By Dan Kenny
The 2-year-old sale catalog contained the usual legalese regarding the conditions of sale. It also guaranteed the 14 entrants had received no medication or growth hormones other than worming and vaccinations. Buyers were eligible to a substantial refund of their purchase price if the horse did not win a race by the end of its 4-year-old campaign. X-rays were provided at no cost to the buyer. And one more thing…the juveniles had been ridden or experienced truck training every day except Sundays for the previous six months.
Prominent Canadian horseman Dick Bonnycastle had a notion in the fall of 2004 to import a batch of inexpensive yearlings and auction them off as 2-year-olds. The idea was to inject some new blood in the province of Alberta while anticipating construction of a new track in Calgary.
Bonnycastle dispatched Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Delahoussaye and longtime consultant Tony Goswell to various sales to round up suitable stock. The horses were then shipped to Bonnycastle’s Harlequin Ranch and manager Dwayne Hayworth.
Hayworth had convinced his boss that young horses could be brought to racing fitness with a regimen that included truck training. Four horses at a time were tethered to a vehicle and exercised at controlled speed by the driver. It’s a bit like a coach-and-four, with an SUV instead of a coach.
Sale day arrived in May 2005, and a curious crowd of 200 witnessed a one-furlong breeze-up on the Harlequin Ranch training track. We came up short a flagman and Eddie D. graciously volunteered for the role. The author was recruited to serve as auctioneer from the back of a pickup truck.
Barbecue and Bloody Marys put the potential bidders in a mellow mood, and the first horse led in was a gray filly by Real Quiet out of Canderic, by Runaway Groom.
Most of the spectators were locals, but trainer Jean Spence journeyed 500 miles from Vancouver to attend. She had tipped me off pre-sale that she fancied the gray filly and had a budget of $15,000. That bid was raised to $16,000. Cajoled into a $500 bump, Spence took home a filly, now named Real Candy, who would win the Canadian grade III British Columbia Breeders’ Cup Oaks at Hastings Racecourse. Fresh from a second in a Hastings stakes Aug. 6, Spence has shipped to Woodbine with an eye to turf racing, which is unavailable in Western Canada.
Minutes later, Hip No. 3 strode into the ring, the only horse in the sale with a reserve price. The filly by Vicar—Episode, by Kris S., failed to attract a bid of $25,000 and Bonnycastle’s California trainer Paddy Gallagher bought her in for that figure.
Vestrey Lady is her name and she captured the Canadian grade III Royal North Stakes at Woodbine Aug. 6, boosting her earnings to $480,913. Her dam is a half-sister to Mr. Greeley. When Street Sense showed up in the family, her breeding value soared to new heights.
No. 5 also turned out to be a stakes performer, a Kiridashi colt purchased by active Alberta owner Danny Dion.
Two stakes winners and a stakes-placed horse from 14 entries proves the point Hayworth and Bonnycastle were trying to make.
“My dad used to train his mare the same way on the farm years ago,” said Hayworth. “It’s not like we’re inventing anything new. What I find works best is that the horses use a more natural stride without a rider. And we can do more with them, sometimes going three, four miles on our one-mile track.”
Bonnycastle serves as chairman of the Jockey Club of Canada and has horses in training all over the world. He is not averse to trying something new. After all, one of his trainers is Michael Dickinson.
Delahoussaye offered a rational explanation for the project’s success. “For the price range we were dealing with, there was no sense vetting them,” he said. “Tony and I would wait until we saw one we liked and we’d go try to buy it. Vestrey Lady had some X-ray issues and a partnership was being dissolved as well. Lots of these OCDs people back away from don’t end up bothering them when they race.”
As it turns out, the Calgary racetrack has stalled for the time being. Bonnycastle’s neighborly gesture may lead others to emulate his success. Either way, the particpants said they had a lot of fun while beating the odds. Vestrey Lady is now a filly worth probably a seven-figure sum.
Does this mean that Bonnycastle intends to, well, keep on truckin’?
“You bet I do,” he said.
Dan Kenny is a bloodstock agent and partner in Four Star Sales.