Day At The Track

New Certified Residency bonus initiative

09:25 AM 16 Apr 2020 NZST
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Debbie Warnick
VHHA Executive Director Debbie Warnick checks on standardbreds Skittles and Geatorwithdaheater, two Delaware-breds based at the Powhatan Plantation in King George. The pair are owned by Bob Rice.
Powhatan Plantation in King George is a Virginia farm/training center that is embracing the Virginia Harness Horse Association's (VHHA) new Certified Residency bonus initiative, which brings young horses into the state to be raised for a six month period of time before they turn two. A pool of $400,000 in bonus money is available for the 2019 foal crop with $600,000 for the 2020 crop. The incentive monies are distributed between the horses respective two and three-year-old campaigns.
 
Located 16 miles east of Fredericksburg and three miles west of Route 301, Powhatan is a 1,000 acre farm that was built in 1829. The property was purchased in 1952 by Raymond Guest, a former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, who owned, raced and bred thoroughbred horses in England, Ireland, France and the U.S.. Formerly a major agricultural center that traded with ships from England from its dock on the Rappahannock River, Guest designed and laid out a farm upon purchase based on his interest in thoroughbreds.
 
His racing resume is impressive. Guest is one of three horse owners in history to have won both the Epsom Derby (with Larkspur in '62) and the Grand National at Aintree (steeplechase with L'Escargot in '75). In the States, his Tom Rolfe won the Preakness Stakes in 1965 --- with jockey Ron Turcotte aboard --- and was named American Champion 3 Year Old Male Horse that year. In 1958, Guest served as President of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association. He was a past Chairman of the National Steeplechase & Hunt and also played polo in the "Golden Age of Polo" and was inducted into that sport's Hall of Fame.
 
 
Guest passed away in 1991 and his son Achille now lives in the property's main house which is currently undergoing renovations. The Plantation property itself includes a 3/4 mile oval training track, a main training barn, broodmare barn and a yearling barn. 600 of the acres feature well fenced pastures and paddocks. A long airstrip that divides the expansive complex allows horse owners to fly in. There are currently 210 horses on the grounds now, all of which are polo horses except for 13 which are recent standardbred arrivals courtesy of that breed's new residency program.
 
 
Holly Layne is Farm Manager at the Potomac Plantation. A Charlottesville native, she has been there three years now and stays quite busy boarding professional polo horses from top ten players and teams. In the past couple months, they have added standardbreds to the mix.
 
Layne has a staff to tend to the horses and maintain the large property. Her assistant Gena Nelson lives in a house on the grounds. Her son Wyatt and niece Lucy help with cleaning stalls. A team of four maintenance workers do everything like fixing fences, cutting trees, weed eating, mowing, bush hogging, dragging and fixing equipment.
 
"It's great to have the extra help here now," she said. "For a while, it was just Jena and myself. That was it for a long time. We both live at work and work from home so we're always here."
 
 
When Layne arrived in spring of 2017, there were 36 horses on the grounds. In 2019, that number rose to 300. "That increase is due to a lot of hard work. I always make myself available to owners, network with them and make them feel like their horses are well cared for," she said. "We have the staff to do it. Every horse is checked after twice a day. We have a hands on approach. It's a lot of work but every horse on the farm gets touched and eyeballed. They get the best care we can give."
 
Layne goes out her way to help owners whether it be sending them pictures and videos of their horses, getting health certificates or providing overnight accommodations for drivers who ship horses in and out. "Positive word of mouth has been the biggest help with advertising Powhatan," she added. "I stay in contact with the owners. I know who all the horses are and where they are. Owners can contact me any time for whatever their needs are."
 
The three years spent at Powhatan have been a learning experience for Layne because she never played polo or even watched a match before arriving in King George. "I grew up riding hunter ponies then started doing speed events like team penning and barrel racing," she said. "I managed my own farm, bred and raised quarter horses and paints and pretty much worked for myself like most breeders. I do have a variety of experience," she added. "I've come through the ranks and have worked with some really good mentors. There's been a lot to take in and learn here."
 
For more information on the Powhatan Plantation or boarding prices, call 540-775-4434 or e-mail powhatanplantation1@gmail.com. For details on the Certified program itself, visit vhha.net or call Debbie Warnick at 443-463-0917. The fifth pari-mutuel harness racing season at Shenandoah Downs in Woodstock will take place this fall. Opening day is slated for September 18.
 
Darrell Wood
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