A willingness to take risks and a desire for excellence served Paul Bulmahn well in the corporate world. It only makes sense that those qualities would do the same when his passion turned to racing.
Before Bulmahn made the decision to build GoldMark Farm, a world class training center in northwest Marion County, his energies were concentrated on ATP Oil & Gas Corp., of which he is founder, president and chairman. Traded on the NASDAQ market under the symbol ATPG, the corporation was founded in 1991 and by 2000 was named the fifth-fastest growing company in America.
The international offshore oil and gas development company focuses on the acquisition, development and production of natural gas and oil in the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea. With headquarters in Houston, ATP Oil & Gas also has offices in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. With Bulmahn at the helm and intimately involved in every aspect of the corporation, ATP Oil & Gas has enjoyed a high degree of success in taking offshore projects to production that were previously undeveloped and non-producing.
Presently residing in Houston, Bulmahn had limited exposure to the world of Thoroughbred racing, but he has long been enamored of horses, thanks to his boyhood introduction to them in rural Indiana.
“When I was a child, we sharecropped a garden with our neighbors and they used plow horses instead of a tractor,” recalls Bulmahn. “I would climb the fence and be in the same field with those Belgians and Percherons. There was a mulberry tree in the middle of the field. I found when I shimmied out on a branch, my weight would push the limb down low enough that the leaves would entice the horses to come over. When they did, I’d climb down on their backs. That’s the only riding I did as a child.”
Fast forward to 2002 when Bulmahn won a prize package courtesy of the Maker’s Mark distillery to attend the Kentucky Derby. Sitting in a box at the historic racetrack with Maker’s Mark President Bill Samuels and wife, Nancy, Bulmahn was mesmerized as he watched War Emblem take home the roses. Fast and graceful, the horses he saw at Churchill Downs that first Saturday in May were a far cry from the docile draft horses that had captured his heart as a boy. Bulmahn was hooked. From that day he was determined to get involved in the Thoroughbred industry.
For a businessman who had found success in developing promising oil and gas projects, establishing a training center to develop young Thoroughbreds was a completely logical step. His decision to build the facility in Ocala was sparked when caring for his brother who was fighting lung cancer in 2002.
“My brother lived in Orlando and we would drive around central Florida,” Bulmahn remembers. “I was floored when we went through Ocala. It’s such a beautiful place and it looks like Kentucky with all the rolling hills, but with better weather. I felt at peace there.”
At that point, Bulmahn knew what he wanted to do and where he wanted to do it. There was only one hitch: he needed the right person in charge. Savvy businessman that he is he was acutely aware that even the most well-intentioned project wouldn’t succeed without experienced, dedicated people in place.
Searching for property in the Ocala area, Bulmahn met Realtor Terri Kitchens and told her he needed a consultant. Kitchens knew the man for the job. Having recently sold a small farm for longtime horseman Todd Quast, Kitchens called him and put the two men in touch. Bulmahn and Quast took it from there.
In searching for a horseman with experience, Bulmahn couldn’t have found better than Todd Quast. Born into an Air Force family, Quast “lived everywhere” as a boy, but graduated high school in Austin, Texas, and then went on to earn his Bachelor of Science degree in Horse Production and Management, as well as a degree in Agriculture Business, from Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas.
After a five-year stint at Diamond D Ranch in Lone Oak, Texas, Quast was itching to go to the racetrack. Hired by D. Wayne Lukas as an assistant trainer, he worked at Hollywood Park for a year, but realized he liked the farm scene better than the track and transferred over to Lukas’ Westerly Training Center in Santa Ynez, California.
During his 10 years with Team Lukas, Quast was directly responsible for the breaking, early training and rehabilitation of three Kentucky Derby winners, three Preakness winners, four Belmont winners, six Breeders’ Cup winners, nine Eclipse Award winners and one Horse of the Year.
“It was a great run. We had a stretch where we won six classics in a row,” Quast recalls. “Wayne was rolling and it was truly Team Lukas. We had a great string of guys with Wayne bannering the front end.”
During his time with Lukas, Quast says the most important thing he learned was taking the absolute best possible care of the horse, no expense barred. Organization was also critical. “When you train a lot of horses you have to be very detail-oriented,” he adds. “Wayne’s a very good organizer. When you take care of the smallest details, everything else usually works out.”
