When the new Virginia Residency program began in July, there was plenty of reason for industry optimism but nobody could predict how successful it would or would not be by year’s end. The purpose and details of the incentive program are pretty straightforward. Horses who enter the program must board or train at a certified Virginia farm or training center for six consecutive months prior to December 31st of their two-year-old year. Once certified, they will be eligible for a 25% purse bonus for any non-Virginia restricted win at pari-mutuel tracks in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Less than six months later, initial results are impressive. At the December 14th meeting of the Virginia Racing Commission (VRC), Virginia Equine Alliance (VEA) President Easter reported receiving 334 applications for the program, the majority of which are from out of town horses that now reside in the Commonwealth. “We probably have ten farms that are maxed out on space as a direct result of the initiative,” said Easter. “It’s the first time in years we’ve had this kind of situation in Virginia. There are smiles on many faces,” she added.
Karen Godsey, who owns and operates Eagle Point Farm in Ashland with her mother Donna Dennehy, is one of those who has seen a spike in business. “We’ve been fortunate over the years to stay pretty full but the certified program has allowed us to be more selective in choosing our clients. A year ago we had four weanlings at the farm,” said Godsey. “This year, we have 15. The class of the weanlings is much better as well. They are nicely bred and much better than ones we’ve had.”
A year ago, Godsey cut eight paychecks a week to farmhands. During the week of December 15th this year, she cut 13. “We’re getting better clients and as a result, have more revenue and have been able to take care of some much needed projects on the property.”
Stephanie Nixon, who owns and operates nearby Horseshoe Hill Farm in Ashland, has had similar experiences. “Some of my current clients are staying longer,” said Nixon. “I picked up three weanlings from a phone call just yesterday from a client I’ve been trying to lure for years. I recently had to build a new run-in shed due to the extra business. I wasn’t prepared initially for such a positive response to the program, but I’m thrilled.”
Diana McClure runs the DMC Carousel Stables with her husband Michael Cooney at Walnut Hall in Berryville. “The six month time frame needed to complete the residency requirement seems like the magic number,” noted McClure. “Just getting one additional horse would have improved my business, but I have nine new ones already.”
In mid-2016, a Virginia-bred owners bonus program was implemented by the HBPA and VTA. Owners of a Virginia-bred or sired horse that won a race at pari-mutuel tracks in the Mid-Atlantic earned an additional 25% bonus on top of their purse winnings. “It was a brand new incentive that created some momentum in Virginia ,” said Easter. “I don’t know if it created any new breeding operations in the state, but it did create value for Virginia-bred horses.”
Woodberry Payne credits that owners bonus program with laying the groundwork for the residency program. Payne owns the Ingleside Horse Training Center, located on the grounds of Montpelier in Orange, Virginia. He has 75 horses in training, has hired seven new employees, increased the wage base for those employees and has increased his day rate as well. “I’ve had owners that received bonus checks in the mail from the Owner’s Incentive Program. That really has helped bring attention to Virginia-breds and set the stage for the residency program. Virginia is making in-roads in all states in the Mid-Atlantic,” said Payne. “I’ve had to turn away 25 horses, but have referred them to other nearby centers”