Both the Virginia Thoroughbred Association and Virginia Harness Horse Association have Certified Residency Programs where horse owners are incentivized to send their babies to a registered Virginia farm for a minimum six month stay before they start racing.
Once those program graduates begin racing at the age of two, and beyond, they are incentivized — a thank of sorts for spending an extended time in the Commonwealth and providing an economic boost to the equine industry.
Thoroughbreds receive a 25% bonus when they win a race at any track in the Mid-Atlantic region. Standardbreds in the program accumulate points over the course of their 2 and 3-year-old years based on purse monies earned in starts around the country, then collect bonus monies from a set prize pool ($400,000 for the ’19 foal crop; $600,000 for the ’20 crop).
The programs have had a big impact everywhere in the state. Meet the farm owners we visited on a recent trip — from both breeds — that are based in the central to southwest part of Virginia. Those stops included Roanoke, Blacksburg, Burkeville, Bastian, Steele’s Tavern, Bland, Tazewell, Keysville and Pilgrim’s Knob.
Trish White, and her husband John, own WTR Stables in Roanoke. They currently have 15 thoroughbreds on the grounds — 4 Maryland-bred weanlings (all VA. Certified), one yearling, broodmares in foal and some retired mares.
WTR Stables has 98 acres, 35 of which are pasture while the rest are mountains. Trish said they have multiple barns, run-ins, paddocks and pastures. They also have a two bedroom loft in their big barn which serves as a B & B. “It’s been filled regularly since we started using it for that purpose, People love it as a get away where you can see horses up close and enjoy the mountains. It’s a great view.”
A name familiar with long time Colonial Downs followers —- Stevica Djuric—- is doing quite well these days with his Sporthorses business in Blacksburg. Along with his wife Andee, they own and operate a 32 acre farm and keep between 15- 20 horses on the property. He is shown with a yet unnamed 2018 filly by Street Sense that is finishing up her residency. They mainly have hunter jumpers and also keep 4 or 5 thoroughbreds that are in the Certified program.
Djuric Sporthorses is located across the street from the Blacksburg Municipal Golf Course. Stevica was a jockey at Colonial Downs from 2008-2013 and he even rode twice in New Kent this past summer. His wife was a sportswriter for the Richmond Times Dispatch at one time.
Tim & Sharon Dotson of Hillbilly Haven Farm (standardbreds) in Burkeville are pictured. Their daughter and son-in-law (Amanda & Randy Jackson) live on the grounds too and they all share various horse-related duties. Their Hillbilly Kisses won the Virginia Breeder’s 3-Year-Old Filly Pacing Championship at Shenandoah Downs this fall and just won the Maryland Sire Stakes finale at Rosecroft. “When she jogs, she is a sorry looking horse,” said Tim, “But when she races, it’s a totally different story.”
Dotson has two Certified babies at the farm now — Hillbilly Pacin Hill and Hillbilly Classy Girl. Back in 2011, their McBlack triggered the largest win payout in the history of Colonial Downs — of either breed — after being sent off at 186-1.
Kelli Wood of the Akers Farm in Bastian is shown with a yearling named Speedy Locomotive, who is a graduate of the standardbred Residency Program. Kelli and Adam Akers, who are both active VHHA members, have another yearling grad named Chips Up Front and a ’20 foal in the program named Wishbone.
Dr. Wynne DiGrassie and her husband, Dr. Scott Reiners, own Mountain View Equine Veterinary Hospital in Steele’s Tavern, Virginia. They recently became a registered Certified farm and just welcomed their first horse in the program — an unnamed Dortmund yearling filly from South Carolina. Wynne foals out between 20-50 mares a year of all breeds. Their rehabilitation services will soon be enhanced — they expect to add a water treadmill, and salt water spa soon.
Mountain View’s property encompasses 63 acres and is located within 15 minutes of the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington. They have been in business for 17 years and based on the time of year, have up to 50 horses based on site. “We foal them out, keep them, breed them back and send them home”, said Wynne, who specializes in stallion management, semen freezing and neonatal medicine.
Harness horse owner and trainer Tracy Bradshaw, at his farm in Bland, Virginia. He says harness racing is a hobby and he tends to his four horses after work in the logging industry each day. “It’s my happy hour. It’s a habit. It’s my margarita time. It’s a chance to relax for an hour or two every day and spend time with the horses.” He has three in the Certified program: Joan Deer, Jibberish and Howdeedoo. His fourth horse, J Stihl, had a win, second and third at the 2020 meet in Woodstock.
The stunning view from Bradshaw’s training track, which ascends up from his house and barn. He is a native of Bland, lives on his 92 acre property and all his horses are foaled on the farm. “It’s a place where we don’t lock our doors,” he said. Outside of his own stable, only one other person trains their horses uses the track — Adam Akers, who lives 10 minutes away. Bradshaw’s purchased his first horse in 2010, at a bargain price. “She was a broodmare in foal and I bought her at the Delaware sale for $100.”
Retired coal miner Jimmy Viars has a handful of horses at his farm in Tazewell, Virginia including a ’20 Certified foal named Miracle Powerfull. Jimmy began training horses in 2000 and has competed at Colonial Downs, Oak Ridge and Woodstock among others. His B Blissful had 14 wins at Shenandoah between 2016 and 2018. He won the ’16 Virginia Breeder’s 2 YO Colt/Gelding Championship with Royal Red and did it again in ’18 with Lemonaideshine.
Dan Chansky’s “Double C” standardbred farm is in Keysville, Virginia where his son’s (Daniel A. Chansky) horses are based. They currently have six ’20 Certified foals on the farm and had seven last year — all have completed their residency requirement. Chansky recently bred several mares to Snow King, a stallion who is based in Halifax, Virginia.
Mike Viars, Jimmy Viars’ nephew, has four different farm and pasture areas in Pilgrim’s Knob, Virginia which is located in Buchanan County, 350 miles southwest of Richmond. Last year, he bred five mares to a stallion he purchased named Artzina. Now 16, the son of Artiscape earned $780,063 from 38 starts and has a life mark of 1:51.0. Three of the Virginia-bred babies, which also qualify for the Residency program, remain on the farm. He sold the other two to his uncles.
One section of Viars’ Mountain Top Farm for standardbreds is literally —- at the top of a mountain. This particular one has 50 acres of pasture for horses to roam. Another is 600 acres where he keeps 200 head of cattle. Another is 100 acres where mares get turned out. “Horses are picky about the type of grass they like where cattle aren’t as much,” he said. Viars’ father was always into pacing horses and rode them under saddle. Now 55, Viars is a native of Pilgrim’s Knob.