Sportsman and real estate entrepreneur Randy Rouse has made an end-of-the-year donation of the Middleburg Training Center, an iconic piece of local property, to the non-profit Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF).
The transaction was completed on Thursday Dec. 29, one day before Rouse, a beloved figure in the local horse world, celebrated his 100th birthday.
“I can take a tax write-off,” Rouse said. “At my age, I’ve got to start thinking about the future.”
Rouse originally purchased the 149-acre center, six miles from the town of Mid-dleburg, for $4 million in 2006. Also known locally as “the training track,” it’s been on the market for the last few years, with no takers.
After several reductions in price, to a recent low of $3.5 million, Rouse made his donation to the TRF, based in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The organization currently cares for 820 retired horses at 23 satellite farms and nine prison farms around the country, including several in Virginia.
Rouse’s first foray into the real estate business came in the early 1950s, when he built 50 houses in the Seven Corners area of Fairfax County. He also was a long time Master of Fox Hounds for the Fairfax Hunt and president of the National Steeplechase Association from 1971-74.
Paul Mellon, the late Upperville philanthropist, originally built the Middleburg facility in the mid-1950s, using it as a private training site for his racehorses.
The now-faded Mellon racing colors of yellow and gray of his Rokeby stables can still be seen on the observation gazebos near the 7/8-mile track. On any given morning, the horses come out of the barn and make their way through the rising mist of dawn to breeze, jog or gallop.
In 1975, a group of 11 local trainers and owners, led by the late trainer Paul Fout and local horseman Lewis Wiley, purchased the center, which has a total of 11 barns, 220 stalls and 22 turn-out paddocks. There are tack rooms, a two-bedroom tenant house, offices, grooms’ quarters and dozens of stray barn cats.
About 80 horses are now at the center, though the number of exercise riders, trainers, grooms, veterinarians, and hot walkers is a fraction of what it was at its peak during the 1970s into the ‘80s and ‘90s. At one point, the Middleburg Training Center was among the largest employers in western Loudoun County.
“It’s been a loss operation for me,” Rouse said in a telephone interview, adding that he currently has about $500,000 in back stable rental bills that have not been paid. “It’s not viable and no one was interested in buying it. I just figured that giving it away and taking the deduction would be the best way out.”
Rouse’s loss is a huge gain for the TRF.
Lenny Hale, TRF president and chief operating officer, said that the center will continue its current operations, where 80 horses are now stabled. He indicated the TRF also plans to renovate the barns, continue to improve the track itself and add more fencing around currently unused fields to handle what he expects to be as many as 90 retired thoroughbreds on the property.
“We’re hoping that it will eventually support itself,” said Hale, a Baltimore-based former senior vice president for the New York Racing Association and a past senior vice president for the Maryland Jockey Club. “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.”
Paul Fout’s son, Doug, also a prominent trainer now based in The Plains, stabled horses at the center until several years ago.
“At one time,” he said, “the center was one of the best places to train race horses in the United States.”
The proximity to other relatively close race tracks in Charles Town, West Virginia, Laurel and Pimlico in Maryland and Delaware Park in Wilmington also made it attractive to area horsemen.
Over the past seven decades many well-known and champion racehorses have been stabled and worked out at the center. They included Hoist The Flag, the 1970 2-year-old champion who breezed at the center with trainer Sidney Wat-ters. And, Spectacular Bid, the 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, got his start there with Middleburg trainer Barbara Graham, who worked out of Barn 1.