every visitor to this weekend's Breeders' Cup will see that legendary green and yellow all over Churchill Downs, including on the track and the backside, much like the omnipresence of John Deere tractors at the World Equestrian Games, which ended last month in Lexington.


What you may not know is that Deere's heavy image in the equine industry got its start right here in Shelbyville, with the help of Mark Burks' Shelby Supply Company, now a part of Limestone Farm, Lawn and Worksite.


In 1994 Churchill Downs was hosting the Breeder's Cup and was in need of some new equipment.


"They asked if I'd be interested in providing some new equipment in exchange for some advertising space and time with the Breeder's Cup," Burks said. "I didn't think that was something that would be very beneficial for me, as a local dealer, but we met two or three times."


Burks did, however, see the possibility of interest with John Deere's national sales, so he contacted a salesman to join him on his next trip to the track.


"We all decided we'd provide them with tractors for some advertising for a 30-day trial, enough to get them through the fall meet," Burks said. "That year, John Deere became the official tractor of the Breeders' Cup."


Equine expansion

From there the relationship has blossomed, and the marriage of Burks, John Deere, Churchill Downs and the Breeders' Cup has continued to grow.


John Deere later struck a deal with the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and several other equine associations, including the United State Equestrian Federation (which includes Saddlebred horses) and the American Quarter Horse Association.


And Burks has remained the official supplier for Churchill Downs.


"It all fell into place in about two years," he said. "I already had a relationship with the track manager, so he asked if we would remain as their dealer. Of course, we said yes."


About two weeks ago, Burks sent this year's new equipment down to the track, just in time to dress up the tractors for the Breeders' Cup, again.


"We sent down about six Gators for them to use, and they lease about 10 to 15 tractors from us," he said. "They've been great customers, and they give us a lot of really good exposure."


WEG presence


Burks' dealership also got in the act for the World Equestrian Games. With roughly 40 or 50 tractors of all sizes on display during WEG, Limestone helped out with some of the larger items.


"We took up one of the larger combines," he said. "When it came in, we put it together and got it up there for them."


Burks said his relationship with Churchill Downs, along with the John Deere Company's commitment to the equine industry, has been very beneficial.


"Shelby and Oldham counties have some good Thoroughbred trainers and farms that we've gotten to work with through the NTRA relationship, and around here through the USEF we've gotten to know quite a few trainers," he said. "They feel the bond with John Deere because the company has played such an active role in the equine industry."


And as a bonus, Burks will be front and center when the unbeaten filly Zenyatta goes for history on Saturday:


He gets a nice viewing spot at Churchill Downs as a guest of NTRA.