08/17/2013 3:23PM

Catching Up With: Wando

Michael Burns Photo Ltd.
Jockey Patrick Husbands celebrates aboard Wando as they win the 2003 Breeders' Stakes, clinching the Canadian Triple Crown.

The gentle nature of the coppery chestnut stallion in the field at Gustav Schickedanz’s Schonberg Farm near Nobleton, Ontario, belies his background as one of the most celebrated runners of his generation.

“He’s a true gentleman,” farm manager Lauri Kenny says of Wando. “He’s a really old soul, a lovely horse.”

So gentle is Wando, in fact, that some days he behaves more like a family pet than a Thoroughbred stallion.

“When he’s out in the middle of his field grazing, if you’re agile enough, you can throw a leg right over and sit on his back, and he’ll walk along and graze a little bit with you on his back – and not have any problem with that at all,” Kenny said. “He is so relaxed. I’ve never seen him nip at anyone or bite at anyone. If he’s lying down, you could walk over and lay down with him between his legs and put your head on his tummy.

“But he certainly had fire on the racetrack.”

That fire burned bright a decade ago this month, as Wando posted a game victory over Shoal Water in the Breeders’ Stakes to become Canada’s seventh, and most recent, Triple Crown winner.

“As it gets farther away – and we know there won’t be a Triple Crown winner this year – the longer it gets, it’s actually more impressive to look back at,” Kenny said. “When you win some big races, especially the Triple Crown, for weeks after, you’ll be walking around, and you’ll just sort of jump in the air. That’s something that’s with you forever.”

Wando was the product of Schickedanz’s long-crafted breeding program. The owner was born in Germany, where his family raised Trakehner horses at a farm along the Baltic Sea. Schickedanz emigrated to Canada in 1950, and he and three brothers made their fortune in the family business, the construction company Schickedanz Brothers Ltd. His family involvement extends into racing – one of his brothers originally dabbled in Thoroughbred ownership with him, and his nephew is embattled owner Bruno Schickedanz, who is not affiliated with the Schonberg operation.

After dabbling in horse racing during the 1960s, Gustav Schickedanz began acquiring fillies in the following decade to build up a broodmare band. Kenny, who has worked for Schonberg for 28 years, takes pride that the farm's success has been largely accomplished independently of some of the major commercial stars of the industry.

"We did breed to Danzig [a few times], and Mr. Prospector once, and we bought a mare in foal to Danzig that we sold after," Kenny said. "But mostly, it's been Langfuhr, or breeding locally, or breeding to lesser-known, smaller stallions."

The seeds of Wando's success were sown in the early 1990s, immediately following a devastating year for Schonberg.

“In 1991, we had a virus abortion storm,” Kenny said. “We had 17 mares in foal and nine live foals. And the first mare to abort was in foal to Seattle Slew. It was a devastating year. But the next year, we had 20 foals, 17 starters, 17 winners, and six stakes winners.”

The standout from the crop of 1992 was Langfuhr, who earned the 1996 Sovereign Award as Canada’s champion sprinter. Another 1992 foal for Schonberg was Kentucky Oaks winner Gal in a Ruckus, who raced for John Oxley.

Also in the crop was Kathie’s Colleen, a daughter of Woodman who got a rough start to life but quickly became a farm favorite.

“She was an orphan – her mum died in the breeding shed when she was 28 or 29 days old, and she was raised on a nurse mare,” Kenny said. “You spend so much more time with [nurse-mare foals], just getting them to nurse, [and] they always are a little more special.”

Kathie’s Colleen went on to win the Grade 2 Monmouth Oaks before joining the Schonberg broodmare band. In the spring of 1999 – just months before Schickedanz notched his first Queen’s Plate win with Woodcarver – she was bred to Langfuhr, and she delivered the resulting colt, Wando, on Feb. 23, 2000.

Like all the Schonberg yearlings, Wando was raised and broken to saddle at his birthplace, then sent to trainer Mike Keogh in South Carolina just after the holidays in 2001.

"He was definitely a standout from the first time I saw him," Keogh told Daily Racing Form in 2003. "He was such a good-looking horse. He had a very strong presence about him."

Wando won three of his first four starts, including two stakes, as a juvenile, but disappointed when he ran 12th in the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Arlington. Still, the colt was made the winter-book favorite for the Queen’s Plate. He lived up to that billing with a strong prep season, finishing second by a neck in the Achievement Handicap, winning the Woodstock Stakes, and then rolling in the Grade 3 Marine Stakes by 4 1/2 lengths.

Schickedanz and Keogh held a strong hand for that 144th edition of the Queen’s Plate, as they planned to start both Wando and Mobil, another son of Langfuhr. The latter colt, a multiple stakes winner as a juvenile, easily took both of his prep races, including the Plate Trial Stakes. Todd Kabel was the regular rider of both colts that spring, and the Monday before he Queen's Plate, he elected to ride Mobil in the classic, putting Patrick Husbands aboard Wando.

Despite Kabel’s defection, Wando was sent off as the favorite – and, true to prediction, he was indeed out front, leading at every call. Ahead by a length with a quarter mile remaining, he extended the lead to five in upper stretch, and continued rolling to win by nine over Mobil, stopping the clock in 2:02.48. Mobil would go on to win four Grade 3 races and be named Canada’s champion older horse in 2004.

Wando next won the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie – the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown – by four lengths before returning to Woodbine to contest the final leg, the Breeders’ Stakes, a 1 1/2-mile test on turf. He would be facing a trio of runners sent out by Sam-Son Farm, led by Shoal Water, third in the Prince of Wales, along with stablemates Colorful Judgement and Parasail.

Wando, who departed from the front-running tactics he had successfully employed to stalk the pace early, emerged from traffic on the turn to rally three-wide after the Sam-Son colorbearers, kicking clear late to win by 1 1/2 lengths as Shoal Water held second. Despite not being at the track that day, Kenny’s memories of Wando’s Triple Crown-sealing win are vivid.

“I was there for the first two [wins], and then Mobil was running in the West Virginia Derby on Breeders’ Stakes Day, and Mr. Schickedanz asked me to go to West Virginia with Mobil,” Kenny said. “So, I saw the race on a computer screen as Mobil was in the paddock. The elation was just unbelievable. I’ve watched replays of that race so many times. [Wando] showed an awful lot of heart to get up.”

The Triple Crown was the height of Wando’s form and led to his recognition in 1993 as Canada’s Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male. He would win only three more races at 4 and 5, including the Mt. Sassafras Stakes at 4, and retire with 11 wins from 23 career starts and earnings of $2,563,038, which included a bonus for winning the Triple Crown.

Wando's Triple Crown sweep, followed by Mobil's championship season, helped lift the spirits of Schickedanz, who was in poor health at the time following a series of strokes.

"Wando and Mobil were doing so well, it really picked him up and got him well when most people don't survive three strokes like that,” Kenny said. "He lost his speech for quite awhile. It took him about a year and a half to get back to normal."

Wando entered stud at Will Farish’s Lane’s End in Versailles, Ky., alongside his sire, but struggled to attract attention in the high-end Kentucky market. His stud fee dropped from an initial $10,000 in 2006 to $5,000 in 2010. That summer, he was repatriated to Schonberg to stand at his birthplace, alongside Mobil, who has since relocated to Ohio. Although he has settled in well, Wando, who stands for 3,500 Canadian dollars, remains quite active.

“When Langfuhr started out at Vinery, he made crop circles,” Kenny said. “He will walk around and around and around. Wando is also like that – he does an awful lot of walking. He probably put on 100 pounds when Mobil left [because he was more relaxed]. But when spring comes, when breeding season comes, he’s probably going to start walking again.”

Despite moving to the region he excelled in as a racehorse, Wando has not attracted much interest as a sire, in part because of the overall uncertainty about the Canadian bloodstock market due to the government’s elimination of the Slots at Racetracks program. According to statistics on file with The Jockey Club, Wando bred 10 mares in 2010, his final season in Kentucky. He bred 15 and 18 mares, respectively, in his next two seasons in Canada. He is not alone in struggling with the size of his book. According to The Jockey Club's Report of Mares Bred for 2012, the number of stallions in Ontario dropped from 71 in 2011 to 66 last year, while the number of mares bred fell 7.7 percent, to 1,288. 

Through Aug. 11, Wando had sired 66 winners from 97 starters for total progeny earnings of $4,895,150. Far and away his best runner is Turallure, who emerged from his first crop in 2007. A 4-D Stables homebred trained by Charlie LoPresti, Turallure has bankrolled $1,363,314, scoring his biggest win in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile in 2011 and finishing second by a nose in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile.

Wando is also the sire of Wando Woman, a multiple stakes winner at Hastings Park; Grade 1-placed Associate; and stakes-placed winners D's Wando, Run to the Bank, Willa Wando, Wando Redd, Decadent, and Mr. Woodrow.

Kenny cited Wando’s lack of standout juveniles as one reason the stallion has struggled to maintain commercial viability, noting that Langfuhr’s offspring also tend to improve as older runners.

“Wando makes a bigger foal than Langfuhr, it seems. He turns out a big horse,” Kenny said. “They maybe take a little longer, and maybe if they were given a little more time, they might mature.

“Wando does make a big, good-looking yearling," Kenny added. "A lot resemble him, maybe even a little bigger. Maybe if they were a little smaller, they might be a little handier at 2.”

Wando’s first Canadian-sired foals are yearlings, and Schonberg houses 12. The majority of those will be offered between the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society’s Ontario Division selected yearling sale and the Keeneland September yearling sale as Schickedanz, 84, cuts back on his program.

“Mr. Schickedanz is 84 now and is cutting back on the farm,” Kenny said. “We have 46 horses here, normally we would have 70 or 75. This started before the slots problem at Woodbine. We didn’t know what would be happening in the long term. He’s had some health issues over the years, so we’re cutting back every year. We foaled 11 last year, we’ll foal eight or nine next year.”

Schickedanz, however, plans to retain the final foal out of Kathie’s Colleen, a Curlin filly.

“She’s special; she’s like a family member, so we’re keeping her,” Kenny said. “He probably will keep one other filly, possibly [one by] Wando, to keep her company.”

While her son makes his way as a sire in Canada, Kathie’s Colleen, now 21, is retired on Schickedanz’s farm in Springfield, near Aiken, S.C., where the owner winters with his wife. The farm’s other residents include Langfuhr’s dam, Sweet Briar Too (now 27), and grandam, Prima Babu Gum (33), along with Sovereign Award-winning champion sprinter Glanmire (23).

“The Schickedanzes really look after the horses that have been good to them,” Kenny said. “They look after them like family.”