Bittersweet Ending: Ron Wallace - by Ron Mitchell

 (Originally published in the December 3, 2011 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

For Chanteclair Farm president Ron Wallace, the stars aligned during the first week of November to create the perfect storm.

First, on Nov. 4, Palides Investments homebred Royal Delta all but sewed up an Eclipse Award as North America’s champion 3-year-old filly with an impressive victory in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs for trainer Bill Mott. Four days later, the daughter of Empire Maker was acquired by Benjamin Leon Jr. for $8.5 million, a world-record price for a racehorse or racing prospect sold at public auction, when she and other horses were sold at Keeneland as part of a Palides Investments dispersal. Overall, the dispersal grossed $16,939,000 for the 30 horses sold.

“I couldn’t make that up in a million years,” said Wallace, 60, who has managed the 260-acre Chanteclair near Midway, Ky., and has overseen the Palides racing operation since they were established in 1995 by the late Prince Saud bin Khaled.

“Even though I knew Royal Delta was special, it didn’t mean she was going to perform at the Breeders’ Cup like we expected. She did that spectacularly,” Wallace said. “Then all the horses got to the sale. All of the ones that mattered were in foal and were perfect. It doesn’t happen that way. And then to have two or three people who really wanted that female family? That doesn’t always happen either.”

A native of Saudi Arabia, Prince Khaled bred 30 stakes horses from 137 starters foaled at the farm, led by French group I winner Biondetti and North American grade I winners Continuously, Dreams Gallore, Indy Five Hundred, and Lear’s Princess. In partnership with Karen Woods, he bred and raced 2008 Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Maram.

Prince Khaled died Feb, 1, 2011, and his children are selling the horses and farm because they have other business interests, according to Wallace.

“He would have been ecstatic,” Wallace said of the latest successes for Prince Khaled’s operations. “He was a sweet man and he would call me all the time. I miss his calls a lot. At the time, his calls irritated me a lot. Sometimes he would call and we would argue about the weather. He would say, ‘I know it’s raining there.’ And I would look out and know it wasn’t raining, but he would insist. Finally, I would say, ‘OK, whatever you say.’

“I have had a lot of owners who loved their horses, but he lived for his horses,” Wallace said. “He let me do everything. He didn’t worry about anything. The only things we disagreed with all the time was culling. He had a hard time selling his mares. No matter how bad they were, if he did put them in a sale he would not let them go.”

Wallace helped establish Chanteclair not long after leaving his position as manager of Juddmonte Farms and forming Equine Farm Management. Based in Texas in the early 1980s, Wallace first visited the Bluegrass State to demonstrate farm management computer software he had developed. He fell in love with Central Kentucky and not long after that relocated to the state. His first farm job was at Spendthrift Farm, followed by stints at Three Chimneys and Buck Pond farms before being hired by Juddmonte.

Wallace’s lengthy tenure at Chanteclair represented a departure from his standard mode of operation. He usually manages anywhere from three to five farms at a time, employing a philosophy in which he would prefer to advise and oversee several smaller operations than to manage a single large one. While he is sometimes called in to troubleshoot or to fine-tune an existing operation, Wallace’s forté is to oversee a farm from acquisition through its development, and then employ permanent management.

“Usually I design and build them and set up the management team and move on,” said Wallace. “After Juddmonte, which was a big operation with lots of personnel and lots of horses I just figured I could take what I knew and give it to the smaller farms. One small farm couldn’t afford me as a whole, but if I gave them 20% of my time it would be good for them and good for me.

“Mr. Khaled did not want me to move on. It was unique because he never would let me go, which was fine. It was easy. He was just happy to have me around. We had great fun together.”

Wallace, whose clients have ranged from Live Oak Plantation in Florida to Stone Bridge Farm in New York, has completed all the projects he had underway while he was still managing Chanteclair.

Once Chanteclair is sold and “the dust settles,” Wallace will be in the unusual position of having to prospect for new clients.

“I am low-key. I would rather do my job for my clients than have to promote myself,” Wallace said. “I would never make a bloodstock agent. I get out-talked all the time. There are tons of farms on the market and I’m sure eventually somebody will buy them and then they will need me.”

Reflecting on the great ride he and Prince Khaled had at Chanteclair, Wallace said, “It’s been wonderful, but it’s not wonderful that it’s all over.” 

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