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Trainers at Payson Park: Rachel Halden

April 10, 2012Posted by Payson


     Mid-morning finds thoroughbred trainer Rachel Halden tending to her horses at Payson Park Thoroughbred Training Center near Indiantown, Florida. Payson Park has been her winter home for several years, both as an assistant to some of the sport's top trainers as well as one earlier stint on her own. Payson Park offers Rachel the right balance of a top-notched training facility and a peaceful atmosphere that allows her to get her horses in the right frame-of-mind to compete at the highest level of racing each year.

     Rachel was born in Yorkshire, England. She had been around horses at an early age, but didn't get involved with thoroughbreds until age thirteen. Through the years her talent with these special animals was noticed and she quickly rose up through the ranks as a very special trainer. She worked for Canadian Hall-of-Famer Roger Attfield for some ten years before striking out on her own for the next two. "It was quite satisfying having my name on the door," says Halden. She was then asked to assist Hall-of-Fame inductee Bill Mott for a season. This might sound like a lot of pressure for such a young trainer, but Rachel's calm demeanor helps her stay focused. She has now struck out on her own again and is happy that her name is once again "on the door."

     Based at the popular Ontario race track Woodbine during the season, Rachel has worked with many top equines, including noteworthy Perfect Soul, Nobel Stella, Rahy's Attorney, Drosselmeyer, and Sweetest Thing to name a few. Her winning record speaks for itself as Halden's charges finish in the money in an astonishing one-third of their starts. As of this writing her record includes 18 wins, 14 places and 13 shows in 120 starts. "I have been fortunate to work for some top trainers'" she says. "I've kept my eyes open and learned quite a lot."

     Asked what her favorite part of Payson Park's facility Rachel didn't hesitate to answer. "The turn-out paddocks are wonderful to have. Other facilities don't have them. The horses can be turned out in the morning. I love watching them just being horses. It's soothing for both of us. Also, the weather is glorious. That's mainly why we come here for winter training. The track is deep. It's fair and honest. Having been here for so many years I know what I can ask of a horse here."

     Will she continue to select Payson Park in South Florida as her winter home? "Oh yes. The facility has worked well for my horses in the past and am sure it will continue in the future. I also have a lot of friends here that I don't see during the season. I look forward to seeing them when I arrive. There are a lot of top-notched programs at Payson. That says a lot about this place. I really do enjoy it here."

     Rachel Halden fits right in here at Payson Park. She is kind, confident and knows the importance of a tranquil environment to keep her horses fit and sound. We are happy to have her as a winter resident and look forward to watching her and Chiefswood Stables during the upcoming season.

Trainers at Payson Park: Carolyn Costigan

February 18, 2012Posted by Payson


Carolyn Costigan, a young trainer in Toronto at Woodbine Racetrack has selected Payson Park as her winter training facility this year. Carolyn's ambition and desire to compete are quite apparent as she tends to her stock during the morning hours at her stable. Although she has only been a licensed trainer for a short time, Carolyn's background speaks of a seasoned professional with all the qualities to make her charges successful. The daughter of Bob Costigan and CEO of Arravale Racing, Carolyn first got her taste of thoroughbred training at a young age. She applied for and was selected to attend the Irish National Stud Program after a stint at Windfields Farm under John Neville. From there she was one of twelve annual applicants accepted into the prestigious Darley Flying Start Program. This intensive two-year course taught Carolyn the business end of thoroughbred racing in Europe, North America, Australia and the Middle East. Since then she has worked with Kiaran McLaughlin in Belmont Park, Lee Freedman in Markdel, Australia, South African trainer Mike de Kock and enjoyed a two-year stint with renowned Irish thoroughbred trainer Jim Bolger after Darley. Her pleasant demeanor made it easy to talk about her decision to winter at Payson Park.

