The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation is starting off 2017 on a good note, as Virginia businessman Randy Rouse made a huge year-end donation to the non-profit.
The 100-year-old horseman donated the Middleburg Training Center, located in Middleburg, Va., to the organization, which was founded in 1983 to care for retired race horses and protect them from possible neglect, abuse or slaughter.
Rouse, who was an avid foxhunter and jockey and has been a lifelong supporter of Virginia horse racing, bought the 149-acre training center in 2006 for $4 million, but he put it on the market in recent years with no luck, even after reducing the price to $3.5 million.
He told the Fauquier Times that he opted to take the tax write-off and the donation was finalized on Dec. 29.
“It’s been a loss operation for me,” Rouse, of Arlington, Va., told the newspaper. “It’s not viable and no one was interested in buying it. I just figured that giving it away and taking the deduction would be the best way out.”
Lenny Hale, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation president and chief operating officer, knew Rouse and his wife Michele through the racing circuit. He formerly served as senior vice president of the New York Racing Association and held the same position with the Maryland Jockey Club.
“I got wind that he was thinking of donating it and needed a tax write-off before the end of the year," Hale said. "I called and said, ‘Let me throw our name in the hat.’ We’ve got 820 horses we’re taking care of at nine prisons and 26 farms. I met with lawyers and accountants and laid the groundwork, and a couple of days later met with some more folks, and the deal was done. We’re very excited.”
Hale knew the late Paul Mellon, who built the original facility in the 1950s to use as a private training center for his Rokeby stable. It was eventually bought in 1975 by a group of local trainers.
“Knowing Mr. Mellon as I did when I worked for New York Racing and knowing the community and getting a lot of feedback, nobody wants to see a housing development go in there, nor do I, but it needs a lot of repairs,” he said.
The property boasts 11 barns with 220 stalls, a 7/8-mile track and grooms’ quarters. There are currently about 80 horses in training, much less than the facility’s peak from the 1970s through the 1990s.
“We have a lot of work to do and some changes to make. We’re going to talk to people about bringing their stables back and filling us back up again,” Hale said.
TRF’s 2015 financial statements show a budget of $3 million, with more than $2 million in donations. Their largest expense in 2015 was for boarding (more than $700,000). Hale hopes to improve the training center, involve the local community and eventually turn a profit.
“We need to make a few changes. The barns are old and in need of some repair. There’s some spare land we can fence to put at least 50 of our horses from our herd on the grounds and close down the two most expensive farms we’re dealing with.
“We’ve got a lot of people around there in the horse world in different disciplines that aren’t necessarily attuned to the Thoroughbred retirement situation. But they’re all interested in not having the training track turned into a housing development,” he said. “We’re hoping we can gather everybody together, and if everybody kicks in a little bit we can keep the wolf from the door for quite a while until we get things up and running and to the point where the facility is showing a profit. I’ve had a lot of calls with people offering to donate various things. We’re on our way. We just need to make a plan that we can try and stick to and make public.”