02/21/2014 4:33PM

Training centers adjust to changing times

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Barbara D. Livingston
Horses train at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida.

Training centers across the country house sizable horse populations with varying needs, and that requires a balancing act year-round, but particularly in the first half of the year, as 2-year-olds-in-training sales demand young horses to show their best to potential buyers. Meeting the different needs of racehorses, sales horses, and their connections while keeping as many stalls full as possible is the responsibility of training center managers.

The Ocala Training Center in Ocala, Fla., begins its season with the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.’s select sale of 2-year-olds in training on March 10-11, and Adena Springs South in Williston, Fla., hosts the Fasig-Tipton Florida sale of 2-year-olds in training March 24. The latter operation is preparing to return to the 2-year-old auction calendar with the Fasig-Tipton sale, which had been held at the Palm Meadows Training Center the last three years. However, hosting a sale is nothing new for Adena, and the facility is well equipped to handle juveniles.

“We had our own 2-year-old sale [for nine years],” said Mark Roberts, Adena South’s general manager. “We’re very in tune with what it takes to do one. We have our own sale pavilion, there are show rings in front of the barns. It’s kind of a natural fit. … I think people know that whatever [Adena owner Frank Stronach] has built is always first-class. When this was designed and built, the horse was first.”

In addition to horses owned by Stronach, trainer Randy Bradshaw stables about 90 horses at Adena South’s 288-stall facility. Both outfits will have to temporarily shift stock to accommodate the 157 juveniles cataloged for the Fasig-Tipton sale. Roberts said Bradshaw will need to move a barn of horses but will still remain in the general training area, whereas some of Adena’s own horses will move to a different part of the facility.

“It’s not been a big problem,” Roberts said. “We have moved our horses out of the training division up to [stalls] we were using for mares and foals. The walk to the track is 250 yards, but that’s no farther than what it was. They’re surrounded by more paddocks and fields, which we don’t really use anyway for the training horses at this stage.”

Ocala also requires flexibility from its horsemen during sales season, as all horses housed at the facility from mid-March through April will be sales juveniles. According to Harriet Booth of OBS, other horses must move elsewhere to train for that period.

“[They need to be] able to comply with being somewhere else,” Booth said. “Every horse on the grounds, when they arrive or depart, is kept track of, whether they’re coming in or going to the racetrack for a day. It’s fairly uncomplicated.”

Despite this focus on sales, the Ocala Training Center also took a turn in the racing spotlight this season, hosting the OBS ch
ampionship races in January. With racehorses shipping in for the event – some arriving several days early – advance planning from the stabling office was required.

“This time, it was a little bit different because we had pari-mutuel racing,” Booth said. “So, we had two separate areas for those horses. Some can race out of their training barn, but we had special areas for others. Some want to come in a couple of days early. It’s a fairly long distance, and they want the horse to be well rested and able to perform to ability.”

Like Ocala, the Aiken Training Track in Aiken, S.C., hosts its own day of racing, carding the Aiken Trials every spring. The historic facility does not house sales horses, and most of the runners in the Trials enter from the grounds, but there is still an ever-shifting horse population. Young horses may leave the facility for turnout, and then return, several times as they continue to grow and develop, while older runners may arrive from the track for layups.

“Older horses come and go all year long,” said Brad Stauffer, Aiken track president and a trainer for Aiken-based Dogwood Stable. “By the time I put 90 days into a horse, he’s maybe breezed a couple of times and is ready to go back.”

Although daily activity is robust, the horse population at training centers has shrunk, alongside the diminishing foal crop nationwide. Stauffer says Aiken currently houses 160 or 170 horses, down from 400 at a time in the latter part of the 20th century. The drop has caused the facility to be more lenient in its stall-rental policies, to accommodate trainers with smaller strings.

“The rule here used to be at least three horses,” Stauffer said. “Then they’d want a stall for the pony, and a stall for a tack room, and one for hay and straw. So, they’d want to bring one horse and use three stalls up. So, we said, three horses, and then we’ll give you [the extra space]. With the decrease in the amount of horses worldwide, that also decreases the amount coming here. The numbers aren’t there anymore, so we’re sort of not in that position anymore.”

Trainers with larger strings, however, may need to be flexible themselves when it comes to accommodations.

“It really matters how many horses they bring in, and what my availability is,” said A.J. Credeur, general manager of Evangeline Training Center in Carencro, La. “Sometimes I’ll ask them to split the stable and have 10 horses here, another 10 horses there. They have to weigh the inconvenience and whether they want to put up with that.”

Evangeline currently has about 800 horses on the grounds – but, like Aiken, still has many empty stalls.

“I don’t know if it’s the foal crops diminishing or just the rising costs,” Credeur said. “The cost of training a horse today has risen quite a bit in the last six years.”

Booth also reported a cost-based change affecting Ocala’s clientele, as larger outfits may have an easier time dealing with Florida regulations, such as securing workers’ compensation, than smaller barns.

“[Workers’ comp] is more difficult to obtain for smaller clients,” Booth said.

Some training centers have shifted their clientele to keep more stalls full. Aiken now rents part of the stabling area to show riders but keeps its populations separate.

“We put them in a barn that’s somewhat removed from the racehorse people,” Stauffer said.