Behemoth well placed for emerging market
Elliott Walden: "It's developed into a great relationship"
Behemoth well placed for emerging China market By Steve Dennis 11:47AM 31 AUG 2016
THE connection between the rolling bluegrass paddocks of Kentucky and the vast, untamed steppes of Inner Mongolia is not always obvious, these two very different places in the same racing world, but here, leaning on the parade ring rail at Yiqi racecourse, is a man with one foot squarely in each camp.
Elliott Walden grins, takes off his branded baseball cap, looks around at the hectic busyness of the first race meeting staged at Yiqi, looks at home. The president and CEO of bloodstock behemoth WinStar Farm is a long way from the Pisgah Pike but his alliance with Teo Ah Khing, head of the China Horse Club, under whose jurisdiction today's groundbreaking meeting takes place, puts him on the inside looking out at the potential emergence of China as a force in the industry.
"We first linked up with the China Horse Club a couple of years ago with a horse called Daredevil, who won the Champagne Stakes and who now stands at WinStar, and it's just sort of evolved from there," he says.
"They bought into some of our two-year-olds, we board their mares in Kentucky, and it's developed into a great relationship. They're hoping to develop a breeding operation here in Inner Mongolia, but they're breeding in the US, in Australia, in Europe, and it's great for us to have forged this connection because China could be a very big emerging market."
Walden enthuses about the long term but is equally pleased with the short-term prospects for WinStar, one of the biggest farms in the US with 22 stallions – including Pioneerof The Nile, sire of the great American Pharoah – and a highly successful racing stable. This year's Belmont Stakes winner Creator – whose carefully selected name bears testament to Walden's Christian faith – runs in the familiar ‘big star' silks, as did 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, and Walden likes what he sees as the lucrative final third of the year approaches.
"We're already looking forward to next year. We've secured the breeding rights to [Preakness and Haskell winner] Exaggerator, in whom the China Horse Club has a stake, which we're all awfully excited about, and we'll also have [Wood Memorial winner] Outwork, who'll be the first son of Uncle Mo going to stud.
"There's a lot of good things to look forward to. And this year's two-year-olds have been doing very well at Saratoga – Theory, Good Samaritan, One Liner have all won for our partnership with the China Horse Club, which is very encouraging for the big races in the fall."
Big races are something that Walden, a youthful 53, knows all about, having won many such in his previous incarnation as a trainer. He sent out Victory Gallop to win the 1998 Belmont Stakes and earn an Eclipse Award for champion older male the following year, and although there is a twist of wistfulness in his voice as he looks back, he wastes little energy on a walk down memory lane.
"Oh, Victory Gallop was a hell of a horse, he helped make me. If we're honest with ourselves we should realise that it's the horses who make the people, not the other way around.
"I get as much enjoyment from my role at this level, the top level, as I did as a trainer. Look, I grew up on a commercial farm, 300 acres, my father had two or three stallions, but for me it wasn't enough action. That's when I gravitated to the racetrack.
"At WinStar that's not a problem, there's plenty of action. There's 2,000 acres, 200 broodmares, 30-40 in training, we raise 150 foals a year, it's very exciting, there's always something going on.
"I miss training at times, like when I go to the racetrack and hear all the banter among trainers, there's a fraternity there, they're all in the same little village, and I do miss that, but in my WinStar role I still feel like I'm a part of that, like I'm still close to the action."
The action shows no sign of slackening; he is called away to present the trophy for the second race, another indication of his and WinStar's tight connection to the growing influence of the China Horse Club. Walden thrives on the action, wherever he is in the world.
"The China Horse Club, over the past 18 months, has been one of the driving forces at a lot of auctions all over the world. Teo Ah Khing is a visionary, Kenny Troutt [owner of WinStar] is a visionary, so it's great that they're working together. It's great to work with people who are excited about the business."
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