As a direct result of his connection with Lukas, Quast moved to Ocala in 1998 to work as training center manager of the newly established Padua Stables, a position he held until July 2001.
Finally taking some time off for himself, timing couldn’t have been better when Quast was introduced to Bulmahn in 2002. He was impressed by Bulmahn’s enthusiasm and vision for a state-of-the-art training facility, and the two men decided to proceed together on the creation of GoldMark Farm.
Late in 2002, Bulmahn purchased 2,000 acres in northwest Marion County. Old barns and fencing on the partially developed property came down, while buried utilities and paved roads went in. Over the next three-and-a-half years, homes, barns and a three-quarter mile track were built, with Chris Morrison’s AAA Builders, Inc. handling the construction of every structure on the farm.
By the summer of 2006, Quast and wife Lori, who is highly instrumental in helping select horses, were at the yearling sales shopping for Bulmahn’s first horses. By September, they had 23 yearlings for Bulmahn and GoldMark’s initial breaking season was under way. The remaining stalls quickly filled with training and rehab horses from a group of clients that reads like a Who’s Who list of Thoroughbred owners. Overbrook Farm, Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stables, Eaton Sales, Taylor Made Sales Agency, trainer John Kimmel, and agent Buzz Chace are all clients.
“We were full that first season,” says Quast. “I think once word got out about the farm and what we were doing, people who had a nice horse wanted to send them here.
People showed a lot of confidence in us and we’ve been very fortunate. Those horses are running right now and we’re off to a good start. We’ve had 81% of those horses run first, second or third in the starts they’ve had. We’ve had five wins out of 26 starts (as of August 10).”
With 106 stalls currently on the farm, ground was just broken on another 40-stall barn which will also house a large office complex. Construction just wrapped up on a viewing stand/guest lodge featuring an upstairs area where farm employees can enjoy cookouts and gatherings.
With 14-foot wide shedrows, each concrete block barn has vinyl-lined ceilings nearly 20 feet high in the center. Far from being merely decorative, cupolas have thermostatically controlled exhaust fans that kick on to pull out warm air as soon as the temperature reaches 75 degrees. Each stall has SoftStall flooring, a unique two-piece flooring system that uses rubber-filled mattresses for the bottom layer, protected by a highly durable, non-porous rubber cover. This top cover is held in place by anchor strips at the base of the stall so moisture can’t get beneath the flooring. The system is slip resistant and remarkably comfortable for the horses, as proven by the fact that they tend to lie down and rest more.
Every stall also features rubber kick walls for added protection, stainless steel Nelson waterers and feeders, as well as individual fans and fly spray system nozzles.
“The farm looks great, but it’s one of the best training environments I could come up with. Everything’s in place for a reason,” Quast notes. “This all goes back to Paul wanting to do the best for the horses. He’s never backed up from wanting to do everything first rate. Everything is about giving the horses the best care. Hopefully they’ll return that favor in performance on the racetrack!”
Horses receive their initial training in 60-diameter concrete block round pens. Under roof, the round pens have numerous fans stationed throughout, making this a comfortable spot even on the hottest of Florida days. Here, young horses are driven in long lines, then introduced to the pony horse and also take their first rides. A nearby arena provides a safe place to further the young horses’ education until they are ready to proceed to the training track.
Bulmahn spared no expense on the six-furlong track, which features four percent banked turns, a five-horse starting gate, and the same aluminum rails found at Churchill Downs, Saratoga and other top tracks. SAFETRACK® synthetic surface, marketed by the British company Andrews Bowen Ltd., was chosen after careful consideration.
(The “SAFE” part of the name actually stands for “synthetic all-weather fiber-enhanced.”)
“We made this decision before synthetic was the ‘in thing’ and everyone was raving about it,” notes Quast. “We felt it was the wave of the future. Paul had the confidence and was willing to put up the resources to do it, so once a horse unloads at GoldMark, he’s on SAFETRACK the whole time. We have it in the walking areas, shedrows, round pens and walkers.”
Quast considered other synthetic surfaces, including Polytrack, Tapeta and Cushiontrack, before going with SAFETRACK. The product is made by blending washed silica sand with small synthetic fibers and rubber chips. A coating of wax makes the surface stable and consistent. A drainage system and rock base are installed and then topped with a geotextile membrane which allows water to easily drain through the SAFETRACK surface on top.
