Mother Nature must have known she was going to be showing off one of her magnificent creations because the scene could not have been more carefully set.
Here at Gus Schickedanz’s Schonberg Farm a few weeks back, the mists were still in the deep valleys, a light rain was just ending and the sun was ready to peek out as Canada’s last Triple Crown winner came out to greet an inquisitive writer.
And here he was, in his coppery chestnut coat, ears up, handsome in the spring light at 12, still the gentleman after all these years.
CBC Sports set out this month to find the last 10 winners of the Queen’s Plate, most especially its most famous.
Where’s Wando? Living the life of Riley, if you please.
It was nine seasons back that the son of Langfuhr romped to victory in the 2003 Queens Plate under Patrick Husbands.
And then, five weeks later with the Prince of Wales also in the saddle bag, he ran down the field in the final stretch on turf for a three-length win in the Breeder’s Stakes, wrapping up the triple for trainer Michael Keogh.
No horse has done it since.
Now, he’s a successful breeding stallion, doing what comes natural for $3,500 a shot with about 50 mares this season. That’s just over $150,000.for those counting.
Lauri Kenny, the long-time farm manager at Schonberg, loves to chat about Wando.
“He’s quite laid back. He’s a breeding stallion and it’s a job he loves, and he does it very well,” says Kenny. “He’s a real gentleman about everything he does.”
Including in the shed with the mares.
“That’s the way he was when he was racing as well, he was always a gentleman.”
'The people's horse'
Dan Loiselle, the Woodbine race announcer, dubbed him “the people’s horse,” and he certainly fits that personality still.
Wando’s breeding day basically goes like this: wake up, eat, mate, bath, out in the paddock to enjoy the sun, sleep, eat. On non-working days, take out the breeding part.
And always willing to please.
“He does a lot of walking, keeps himself very fit in the field — he makes crop circles [you can see it on Google satellite] … he’s just enjoying life,” he says.
Breeding is about money, of course, and a session with the big fella isn’t worth what it once was. Originally standing at the famed Lane’s End farm in Versaille, Kentucky, Wando was getting almost three times as much for a foal that “stands and nurses,” says Kenny.
“He started out first year in Kentucky at $10,000, then went to $7,500 and then to $5,000," she says, "And that’s what happens with stallions, you make them as attractive to people as you can.”
Last breeding season (February to July), Wando was at $4,500, having come back to Canada, and that was with his children (especially Turallure, winner of the 2011 Woodbine Mile and second by a nose hair at the Breeders’ Cup mile) showing success.
That’s the key for any stallion, how well your kids do in life. Kenny says the first couple of crops were good but when there weren’t any big winners at first (especially Grade 1 stakes) the price came down.
And buyers are quick to switch to the next big name coming up.
For Wando, it doesn’t make much of a difference to him, really, because like the other horses on the farm he doesn’t have access to the Internet to check on the race results.
“They just go along with their life, as long as they are happy,” says Kenny. “They’ve got somebody to look at [important because horses are social animals], and lots to eat, they put on a bit of weight over the winter and lose it in breeding season.
Wando shares a barn with just one other stallion (always kitty corner so they can’t see each other), and he’s tied into this story as well.
Mobil, who was second at the Queen’s Plate in the same year as part of the Schickedanz double entry, couldn’t be more different.
A beauty dark bay by the same sire, but different dams, Mobil seems to be forever making up for his loss by playing “I’m bigger than you are” all day.
He’s fractious, bites on occasion, and gallops around his pasture from end to end, stopping for a slurp of water or to put his head over the fence in a “come hither and I’ll chop you ear off” kind of way.
They are in adjoining paddocks but mostly ignore each other.
Canada’s last Triple Crown winner promises to be around a long while, by the way. His grandmother, on the sire’s side, is still alive and his grandmother is now an incredible 33.
That’s a lot of crop circles.
Queen's Plate winners
Here’s a look at where the last 10 winners of the Queen’s Plate have gone.
2011: Inglorious. After Luis Contreras took her up the middle for an emphatic Plate victory, she went on to become Canada’s top three-year-old filly and runner-up for horse of the year. She is now a mare and still running, placing second in a race at Keeneland back in April.
2010:Big Red Mike. Nick Gonzalez’s chestnut gelding, so brave along the rail in front of the Queen, is also still racing, winning an allowance race at Woodbine on June 2 and “doing great” according to his owner.
2009:Eye of the Leopard. The horse with the fabulous pedigree (A.P. Indy, Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Mr. Prospector), may not have been the prettiest out there, but “Lumpy” brought it home for Sam Son Farm. He is still at Woodbine as a six year old. Malcolm Pierce is now the trainer.
2008:Not Bourbon. Roger Attfield trained colt might have won the Triple Crown if he hadn’t suffered a flipped palate in the early going of the Prince of Wales. After surgery and missing a year, he ran three times in 2010, winning once. He’s now at Northridge Farm as a stallion, and his first crop is coming through.
2007:Mike Fox. After bringing Emma-Jayne Wilson home as the first female jockey to win the Plate, Mike Fox ran for a few more years, kept training to 2011 and has now been retired to stud at Firestone Farms in Caledon, Ontario.
2006:Edenwold. Josie’s Carroll’s first winner at the Plate has gone to find love in exotic places. He’s standing at stud in New Zealand.
2005:Wild Desert. Always a mystery, the horse that came in with almost no recent workout times under controversial trainer Rick Dutrow (transferred to Robert Frankel) went to Unbridled Farms in New York as of 2010 and just recently moved on to stud duties in Massachusetts. “A sweet, sweet horse,” said Unbridled Farms owner Susan Kayne.
2004:Niigon. The Eric Coatrieux-trained colt held off A Bit o’ Gold down the stretch for the big win. Now 11 years old, Niigon (NEE-gone) is standing at stud for Colebrook Farms, in Ontario.
2003:Wando. Living the life at Schonberg Farms in Nobleton.
2002:T.J.’s Lucky Moon won for jockey Steve Bahen and trainer Vito Armata as an 82-1 long shot. He retired in 2004 with a small tear in a ligament. Five year later, he collapsed and died in his paddock at the age of 10 at Molinaro Stable where he was retired.