08/22/2014 4:01PM

Canadian sale poised for turnaround


When the filly Lexie Lou blew away the boys in the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine on July 6, it was an important boost for Ontario’s battered breeding industry and its annual premier yearling sale, which will hold its 2014 edition Sept. 2-3 at the Woodbine sales pavilion.

Originally purchased for just $5,500 (Canadian) from the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society’s premier sale of Canadian-bred yearlings in 2012, Lexie Lou, by Ontario-based sire Sligo Bay, has won almost $1 million in purses this year and soon will attempt to make a name for herself on the international stage.

Many others foaled in Canada have had major success outside of the country in 2014, including graded stakes winners We Miss Artie, Judy the Beauty, Occasional View, and Hard Not to Like.

Mark Casse, the trainer of Lexie Lou, is one of the biggest champions of Canadian-bred and Ontario-sired runners and has bought many good ones for his American clients such as Gary Barber (Lexie Lou’s owner), Ernie Semersky’s Conquest Stables, and John Oxley.

“When I go to a horse sale, I automatically mark any Canadian-breds,” Casse told the media following his Plate win. “My owners love the Canadian program. When those owners come here, they get treated so much better than they do anywhere else. Our horses can compete anywhere in North America, but two years ago, we took a hit.”

Casse was referring to the devastating blow that the Ontario horse-racing industry took in 2012, when the successful slots-at-racetracks partnership program with the Ontario Liberal government and Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. was terminated.

Breeders sold their mares, and the local Thoroughbred market spiraled downward. As a result, the average select yearling price at last year’s CTHS sale was down 32 percent from the 2011 renewal.

However, a five-year horse-racing plan put in place by new Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has given the industry hope for the future of raising and selling yearlings, and the integration of horse racing back into the OLG provincial plan will be under full discussion by the end of August. This spring, Woodbine racetrack and the Ontario division of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association implemented a 40 percent purse bonus for Ontario-bred or -sired horses winning in open company, and in June, the CTHS boosted the breeders’ awards program from $3 million to $5 million per year.

What will this mean for this year’s sale, which begins with 201 select offerings Sept. 2 and concludes with 74 in the open session Sept. 3?

“We are all cautiously optimistic that this year will mark a turnaround,” said Glenn Sikura, president of the Ontario division of the CTHS and owner of Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms in Aurora, Ontario.

Sikura held an open house at Hill ‘n’ Dale last Tuesday to showcase his consignment, which included smart youngsters by top-class sires such as Stormy Atlantic, Philanthropist, and Sligo Bay. He is encouraged by the progress the industry has made on its own and with the government.

“The changes that were made to the racing program have served Ontario breeders well and proves locally bred horses can compete in open company,” Sikura said.

There are 81 fewer yearlings catalogued in the two sales combined compared with the 2013 renewal, which could lead to higher prices. Casse, who has rarely attended the local sale, preferring to buy Canadian-breds from American auctions, has confirmed that he will be in Toronto in late August to inspect the yearlings and plans to be a bigger player this year.

The sale is top-heavy with yearlings by Ontario stallions, and there are 38 entered in the select session from the last Ontario crop of top sire Philanthropist, who was sold to South Africa two years ago. Philanthropist has sired champions Pender Harbour and Phil’s Dream, and runners from his first five crops have earned more than $8.5 million.

Sligo Bay, the sire of Lexie Lou and 2014 Grade 3 winner Paladin Bay, has 10 select yearlings, Old Forester has 25, and last year’s leading first-crop sire, Giant Gizmo, is represented by seven select yearlings. Other local sires who are prominent in the catalog include Milwaukee Brew, Kentucky Bear, and Where’s the Ring.

American stallions represented include big-name studs such as Stormy Atlantic, Flower Alley, Grand Slam, and Langfuhr.

There is a large group of first-year sires with yearlings in the sale who will certainly grab attention. The first crops of two Spendthrift stallions, Grade 1-winning milers Court Vision and Victor’s Cry, have 16 and 12 yearlings cataloged in both sessions, respectively. Court Vision, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Mile and Woodbine Mile, is a son of Gulch from the immediate family of A.P. Indy and Summer Squall. He earned more than $3.7 million. Victor’s Cry, by Street Cry, won the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile and Grade 2 Citation Handicap while earning more than $760,000. Both Spendthrift stallions stand at Park Stud in Orangeville, Ontario.

Another exciting debut sire is Gayego, the winner of the Grade 1 Ancient Title and Grade 2 Arkansas Derby. The son of Gilded Time stands in Alberta but has three Ontario yearlings in the select session.

Other first-year sires include Queen’s Plate winner Mike Fox (by Giant’s Causeway); Archarcharch (Arch), the 2011 Arkansas Derby winner; Exhi (Maria’s Mon), who won the Grade 2 Lexington Stakes and Grade 3 Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland; Haynesfield (Speightstown), the winner of the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup; Twirling Candy (Candy Ride), the winner of the Grade 1 Malibu; graded stakes winner Society’s Chairman (Not Impossible); and stakes-placed Spaniard (Candy Ride).

Yearlings going through the Woodbine sale are eligible to the Canadian Millions Sales Stakes night of racing, held one week before the sale each year. This year, there are six stakes events set for Aug. 27 worth more than $900,000 that are open to graduates of the auction.

This year’s CTHS premier yearling sale is a pivotal moment for those breeders who have been hanging on through tough times. In order to have horses to fill the races, the breeders need an incentive to stay in the game, and better prices for their products will go a long way to turning around the Ontario industry.

Recent CTHS results

First-year sires represented