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Virginia Kraft Payson

Journalist, Author, Sportswoman

Siena College is honored to have the opportunity to recognize Mrs. Virginia Kraft Payson, a pioneer woman sports journalist and author, as well as an avid sports enthusiast and Thoroughbred owner and breeder.

Mrs. Payson, a native of New York City, is a graduate of Barnard College. A self-described “outdoor adventuress”, she worked as a journalist on the staff of Sports Illustrated magazine for 26 years beginning with the first issue in 1954, traveling to exotic locales and writing (under her maiden name, Virginia Kraft) about her experiences in adventure sports such as hunting, fishing, and scuba diving. As an author, she has written five books on boating, training dogs, shotgun sports, and tennis. Mrs. Payson has hunted and collected big game on six continents; piloted hot-air balloons; competed in international sport fishing competitions; was elected to The Underwater Hall of Fame; and was the first woman to compete in and complete Alaska’s 75–mile World Championship Sled Dog Race.

She became involved in the Thoroughbred industry after marrying Charles Shipman Payson, a widower, in 1977. While both had life-long involvement with riding horses, neither had any experience with race horses. On a whim, while visiting Kentucky, they bought a Thoroughbred yearling at auction, thus launching what would become a major involvement for both. A year before Mr. Payson died in 1985, their three-year-old colt, Carr de Naskra, a member of the first crop born on their newly acquired Kentucky breeding farm, Payson Stud, won Saratoga’s prestigious Travers Stakes (G1), known as the Summer Derby. Carr de Naskra went on to be a successful sire, first in New York and then in Kentucky.

Over the years, Mrs. Payson has become one of the Thoroughbred industry’s most respected owners and breeders. Her small boutique operation, averaging less than a dozen foals a year, has produced 78 Stakes horses, of which 30 won or placed in Graded Stakes and three were Champions. Perhaps the most accomplished of these, 1992 European Horse of the Year, St. Jovite, was also named Champion in England, Ireland, and France. He currently stands at Stud in Ireland.

Other prominent horses bred and campaigned by Mrs. Payson include L’Carriere, Salem Drive, Lac Ouimet, Strawberry Reason, Uptown Swell, and Milesius. Her mare, Northern Sunset was honored as 1995 Broodmare of the Year. In 1997, Mrs. Payson was honored as Breeder of the Year by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.

Mrs. Payson had raced most of the horses she bred until 1999, when she decided to make Payson Stud more commercial. In 2000, she sold half her yearlings and the following year sold all of them. From those two early crops came 2002 Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner, Vindication, and Farda Amiga, winner of the 2002 Kentucky Oaks (G1) and runner-up to Horse of the Year, Azeri, in the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). That year both Vindication and Farda Amiga were awarded Eclipse Awards (the Oscars of Thoroughbred racing) as Champion two-year-old male and Champion three-year-old filly, respectively. Recent top homebreds include Del Mar Oaks (G1) winner, Rutherienne, and Grade III winner and sire, Scipion.

Mrs. Payson owns and is actively involved with Payson Park Thoroughbred Training Center, a 400 acre winter training facility for just under 500 race horses, near Stuart, Florida, as well as Payson Stud near Lexington, Kentucky. In 2008, she married David Libby Cole, founder of the Vail, Colorado Board of Realtors and also an active sports enthusiast. Both Mr. Cole and Mrs. Payson spend much of their winters skiing in Colorado and Montana.

In recognition of her lifee of dedication to sport and journalism, Siena College awards Mrs. Virginia Kraft Payson, the honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters.