10/11/2013 5:30PM

I Want Revenge marks Ben Walden's return to stallion business

Barbara D. Livingston
Wood Memorial winner I Want Revenge will begin his stud career at Ben Walden's Pauls Mill Farm in 2014.

In the days leading up to the Keeneland September yearling sale, the Pauls Mill shed row was a popular destination for two reasons. First, the consignment of Ben Walden Jr. included a half-brother to Grade 1 winners Mine That Bird and Dullahan. Second, he was serving pizza.

While a relentless stream of interested parties and tire-kickers examined the high-profile Giant’s Causeway colt – a tall, strapping chestnut cast from the same mold as Dullahan – Walden was on the phone under what little shade the barn’s awning offered, answering questions about another horse.

Earlier that morning, Walden had announced the acquisition of Grade 1 winner I Want Revenge with business partner Pat Madden, giving Pauls Mill in Versailles, Ky., its first stallion since 2011. Naturally, his phone was about as active as the yearling in front of him.

“It was great to hear from friends and breeders that had been a part of the stallions we’ve put forth in the past and brought forward in the marketplace,” Walden said. “It was great to hear from them and have them pat me on the back and say, ‘Good job. Glad that you got another horse.’ It was a good day out there.”

Walden’s four-stall stallion barn had been empty since in 2011 when he sold Bellamy Road, Artie Schiller, U S Ranger, and Summer Bird to WinStar Farm, whose president is his brother, Elliott. Walden called it, for lack of a better phrase, an offer he couldn’t refuse from an economic standpoint.

With one of the stalls now filled, Walden said he and his partners have looked at other candidates to join the Pauls Mill stallion roster.

Walden’s approach to the stallion market today could be considered downright minimalist from the days when he stood as many as 30 horses at Vinery, which Walden started in 1986 and built into one of the country’s top breeding operations and yearling consignors. Scaling back, however, has not mellowed Walden’s mind for marketing and selling horses.

“I have never been blessed with a lot of talent as a horseman,” he said modestly, noting that the gifted eye for bloodstock that his father possessed went instead to his brother. “I’ve always loved marketing, and I’ve always loved sales. I’ve always loved selling a horse or selling a stallion to my customers. It’s easy to sell something when you love it and believe in it and are on board.”

Another opportunity for Walden to utilize his marketing chops presented itself in I Want Revenge. A 7-year-old son of Stephen Got Even, the horse is best known for being the morning-line favorite in the 2009 Kentucky Derby following a tough-as-nails win in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial. The horse’s career was stalled, however, when he was scratched the morning of the Derby due to an ankle injury.

Prior to his injury, I Want Revenge recorded a win in the Grade 3 Gotham and a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity. Upon his return to the handicap division, he finished in the money in four of six races. I Want Revenge was retired after five seasons of racing, with three wins in 14 starts for $928,000. He raced six times total at ages four, five, and six.

“With a few years having elapsed, I’ve been quietly watching the horizon and looking for horses,” Walden said. “This horse was easy to get inspired over. He had so much talent.”

Following his retirement, I Want Revenge was sent to Blackwood Stables in Versailles, where Walden became aware that he was on the market as a stallion prospect. Walden acknowledged that the horse’s time out of the national spotlight posed a challenge in marketing him to breeders, but it was one he was willing to tackle.

“There’s been positive and negative [aspects],” Walden said. “There’s been some negative in that people have been a little bit confused as to where he’s been for two or three years. That will be our job as promoters of the stallion to answer those questions in a clear and direct way and to deal with that little element of resistance.

“Every stallion has their parts about them that are least attractive. When you’re marketing, there are always issues you want to work around and work through, and, of course, there are strengths. People’s memories have been long with respect to recognition of talent and recognition of what a big-time horse he was, so those are positives. We’ll balance those and put a good, fair price on him.”

Walden has further ties to the 2009 Kentucky Derby beyond his new stallion. From the same race in which I Want Revenge was scratched came longshot winner Mine That Bird, out of the Smart Strike mare Mining My Own. Walden bought a half-interest in the mare in November 2012, along with her now-yearling Giant’s Causeway colt who sold in September to Zayat Stables for a consignment-leading $675,000.

Mining My Own, co-owned by Phil and Judy Needham and Bena Halecky, was bred to first-year sire Bodemeister for the 2014 foaling season. She is the dam of three winners from four foals to race, including her two notable Grade 1 winners and stakes winner Brother Bird.

Walden marveled at the monumental odds of a mare producing two foals to hit the board in the Kentucky Derby, as Mining My Own did with Mine That Bird in 2009 and third-place Dullahan in 2012.

“The mare hasn’t missed,” he said.

One of the most identifiable aspects of Walden’s operation during sales season is the warmers that line the outside of his shed rows containing pizzas with various toppings – a sight for sore eyes and rumbling stomachs during marathon sales. Again, the tradition he started at Vinery was all about finding new ways to sell horses.

“I just got the idea that people are out there beating their brains out, trying to wade through all these horses, and to do it right, they had little time for much else,” he said. “A crispy piece of pizza under a warmer is something they can easily grab on the fly, and if they appreciate it, they might even sit down at my barn and see a horse that they hadn’t planned to see.”