Hallway Feeds, supplier of Thoroughbred champions, marks 50 years in business

Bob Hall, left, and son Lee Hall have built Hallway Feeds into one of the horse racing industry's top suppliers. The company's Race 13 feed is sought by Kentucky Derby-winning horse trainers and breeding operations across the Bluegrass and around the world.
Bob Hall, left, and son Lee Hall have built Hallway Feeds into one of the horse racing industry's top suppliers. The company's Race 13 feed is sought by Kentucky Derby-winning horse trainers and breeding operations across the Bluegrass and around the world. Herald-Leader

Fifty years ago when Bob Hall bought a small feed company, he could not have foreseen that his business, Hallway Feeds, would grow to become one that top racehorse trainers turn to to feed their winningest horses.

In 1964, the market was about cattle and dairy, hogs and sheep.

Now, 95 percent of Hallway Feeds' sales are to trainers like Bob Baffert, Neil Drysdale, John Shireffs, Michael Matz, Richard Dutrow, Graham Motion, Shug McGaughey and Art Sherman.

If those names sound familiar, it might be because they have trained 10 of the past 17 Kentucky Derby winners. And they all ran on Hallway Feeds. Specifically, Race 13.

"Our mack daddy feed," said Lee Hall, Bob Hall's son and vice president of the company, pointing to bags of sweet-smelling feed. "All the race horses you see were fed this."

The sweetness comes from molasses, mixed with top-quality grains to produce the high-energy feed that racehorses need.

Is there a secret ingredient that makes Race 13 so sought after? Not really, Lee Hall said. The special ingredient is customer service and nimbleness, he said. The company's small size becomes an advantage against larger, more prominent names like Nutrena or Cargill, he said.

If trainers or farms need a custom order, whether it be a special blend or a rush shipment to Hong Kong, they can get a Hallway employee on the phone pretty much any time and get it done, he said.

Brad Purcell, Claiborne Farm manager in Paris, said their stallions, mares, yearlings and weanlings all eat Hallway Feed and have for decades.

"We use their 14 percent sweet mix for weanlings and yearlings, and the others get pelleted feed," he said. Every Friday Hallway Feeds delivers a specific order to each Claiborne Farm barn, based on who will be eating what.

"When it's delivered on Friday, it smells so good you could eat it," Purcell said.

It's a far cry from the days of cattle feed in the 1960s, when Bob Hall was the beef cattle herdsman at the University of Kentucky.

"Over time, we began to shift, and we saw more and more opportunity in the horse area," Lee Hall said. By the 1980s, the feed business was about 50-50, between horses and other livestock, and Hallway looked to expand, moving to a spot on Loudon Avenue where it sits today.

"At that time, Loudon stopped at our driveway," Hall said.

But the city and their business kept growing.

Which is a little surprising, considering that the overall Thoroughbred horse breeding and racing business has declined significantly. In 1986, when Hallway opened its current plant, the North American foal crop topped 51,000, according to The Jockey Club Factbook. It has been dropping ever since, and The Jockey Club expects to register about 22,000 foals for 2014.

But Kentucky's share of the market has increased steadily, with more top stallions covering more high profile mares here than anywhere else, by far.

And most of them will eat Hallway Feeds. According to the company, more than 60 percent of the top trainers in North America use their feed, as do more than 60 percent of the consignors at the sales.

In the conference room, in a varnished box, hangs a halter once worn by 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus.

"He was the first horse we fed from 'in utero' to a Classic winner," Lee Hall said. "All through his racing career."

Odds are he won't be the last.

The Hallway influence continues to expand globally. Of the 40,000 tons of feed Hallway produces annually, 50 percent will go to horses in Fayette and the contiguous counties, "the Thoroughbred belt," Hall said.

An additional 35 percent will go elsewhere in the United States, to major racing states like New York, California, and Florida.

But the fastest-growing segment — at 15 percent and climbing — will be sold overseas, and might ship to China, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Middle East, New Zealand, Canada, the Caribbean, and Europe.

"Success begets success," Hall said. "When you feed a Lane's End or a Bob Baffert, people want that same success" as the famous Thoroughbred breeding farm or the trainer of three Kentucky Derby winners, among other Classic winners.

The company keeps track of winners they've fed: For the past decade, it has averaged $37 million a year earned in "black type" or major stakes wins.

"We've kind of thrown all our chips in on horses," Hall said.

And Hallway can offer its customers the equine equivalent of a baby's wellness check: they will weigh and measure weanlings, and based on decades of data can tell farms if a particular foal is the 90th percentile for its age, which could make it much more attractive to auction buyers.

The decline in Thoroughbred breeding numbers does concern the company, Hall said, which is why it has turned its attention overseas. Its products have been distributed in 28 countries.

"We have agents in China looking for opportunities," he said.

So how did Hallway celebrate 50 years in business? With a big party?

Although it likes fast horses, that didn't seem like the company's speed; Hallway prefers a low profile.

But Hallway came up with something else.

"We wanted to something for the community," Hall said

So on June 6, Hallway Feeds sponsored an Honor Flight of 30 World War II and Korean War veterans from Central and Eastern Kentucky, taking them to Washington to see the memorials on the anniversary of the D-day invasion of Normandy.

"It was the first flight out of Lexington," said Hall, who went with his father, Bob. "We had over 1,000 people at the airport when those veterans came home. I'll never forget it."

And although the Halls probably could point to lots of great race footage, that's what they chose to feature on their website: the Honor flight.