A four-man partnership headed by Ben P. Walden Jr. is turning historic Hurricane Hall near Georgetown, Ky., into a major training and stallion operation. Facilities at the 400-acre farm include a six-furlong uphill gallop with a Polytrack surface, a six-furlong grass gallop, and three barns -- two of them new -- with 60 stalls. A four-stall stallion barn is under construction.
Walden, who founded the Vinery and developed it into one of Central Kentucky's largest and most successful stallion stations, is Hurricane Hall's president. His partners are Patrick Madden, an attorney, developer and member of one of racing's most prominent families; Brad M. Kelley, the owner of Bluegrass Farm near Lexington, a former tobacco executive, and a former member of Churchill Downs' board of directors; and David Hanley, a former trainer in Ireland who conditioned such talented runners as Golden Apples, a stakes winner overseas who became a champion in North America; Irish group III winner Lidanna; and Irish stakes winner Coney Kitty, who was a grade III winner in this country. Hanley will oversee Hurricane Hall's training program.
"We're going to build slowly and grow," Walden said. "We've thought this though, and we're committed to the future. All of us are in our in our 40s, so we're a young team, and we have a lot of enthusiasm. The partnership gives us great latitude for resources and expertise in marketing."
Walden and Kelley were among the finalists in the recruiting battle for Smarty Jones as a stallion. Walden said he purchased Hurricane Hall for Kelley approximately a year ago. The deal to operate the farm as a four-man partnership was closed on Tuesday.
"Brad decided to use Bluegrass Farm as his personal residence," Walden said. "When he flies into Lexington, it's close to the airport. All of this would have happened a lot sooner if we had gotten Smarty Jones. We thought he was the kind of horse that would represent a cornerstone for a young farm, but it wasn't meant to be. We're pursuing stallions now."
The partners have renovated the farm's six-bedroom residence, built in the 1700s, and will use it as a guest house for clients, owners of horses in training, and stallion shareholders.
"On the stallion front, I think the horse syndicate has been lost, and it's the breeders' loss," Walden said. "As we look at horses as stallion prospects, we would like to be able to syndicate them and get their shares into the hands of breeders, so they will still have something as shareholders in three or four years. I always found, when I syndicated horses at Vinery, that shareholders were traditionally very thoughtful about what mares they used on shares. With this pervasive trend of non-syndicated horses, people basically just gravitate to the first-year horses, and they jump ship. We really want to build the farm with our customers in mind, and stallion syndication will be part of that."
Of Hurricane Hall's training operation, Walden said: "We believe in the uphill gallop. It pushes weight off the front end of the horse and back to his rear end, so it enables the horse to stay sounder. Keeneland built it for us, and because it's Polytrack, it's all-weather, and we'll be training there year-around."
Walden's Gracefield operation and Bluegrass Farm will be available to Hurricane Hall clients who want to board mares.
"I think the operations will dovetail really well," Walden said.