01/29/2014 1:00PM

Aqueduct: McEwen's stable helping injured war veterans

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Michael Amoruso
George McEwen donates 10 percent of his stable earnings to charity.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – In some ways, George “Chip” McEwen is your typical Thoroughbred owner, scouting the sales ring for horses that can take him to the sport’s big races.

In one way, at least, McEwen is atypical in that the success of his stable will benefit many more people than himself. McEwen races under the moniker Wounded Warrior Stables and donates 10 percent of his stable’s purse earnings to charities that benefit wounded or ill war veterans.

Two of McEwen’s top horses, the 3-year-old New York-bred colt Uncle Sigh and the 3-year-old Kentucky-bred filly Sushi Empire, will be competing in graded stakes Saturday. Uncle Sigh will be among the favorites in the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct, while Sushi Empire, winner of the Blue Norther Stakes on turf on New Year’s Day, will try dirt for the first time in the Grade 1, $300,000 Las Virgenes at Santa Anita.

McEwen’s dreams of having a Kentucky Derby horse were fueled when Uncle Sigh – named after the character Uncle Si on the popular reality show “Duck Dynasty” – won a two-turn maiden race Dec. 27 by 14  1/2 lengths, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 93. That came three weeks after he earned a 95 Beyer in a head loss to Groupthink in a sprint race.

“We think he has the opportunity to be very special,” said McEwen, whose New York-based horses are trained by Gary Contessa. “It would be really neat to see that purple heart flying in the winner’s circle at the Kentucky Derby or the Belmont.”

McEwen’s silks are yellow with a purple heart emblazoned on the chest, symbolic of the medal bestowed to those wounded or killed in military combat.

McEwen, 50, owns a pharmaceutical company based in South Carolina. Neither he nor his father served in the military, though his grandfather did. It was around this time in 2012 that McEwen had the impetus to do something for war veterans.

McEwen said he and his fiancée, Lynne Langermann, were flying back to their Fort Myers, Fla., home from a trade show in Las Vegas. On a stop in Charlotte, N.C., an announcement was made asking all passengers to remain seated to allow a wounded veteran to deplane first. McEwen was expecting to see an elderly person leaving the plane in a wheelchair.

Much to McEwen’s surprise, a young man – McEwen said he was 26 – was being escorted off the plane with the aid of his father, while the war veteran’s wife and two young children followed behind.

“I said to my fiancée, who was crying, we need to do something for people like that,” McEwen said. “Their entire circle is affected forever.

“Prior to that, I was one of those people, I’d buy a $2 bracelet, buy a T-shirt or a bumper sticker and call myself a proud supporter of wounded war veterans,” McEwen added.

McEwen began the process to change the name of his stable from McEwen Racing to Wounded Warrior Stables. After doing some research into organizations that aid veterans, he selected as the primary beneficiary of his donations Retrieving Freedom, which provides service dogs to veterans with disabilities and/or who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and Task Force Dagger Foundation, which helps provide assistance to families whose primary money-earner was killed in combat.

McEwen has owned horses since the late 1990s. In 2001, he had a New York-bred, Private Practice, with Contessa who won his debut by 8 1/2 lengths before becoming popular at the claim box. McEwen also had some horses in Florida with David Fawkes.

McEwen also pinhooks horses in partnership with Danzel Brendemuehl of Classic Bloodstock. In the last few years, McEwen decided to take some of the money he made from pinhooking and buy some horses to race.

Last March, McEwen purchased Uncle Sigh privately for $225,000 after the horse failed to meet its reserve at the Fasig-Tipton sale at Palm Meadows. At the Timonium sale in May, McEwen bought a Malibu Moon colt for $425,000 – who he named Jazz Fest – who has yet to make it to the races, and a $240,000 Distorted Humor colt named Seal Team Six, who was recently sidelined with a knee injury after finishing seventh in his debut at Aqueduct.

“He said, ‘Gary, I want to run in the big races,’ and he really took the handcuffs off and let me buy the horses I wanted, and Uncle Sigh was one of them,” Contessa said.

McEwen has seven horses with Contessa and five, including Sushi Empire, in Southern California with Eoin Harty. He also has a couple in Maryland with Monti Sims. There are 17 yearlings on the farm, some of whom will be sold.

McEwen understands that while Uncle Sigh won by 14 1/2 lengths, it is a long way from making him a Kentucky Derby contender. Saturday’s Withers, in which Uncle Sigh will face the undefeated New York-bred Samraat as well as Jerome Stakes runner-up Classic Giacnroll and the maiden winner Street Gent, should tell him more.

“It’s what everybody dreams about; we spent quite a bit of money in the 2-year-old market trying to buy a horse that could go two turns and play at that level,” McEwen said. “The reality is very few of them can stay sound long enough to go through the Triple Crown, no matter how much promise they have.

“The beauty of this game is also the toughest part of it,” he added. “The beauty of it is you never know where the next great one is coming from. That’s also the toughest part.”

For those who have it far tougher, McEwen is doing his part to make life a little easier.