The Powhatan Plantation in King George, Virginia is not unique in the fact that they have horses enrolled in the Virginia Certified program, it is unique because it is one of the only farms in the Commonwealth that is involved in raising both standardbred and thoroughbred race horses.
The facility was initially constructed in 1829 by Edward Thorton Tayloe and was a major agricultural centre trading with English ships coming in on the Rappahannock River. The current operation was started by present owner Achille Guest’s father Raymond Guest, after he purchased the facility in 1952.
Raymond bred and raised thoroughbreds, some of which were well renowned race horses, not just here in the States, but overseas in Ireland, France, and England as well. Raymond was the United States Ambassador to Ireland from 1965 – 1968, He was always passionate about horses. He played polo, hunted, and rode; he was a true horseman. He is one of only three owners to win both the Epsom Derby and the Grand National. Some of his most iconic horses included Sir Ivor, the winner of the 1968, 2000 Guineas Derby in New Market, and Larkspur, winner of the 1962 Epsom Derby.
He was voted in as President of the Viriginia Thoroughbred Association in 1958. His most accomplished horse in the States was Tom Rolfe, the winner of the 1965 Preakness Stakes whose accomplishments led him to win American Champion 3-year-old Male Horse honors. Guest also dabbled in steeplechasers, the most impressive of which was I’Escargot a U.S. Racing Hall of Fame member who was awarded 1969 U.S. Steeplechase Horse of the Year. After receiving the award, he shipped across the Atlantic to England where he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in back-to-back years (1970-1971). There is a history of greatness at the Powhatan Plantation.
The farm started with Polo horses, Raymond played Polo and began keeping the horses on the property in the off-season. Typically, the horses played a summer season in New York and then returned to Virginia to rest for the off-season before returning to Florida for the Winter. To this day they continue to house polo horses in the off-season.
When the Virginia Certified program started, Raymond’s son Achille was seeking to diversify the cattle business that dominated his interests. In 2019, they brought in their first bunch of standardbred race horses, these horses were owned by Virginia Harness Horse Association President Dr. Scott Woogen. He remains the primary owner of the standardbreds on the property. The farm is currently on their fifth group of standardbreds.
Farm Manager Gena Nelson has been at Powhatan since 2018 when the farm was focused on cattle. She delighted in the arrival of the horses and said“ I’ve always loved racehorses and thoroughbreds; I love polo horses as well. But working with the standardbreds is a little different. They are some really smart, intelligent, and levelheaded horses. So, a lot of times they’re not handled as much as the thoroughbreds are, but they seem to settle in quicker once they understand.” She knows the difference in the breeds is significant but is comfortable managing both. “The one thing about taking care of animals is that they can’t tell you what they need. And if there’s one gift that I’ve been given, it’s the sense of just understanding, okay, they need this or they want that, or this is what’s necessary. And that’s just not something that I necessarily have been taught. It’s just something that I’ve learned with experience.”
The first group of thoroughbred race horses showed up to Powahattan last December, the first group consisted of 4 colts and 3 fillies. Unlike the standardbreds who usually arrive as two-year olds, the thoroughbreds were primarily yearlings. With the farm’s rich history Achille has always wanted to return to the thoroughbred roots of the farm and continue his father’s legacy.
Some of the standardbreds they helped develop can be found racing for Sharon Robert’s local farm in Maryland, or right here in Virginia where Dr. Scott Woogen races his horses from Powhatan every Saturday and Sunday during the Spring and Fall at Shenandoah Downs.
When asked about his experience with Powhatan, Dr. Woogen said “I like it because they have 1000 acres, good pastures, good fences, and good people working with the horses. They handle them so, when it’s time to be broken, they are ready.” Dr. Woogen also noted that KJ Dash, the 2-year-old Maryland Champion who has won over $100,000 for him this year, was trained and broken at Powhatan Plantation last year.