Carolyn, when did you arrive at Payson Park?
"We arrived in the first week of December."
And how many horses have you brought?
Where had you wintered before?
"We were at Palm Meadows last winter. And before that, it was my first winter. The first winter was in California. I did that because I thought if I was ever going to see what California was like, I only had 6 horses at the time, so it would be the best time to see what California was like. It's very difficult to do business there. To do business in California, getting people licensed, getting the business license, all those little kinds of... red tape. It was very difficult."
What were your first impressions of Payson Park?
"Space. It's quiet. Mrs. Payson picked out this barn for me. She said she thought I'd like that the trails are right there. And we love it because the horses don't have any other horses from another outfit to look at. So when they wake up in the morning they're waking up on their own clock. Not another barn, as opposed, to when they start their day. And we head off down on the trails every day, so regardless as to whether I'm going to take a horse to the track, I always start them off on the trails. So we warm up out there. When we first got here we brought a couple of the horses to the track with the intention of seeing what the trails were like eventually. But with the rain I figured I'd see what the trails are like now. I was glad that we did that because now it's part of my daily routine. For some horses like this one, always turning left is hard on them. So the trails have been awesome because she can be on a comfortable lead and switch back and forth when I ask her to, but she's under no undo pressure."
Had you visited Payson Park before deciding to come here?
"We came here and to Palm Meadows. I kind of just flew down to check out the two different facilities and I initially went to Palm Meadows just to see what it was like. There was no massive reason as to why. Palm Meadows is kind of a central location. It was a nice environment, but it was by no means a place to settle a horse. We were among neighbors who were all racing. The other trainers there are all racing. So there was a race track mentality there."
When you decide on a winter facility, what amenities are most important to you?
"The track. And just being able to, in an ideal world, to do what I would like to do with a horse on any given day. When you're at a race track it's not ideal. You may want to do something that's totally different to settle a horse's mind. Even if it's to jog a horse for 20 or 30 minutes. You can't really do that at a race track. They want to constantly break into a gallop. But here I can take them out on the trails and jog them and they don't think about galloping at all. They are just preoccupied with the hedges and the bushes around them and the deer that we meet at 7:00 in the morning. We always meet a group of deer. So it's kind of cool that they're able to be distracted in that way."
You and I are Facebook friends. I like to see trainers with Facebook sites.
"I do a lot of it. I find that what people like the most are the pictures and little comments about daily stuff. They don't want anything profound. They just want to see the horses."
I saw that you had a webcam during the season. How did that work out?
"Excellent. Generally speaking, that's where people went to most. On the site when they clicked in, anybody that was a returning client or returning person to the website generally had that as the first page that they arrived on. (During the season) they are 24/7, except I don't have them on night vision. And it was interesting that people would just log on for 15-20 minutes. They would just watch one horse, just to see their mannerisms."
I read that you might be concerned about running into privacy issues. Has that been a problem?
"It really hasn't. And it might be a case of the staff and the clients being okay with it. So the clients are okay with it. They actually love it. The webcams are awesome because the clients can log on, at any time of the day, wherever they are in the world, and have a look at their horse. They can see their horse going out in the morning. Especially if they're not from Toronto, or they are overseas, I can text them to tell them this filly is going to be breezing tomorrow morning at 9. Expect her to be coming out of her stall at about 20 to 25 minutes 'till 9. She'll be out walking at that point. So if you want to see her coming out of her stall, which they avidly do, it's really cool that they want to see that and want to be able to connect in that way. And then after the race, often I'll scope a horse after a race and that's all on the camera. And the client, if they're not there for the race, they can watch their horse being scoped and they can see us giving them the thumbs-up on the camera and I'll be on the phone right away to them. It's really simple stuff, but it's a personal touch that they really appreciate."
What have you learned about Payson Park that you didn't already know?
"There's a good community here. The people here. Everybody is very friendly and waving and the guys and ladies that work in the kitchen up there are very friendly. The groundsmen are actually very good to check in and see what we need. I was surprised at the community and service."
What do you like most here?
"It's being given the ability to get a horse ready to race. And to be able to do it in a setting that has the horse relaxed. They're not wound up. They're beginning the year on a quiet, content foot. They're taking those first steps toward racing with a good frame of mind."
Of your horses here, Who should we keep an eye on next season?
"All of them! (laughs) I've got two colts that belong to George Strawbridge of Augustin Stables and they are very nice horses. This one is named Bright Holiday and the other one is Hallam. The two of them are very talented. George's other two horses who just turned three this year are these two fillies here. One is named Nashindy and she is extremely talented. And this is the fourth one. Her name is Slant of Light."
And the one we took the photo with?
"Yep, that's Ardara, which means the High Fortress in Irish (Gaelic). She's well-named because she's big. She's by Arch. She's out of a big mare. She's taken me some time. She's still just maturing for me. So she'll be mid to late half of the season next year. She's one that is benefiting hugely from being here because she's turned out. She'd been up to galloping and I just wanted to back off her for the last couple of days and she's turned out and enjoying just being a horse."