“Every synthetic surface is a little bit different,” says Quast. “For our particular situation, I felt SAFETRACK was the best fit for what we wanted to do, and the company was very forthright and accommodating. I think SAFETRACK is more similar to dirt than some of the other synthetics. They use more elastic fibers than carpet fibers and they also use a very high grade of wax. With the hot summers here, a high melting point was very important. It was a major commitment, but we felt it was for the safety and well-being of the horses. It’s a very consistent track and handles the weather unbelievably. You never miss a training day. It’s the same track under the horses’ feet every day. It has a good cushion and is level all the time. I’m extremely happy with it.”
Ask Bulmahn what sets GoldMark apart from other training centers and he is quick to credit Quast and the staff with making the difference.
“Todd’s background in the Thoroughbred industry is gigantic,” says Bulmahn.
“He not only has a strong resume in the business, but he understands horses and cares about them. I’m proud of the staff he’s assembled; we have a high quality group of people. We’ve tried to put together a facility that has state-of-the-art trappings, from the way we built the barns to keep them cool in the heat of summer to having the SAFETRACK surface wherever the horses are. I really wanted a facility that could nurture the developing bone structure of a young Thoroughbred.”
Quast relies on assistant trainer Karl Keegan, a former gallop rider and valet for NYRA, and foreman Ricardo Gonzalez, calling them both “exceptionally good horsemen and people.” He depends on his wife Lori to help him pony on the racetrack everyday and to accompany him to sales to help select horses. All riders are staff, instead of freelance.
The farm routinely uses Dr. Greg Bonenclark of Ferguson, Hammack and Bonenclark, and Dr. Jenifer Garber of Ocala Equine Hospital. “I think Dr. Garber is one of the best ultrasound vets in the country,” says Quast, “and Dr. Bonenclark does it all – he handles day-to-day work, goes to the sales with us, and is a surgeon. He is an important part of our rehabilitation program and a major asset to the farm.”
Bulmahn trusts Todd and Lori Quast to find the right yearlings for his own stable. “I’ve left evaluating and buying the prospects totally in the hands of Todd and Lori,” he notes. “I’m very impressed with the selection they’ve made.”
Of the two-year-olds beginning their careers this year, Quast says Bulmahn has some standouts. Among these are Syriana’s Song, an Indian Charlie filly trained by Dallas Stewart, who ran second first time out at Saratoga; Yes Im Woman, a filly by Yes It’s True, who is also with Stewart and ran second in her first start at Churchill; Delegator, a Songandaprayer colt who has plenty of speed but hasn’t started yet; True Crusader, a Yes it’s True colt who looks like he wants to go a distance; Elusive Lady, a filly by Van Nistelrooy, is trained by John Kimmel and about to make her debut at Saratoga; and Grand Trio, a striking Grand Slam colt who looks to be a serious three-year-old. Bulmahn’s horses run under the name GoldMark or GoldMark Farm.
“I’d never owned a horse in my life until GoldMark Farm,” says Bulmahn.“I just love being around them; they’re so magnificent. My ‘day job’ is in Houston now and I don’t spend enough time here.”
That may change as the farm grows and Bulmahn begins to establish a breeding operation built from his racing stable.
“Our formula is to buy two-thirds fillies and one-third colts,” explains Quast. “Fillies have the residual value of becoming broodmares. If a colt doesn’t establish himself on the racetrack, he has a limited value, so we’re trying to buy colts that are physically good individuals with enough pedigree to develop into stallions. We’ll eventually have stallions and a broodmare band from our racehorses. Our emphasis will always be on training – our own horses and our clients’ horses – but the breeding end of the program will naturally occur when you have that many horses.”
Bulmahn anticipates celebrating the success of horses who trained at GoldMark, whether they belong to him or to a client. “We hope to have good horses of our own, but I look forward to having a horse run well off the farm, whoever owns that horse,” he says.
One thing is certain. If Paul Bulmahn and Todd Quast have anything to say about it, each horse that comes through GoldMark Farm will be given every opportunity to succeed.
[Source: The Florida Horse Sept 2007]