05/15/2008 11:00PM

New policy yields Queen's Plate shot for Black Canyon

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In the nine years since Free Vacation beat males in the Breeders' Stakes at Woodbine, the filly's breeders, Bill and Susan Stewart, have changed many things about their Black Canyon Thoroughbreds Ltd. operation.

One thing that has not changed, however, are the good racehorses the British Columbia couple breed.

The Stewarts are once again in the Canadian classic scene as the breeders of Giquere, a leading contender for the June 22 Queen's Plate.

Giquere, a son of Mutakkdim, used Saturday's Marine Stakes at Woodbine as his major Plate prep race for owner Mario Forgione.

In Western Canada, another Black Canyon-bred, Spaghetti Mouse, a Grade 3 stakes winner, is still going strong as a top older horse with earnings of over $565,000.

But Black Canyon, once strictly a breed-to-sell operation, is under transition as the couple plans to race all their homebreds instead of sending them to auction.

"We've changed quite a bit since [Free Vacation]," said Bill Stewart. "We peaked at 11 mares in our broodmare band at the time, because we had some younger racehorses we wanted to breed. We got down to eight for a while, and this year we have three mares that foaled and five mares who are now in foal."

Stewart said the couple also moved away from their farm of 17 years in the B.C. Interior, the property adjacent to the family's cattle property, and moved to a smaller farm closer to the city of Vancouver.

"After 17 years we got tired of the small town life," said Stewart. "We moved from 360 acres for the horses to 36 acres - not as good to raise the young horses because of the rainy weather, so we still keep our young horses still in the interior in Kamloops at a friend's farm."

The Stewarts have been racing and breeding racehorses since 1992, gravitating slightly away from Bill's family business of raising cattle and Susan's business of showing purebred dogs.

"We were looking to do something together, 50-50," said Bill Stewart, who has a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture and an MBA in international business from the University of British Columbia.

Susan, a physics and math grad from the University of Victoria, is said to be the conformation and movement expert of the couple, while Bill is the business mind.

Free Vacation, by Fly So Free out of the Fair North mare Miami Vacation, was the product of one of the first mares the couple bought.

"We owe a great debt to Bernard McCormack from Windfields Farm, who helped us, very closely, to buy our first mares," said Stewart.

Free Vacation was sold as a yearling for $55,000 U.S. to trainer Roger Attfield, who guided the filly to that big win in the Breeders', the third jewel of Canada's Triple Crown.

It was the biggest ontrack success for the Stewarts, who have also bred major stakes winners Brattothecore, who won the Bison City Stakes at Fort Erie; Sweet Monarch; and the 2005 Plate hopeful Out from Africa, all of those out of their late mare Sweet Leader.

They have also hit some home runs in the sales ring.

"We sold a filly by Silver Deputy out of a Bold Ruckus mare [Diamond Ruckus] in 2000 for $390,000 to Frank Stronach," said Stewart.

Giquere, who had a sensational career debut last December and was second in the Wando Stakes in his return to Woodbine last month, was a $117,481 U.S. yearling purchase.

He is out of the Halo mare Misty Halo.

"I stumbled across Misty Halo at the 2003 Keeneland November sale in 2003," Stewart said. "I was there selling some cull mares, and we were coming off three not very good years."

Eager to buy something, Stewart found Misty Halo, not bred, in the back of the catalogs.

He got her for $8,000.

The first mate for Misty Halo was Mutakkdim, and the result was Giquere.

As for matching mares to stallions, Stewart says the decisions are based on a consensus.

"Let's put it this way, we have a lot of arguments in September and October, but we take turns deciding on matings," he said.

All of the Black Canyon-breds will race for their breeders now. The couple have two in training at Woodbine with Terry Jordan and his assistant Anita Bolton.

Should Giquere pass his pre-Plate tests and head to the classic, the Stewarts plan to come to Toronto to watch.

"I had three pie-in-the-sky dreams when I started this business," said Stewart. "Breeding the winner of the Queen's Plate is one of them. It would be fantastic."