As the youngest trainer ever to win the Woodbine Oaks with her father's horse Roan Inish in 2010, Carolyn has also notched a win in the 2009 Princess Elizabeth Stakes and a respectable 3rd in the 2010 Queen's Plate. She is certainly one to watch and Payson Park is delighted to have her and Arravale Racing as part of our all-star community. - Payson Park Thoroughbred Training Center

Trainer's Spotlight: Darrin Miller

December 26, 2011Posted by Payson


Trainer Darrin Miller has been with thoroughbred owners Tom and Bonnie Hamilton of Silverton Hills Stables since 2001. Previously wintering at Palm Meadows in Boynton Beach, the team thought change was in order and after meeting with Virginia Payson and David Cole in Keeneland, decided that Payson Park would be a perfect fit for their operation.
What was your first impressions upon getting settled at Payson Park?
"I think that the peacefulness is my first impression. The wide-openness. When you spend all year on the backside (at Churchill Downs), and having to listen to all the noises, the tractors, the equipment and loud speakers and suddenly when that's all eliminated, it's a real relief. You don't realize how much that can affect you and affect these horses. A peaceful quiet facility is great. The track is fantastic. Top quality outfits are here and the people who have been here for a very long time are very welcoming and really helpful in getting us accustomed to the racetrack. It's a really inviting place."
Had you visited before deciding to train at Payson Park?
"No. They've been very accommodating and sent us aerial views, so we knew a little about the layout. And of course, it comes with a history here and nobody ever says a poor thing about it. Just the fact that the same people have been here year after year speaks for itself. "
What was it that helped make your decision to come to Payson Park?
"Mrs. Payson and David Cole had contacted us, myself, Tom and Bonnie, and they were nice enough to come down and meet with them in Keeneland and converse back and forth. We were obviously interested in trying something else, so it just kind of worked out."
What types of amenities are most important that you're looking for?
"I think it gives you an opportunity for a little innovation as part of your training program. I agree that a change is as good as a rest. For some of these horses that have been campaigning all year, the ability to do nothing or change your program a little bit helps them. The facility itself, the housing, the barns, nice big stalls is a good working environment. There's a lot of freedom here and the stock feels that as far as to and from the track, out and around and about. It gives me an opportunity to do the things I couldn't elsewhere. You can be really restricted in a confined track."
Have you learned anything since your arrival that you didn't already know about Payson Park?
"It's always been enjoyable to watch other operations. There's just some really quality outfits and quality horses here and if you're in the horse game you certainly appreciate getting to see those things."
I understand that your son Chase is a new rider. Is he here?
"Yes, he's learning and that's another thing. It's a great opportunity and a good environment for him to learn and work on perfecting his skills with traffic, but not too much. You're able to make a mistake and work off of that a little easier than other facilities."
What achievements would make you consider it a successful winter here at Payson Park?
"If our horses leave here sound and fit and we would want them rejuvenated, if they leave here really ready to go with fire and their heads are ready to go, fresh and sound, then it will have been a successful winter."
Are there any things that you would like to see improved to fit your needs better?
"I can honestly say, and maybe we haven't been here long enough to complain, but Payson Park has been very accommodating. I really wouldn't change anything. Everything has been a welcoming change for us. The environment itself, it works."