Now that Walner is retired from racing and headed for Southwind Farms in New Jersey to stand stud, his owner, Ken Jacobs, and trainer, Linda Toscano, discuss the trotter’s incredible talent, the tremendous opportunity ahead and what an emotional year it has been.
by Dave Briggs
Owner Ken Jacobs and trainer Linda Toscano announced Wednesday that Walner has been syndicated and will stand stud in New Jersey beginning in 2018. It brings an end to both the trotter’s racing career and an emotional year.
“We did have a lot of European interest, but ultimately he’s going to stand at Southwind Farms next to Muscle Hill,” Toscano said. “We’re really happy that he is going to stay in the States and he’s going to stand in a good spot where he’s going to get the best possible opportunity and the best mares that are out there.
“The group of investors led by Lindy Farms and Brittany Farms will lead the syndicate and give this horse the best possible chance to be what he can be,” Toscano said.
David Reid’s Preferred Equine Marketing will be handling the syndication of Walner on behalf of Jacobs.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to be involved with such an outstanding horse the will supported by the best breeders in the sport within North America and Europe,” Reid said.
Jacobs, who lives in Baldwinsville, NY, said the trotter has already passed his fertility test.
Ultimately, the tremendous interest in having the son of Chapter Seven out of the Ken Warkentin mare Random Destiny go to the stud barn pushed Jacobs and Toscano toward retiring Walner from the track. Walner retires as a world champion with a record of nine wins in 10 starts, earnings of $567,652, a mark of 1:50.2 at three, and a Dan Patch Award as the 2016 two-year-old trotting colt of the year. He raced just two times in ’17 before suffering an injury.
“He blew away his competition every start and his last start was an impressive one. We raced him against aged horses to prep for the Stanley Dancer. He blew them away. The same thing in the Stanley Dancer. Unfortunately, he came out of that race with a small strain in his inside branch of his right front suspensory. I have absolutely have no problem with the rules of the Hambletonian as far as racing heats are concerned, but for my horse I was afraid that I would hurt him that day,” Toscano said.
“Ultimately, we made the decision that was in the best interest of the horse, with the intention of probably racing him in the Breeders Crown. But, then, the interest was so overwhelming to buy this horse and syndicate him and stand him at stud, that’s kind of what brought us a little bit off course… He’s been in training. I even thought about bringing him (to Kentucky), but when we decided to send him for the fertility testing it kind of derailed me a bit as far as his conditioning. That really cost us.
“If we did not test him and if I had just set my mind on the Breeders Crown, then, yes, I believe he could have raced. Soundness isn’t an issue. I worked him in 2:10 before I shipped down (to Kentucky). Whether he would’ve held up to the real speed, I don’t know. Speed kills.”
In the end, Jacobs said it came down to money. He said he held firm on his price throughout the process.
If they didn’t want to give me my money, we would’ve been in the Breeders Crown,” Jacobs said, laughing. “Simple as that… I’m a businessman. I’m easy after the deal, but I have a number and you better hit my number or I’ll keep the horse.”
Toscano, who won the 2012 Hambletonian with Market Share, said she was “a basket case” after her and Jacobs made the decision to scratch Walner from this year’s Hambletonian.
“Obviously, I wanted to win it again, but, more so, Ken’s 80. This is the horse of a lifetime and most people don’t get a chance to have a horse like this horse,” Toscano said. “I wanted for him to have the opportunity to race in the Hambletonian. I was really brokenhearted about it.”
Jacobs said it has led him to double his efforts to win the Hambletonian.
“We’re trying to find another one. If there’s one out there that we could be lucky enough to get, we’ll try to get him,” he said. On opening night of the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale on Tuesday at the Fasig-Tipton Pavilion, Jacobs paid $215,000 for King Hill, a Muscle Hill colt out of Lifetime Pursuit.
As for Walner, Jacobs said the horse has the potential to be a breed-changer.
“The upside is unbelievable,” he said.
“We had an enormous amount of interest in this horse,” Toscano said. “The industry as a whole has all these Muscle Hill and Cantab mares and they need an outcross to breed to – lucky us.”
As for what she hopes Walner passes on to his offspring, Toscano said, “his flawless gait. his crazy speed. You had to be careful, because he could go so fast, so easily. He loved it. If you take the pedigree, from the mares I think he’ll get, then add his desire, his speed and just the natural ability, we’re going to be just fine. He’s a big, good-looking horse, too. Long-legged. This horse just gets over the ground so easy. He floats.”
Toscano was adamant that Walner could have broken 1:49.
“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life, that he would’ve trotted in :48-and-a-piece (in Lexington),” Toscano said. “There’s no question in my mind that he would’ve done that.”
Jacobs said he loves to watch his horses race and said he will miss seeing Walner on the track.
“I love racing and I love to see two horses fighting it out down the lane. Unfortunately, he just blew them away, so there wasn’t much fight to watch, but I’ll take that,” Jacobs said, laughing. “It’s easier on the emotions and the heart. He was just an unbelievable horse.”
Asked if they were taking something of a risk standing Walner in New Jersey given the state of the program there without slots at the racetracks, Jacobs said he’s thinking beyond that state.
“He’s Grand Circuit,” Jacobs said.
Toscano added that taking advantage of a dual-eligibility program, such as the one in Kentucky, helps even the playing field.
“The dual eligibility is a band-aid while New Jersey goes through what it’s going through,” she said.
Slots or no slots, Jacobs said he loves thinking of Walner standing at Southwind Farms
“Don’t you want to be next to Muscle Hill? That’s the ultimate,” he said. “I always want to go against the best.”