MIDDLEBURG TRAINING CENTER
By Meg Mullery
“Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.”
Hollywood Actor John Wayne (1907-1979)
Early each morning, a parade of horse-athletes leave their respective barns, exercise riders mounted, destined for the adjacent racetrack. The track is just one component of the 149-acre Middleburg Training Center, a crown jewel of equestrian centers, located in Western Loudoun County.
Magic can happen on a dewy spring morning when horses and mounts gallop and disappear into the fog only to reappear out of the mist on the other side of the track.
The mystical and mythological qualities of the Middleburg Training Center are genuine; embracing the legacy of generations of horses and the people who serve them. The 1993 Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero, the 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Spectacular Bid, and Hoist the Flag, an outstanding two-year-old colt preparing for the Kentucky Derby who suffered a career-ending leg injury, have been associated with the center.
Spectacular Bid’s attempt at winning the Triple Crown is part of track lore. It failed after sustaining a controversial injury. The morning of the Belmont Stakes Spectacular Bid stepped on a safety pin that fell off a leg wrap. The pin lodged in his hoof creating a wound and minor infection that was frantically treated. He finished third.
Over the years, the center experienced difficult times and desperately needed renovations and repair. Locals, both horse industry people and non-horsey types, breathed a sigh of relief when in 2017 local businessman and philanthropist Charles “Chuck” Kuhn purchased the center with ambitious and welcome plans to return it to its once elite status.
Chuck is the founder of JK Moving, North America’s largest independently owned and operated moving and storage company. Visionary is an apt description. His beginnings as a small local moving company expanded into what is now a multi-faceted organization offering long-distance and international moves and a suite of complementary services.
The Middleburg Training Center now will be the beneficiary of Chuck’s visionary gift. He follows in the footsteps of owners who read like a “Who’s Who” in the horse industry.
The late philanthropist Paul Mellon built the track in 1956. He sold it in 1975 to a group of 11 local trainers and owners. In 2006, Randy Rouse, developer of the Seven Corners Shopping Center and others in Northern Virginia, purchased the training track. Rouse donated the training center to the non-profit Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation who sold it to Chuck two years ago.
Chuck’s son, Steve, a partner in the training center, oversees the day-to-day management of the track. He explained that many major renovations and improvements have been accomplished. A short-term goal is to complete the work on the 7/8 mile track, 11 barns, 220 stalls, and 22 paddocks. Currently 130 horses are at the facility. Most, according to Steve, are Thoroughbred racing and steeplechase horses.
The plan for the center moving forward is to expand beyond racing into other horse disciplines. Under active consideration is turning some of the acreage into a venue for competitions involving dressage, show-jumping and cross-country.
Another sigh of relief could be heard when Chuck placed the entire parcel of land into conservation easement, thus excluding commercial development or residential subdivision. No one was surprised. He has done the same with more than 4000 acres in Loudoun, Frederick and Fauquier counties over the past five years, preserving them for future generations. This includes land he bought to start the JK Community Farm, a nonprofit that grows and donates healthy food to local food banks. That “vision” thing again.
Visitors can tour the Middleburg Training Center by appointment only. More information can be found at middleburgtrack.com.
Or visit Saturday morning, May 25, when it will be one of 11 horse properties that are part of the 60th Annual Hunt Country Stable Tour. For more information, visit trinityupperville.org/hunt-country-stable-tour.
About the Author: Meg Mullery is a real estate agent, licensed in Virginia, with the Middleburg office of Washington Fine Properties. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 540.878.3307 (mobile).
If Roadster, a Kentucky Derby favorite this year, were to sit across from Henry Louis Gates, Jr., on the popular PBS series, Finding Your Roots, Gates would be looking at very straight-forward ancestry research. All Thoroughbreds trace their lineage back to three stallions. Elizabeth Letts, in her fascinating book The Perfect Horse about a daring U.S. mission to rescue priceless stallions kidnapped by the Nazis, provides a succinct and informative description: “The Thoroughbred was originally an English breed, and to this day, all so-named horses trace their lineage back to three stallions imported from the Middle East in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. When bred to the heavier English draft horse, the result was a lighter, faster more hot-blooded horse that proved adept at racing.”
The American Horse Council Economic Impact Study estimated that as of 2017, the latest data available, there were 7.2 million horses in the U.S., of which 1.1 million were Thoroughbreds. Of that 1.1 million, 34,000 Thoroughbreds reside in Virginia. The horse industry contributes approximately $2 billion to the GDP with a total employment impact of 39,000 jobs. Nationally, 30% of American households have horses or are horse enthusiasts. (Data provided by the American Horse Council Foundation located in Washington, D.C.)