01/05/2017 3:20PM

Rouse donates Mellon property to TRF

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With a new year unfolding, the historic Middleburg Training Center of Virginia will soon have a new purpose.

Virginia horseman and real estate entrepreneur Randy Rouse has donated the Middleburg facility to the Thoroughbred Retirement Fund, providing additional acreage to house its retired racehorses and programs. The deal was completed Dec. 29 – one day before Rouse, a noted figure in the steeplechase community, celebrated his 100th birthday.

The Middleburg Training Center was built by late owner-breeder and influential philanthropist Paul Mellon in 1956 as a private training facility for his Rokeby Stable runners. The gray and gold colors of Rokeby, carried by famed runners such as Epsom Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Mill Reef and Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero, are still on the distance poles lining the seven-furlong training track. In 1975, a group of local trainers and owners purchased the facility from Mellon, and it continued to house notable runners, such as all-time great Spectacular Bid, who received early schooling there.

In the meantime, Rouse was building his own career as a horseman. A point-to-point rider who once served as master of the hounds for the Fairfax Hunt and trained steeplechase runners, Rouse served as president of the National Steeplechase Association from 1971 to 1974, and his work was influential during a time of change for the sport.

Last month, that work was recognized when he was awarded the F. Ambrose Clark Award, American jump racing’s top honor, recognizing individuals who have done the most to improve and promote American steeplechasing. Rouse continues to be active in the sport; last April, his trainee Hishi Soar won the Daniel Van Clief Memorial, making him the oldest trainer ever to saddle a Thoroughbred winner in North America.

Rouse, whose “day job” deals in real estate, purchased the Middleburg Training Center for $4 million in 2006, and it has been on the market in recent years while still continuing to operate as a training center. Although there is not currently parimutuel flat racing in Virginia, the training center is still attractive to the region’s horsemen, both for breaking young horses and because of its relative proximity to tracks such as Pimlico and Laurel Park in Maryland, Delaware Park, and Charles Town in West Virginia. About 80 horses reside on the 149-acre facility, which includes 11 barns with 220 total stalls and 22 paddocks.

With news of the facility’s donation, TRF president and chief operating officer Lenny Hale said current training operations will be allowed to continue, while renovations such as fencing in currently vacant areas for new paddocks will allow about 90 retired Thoroughbreds to be housed there. The new space in Middleburg is a welcome expansion for the Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based TRF, which currently cares for about 820 retired horses at 23 satellite farms and nine prison farms.

The latter program, in which inmates learn valuable skills and gain emotional therapy while caring for retired racehorses, has been a flagship program for the TRF. Likewise, the “horses helping people” theme will continue at the Middleburg Training Center, with Hale mentioning wounded veterans or other disabled individuals as possible beneficiaries of new programs.

“We’re hoping that [the Middleburg Training Center program] will eventually support itself,” Hale told the Fauquier Times of Virginia. “We’d also like to involve the community, use it for riding for the disabled and wounded veterans. We have a lot of options, and it will take a little time to get it done.”