"It’s not what you put on your back that matters, it’s what you put inside your head." - The Sweater.
I walked out of Saturday’s Windfields Farm auction holding halters belonging to La Petite Justice and Tacky Affair, but my prized possession was a set of faded silks bleached purple by the sun.
The infamous turquoise and gold silks of Windfields Farm
In 1985, I was an 11-year-old kid standing on the rail as David Clark hugged the giant Windfields filly La Lorgnette for dear life while she bounded to victory over the boys in the Queen’s Plate. She was 17.1 hands tall and as imposing as the stable she represented.
There was a time when Windfields Farm ruled the racetrack and every aspiring jockey wanted to wear their famous turquoise and gold silks.
Between 1959 and 1964, Windfields Farm won the Queen’s Plate five times. In each victory a different jockey donned their colours. Bobby Ussery (New Providence), Avelino Gomez (Victoria Park), Jim Fitzsimmons (Flaming Page), Manuel Ycaza (Canebora) and Bill Hartack (Northern Dancer) all found crowning glory in the Windfields silks.
Welcome to Windfields Farms
The Oshawa, Ontario farm renowned as a breeding ground for horses, was also a place where jockeys took their first steps towards greatness.
Ron Turcotte rode more than 3000 winners in an 18-year career that saw him win the Kentucky Derby in consecutive years - - first in 1972 aboard Riva Ridge, and then a Triple Crown in 1973 aboard the great Secretariat.
Turcotte’s career was launched at Windfields. As the story goes, a young Turcotte went looking for work at Woodbine racetrack and eventually was allowed into the backstretch, where he met Joe Thomas, then vice-president of Windfields Farm, who offered Turcotte a job.
Like many jockeys, his career began in the trenches mucking stalls and walking horses before finally earning the chance to gallop horses for trainer Pete McCann in 1960.
Turcotte would win his first race in 1962 at Fort Erie and would become the leading rider in Canada with 180 wins. As an apprentice, Turcotte would guide Northern Dancer to his first victory.
Turcotte’s success, best defined by Secretariat, includes a lengthy career that saw him win the Canadian International, Kentucky Oaks, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Florida Derby and The Travers to name but a few. As well, the jockey is a member of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame and the Order of Canada.
The tree-lined lane to success
The education, as a precursor to this success, started under blue skies in the Windfields turquoise and gold.
Avelino Gomez went into the 1960 Queen’s Plate hoping the silks would be bullet proof.
Gomez had the call on much-favoured Victoria Park and drew the ire of one punchy punter who phoned track officials advising he would shoot Gomez on the clubhouse turn. Gomez purposely positioned his horse in a pocket of horses at the turn. "I get in a little pocket of horses so that man can't shoot me," said Gomez afterwards. During the stretch run, Gomez stood high in the irons daring the would-be assassin to take his shot.
In addition to Victoria Park, Gomez is linked with a slew of Windfields greats including Nearctic, New Providence and Titled Hero.
Gomez was inducted into the Etobicoke Hall of Fame
Gomez was a colourful character much revered at Woodbine. The man known as “El Perfecto” would leap from the irons to celebrate a win long before Lonfranco Dettori took the celebration global.
In a particularly funny TV spot for City TV broadcaster Peter Gross, Gomez agreed to be interviewed for a St. Patrick’s Day segment as the new Irish apprentice Avelin O’Gomez.
But he was more than an entertainer. Gomez won more than 4000 races in a brilliant career, was Canada’s top jockey on seven occasions and is a four-time winner of the Queen’s Plate.
Tragically, Gomez died of complications following a three-horse accident during the Canadian Oaks in 1980. A life-sized statue overlooks the paddock at Woodbine. Though shaded a solid black, it’s not hard to imagine the Gomez statue in the famous turquoise and gold.
Considered Canada’s greatest jockey, it is fitting that Sandy Hawley was born in Oshawa, Ontario - the home of Windfields Farm. In a career that spanned 31 years, the consummate competitor carved out an incredible 6,450 victories.
Hawley owns multiple victories of the Queen’s Plate, Washington D.C International, Canadian International and a host of others. Hawley and Gomez have each won the Coronation Futurity on a record five separate occasions.
In 1967, a young Hawley lived less than 10 minutes from Windfields Farms. In a recent Toronto Sun story, Hawley spoke of how he came to the farm green on the game of racing and learned his trade at the Oshawa farm.
“I remember getting thrown off when I was breaking yearlings in 1967. One time I was walking a horse to the paddock, leaned down to open the fence and the horse took off on me and dragged me down the road.” Little more than a decade later he would ride Taylor’s Regal Embrace to victory in the Queen’s Plate. “It was my fourth Plate but my biggest thrill at Woodbine because it was for E.P. Taylor - the biggest race horse owner in the country and because it was where I started.”
A July 5th, 1978 Montreal Gazette piece by Jim Coleman lauded Hawley as, “a young man, utterly unspoiled by success.”
Coleman wrote regarding Hawley’s choices for the 1978 Queen’s Plate where the jock’s services were requested by the owners and trainers of four outstanding entrants.
“It was a tribute to Hawley’s innate courtesy in his business dealings, that he chose to ride Regal Embrace, none of the owners or trainers of the other three horses was offended. And, as usual, Hawley made the correct choice because Regal Embrace’s victory earned Sandy a riding fee of $10,700.”
Two legends and a bewildered blogger
Ever prophetic, Coleman saw into the future with remarkable clarity.
“If Hawley chooses to stay with his profession for another decade, he’ll not only surpass Gomez’ record easily but, he’ll surpass Longden’s record of 6,032 riding victories.”
Hawley is undoubtedly a living legend to the sport - and one who got his start at farm that came to be known as Kentucky North.
Since 1936, the empire built by E.P Taylor grew to unmatched success.
Taylor and Windfields Farm bred a record 48 champions and 360 stakes winners including winners of more than 10,000 races and over $84 million.
Horses bred by Windfields won the Queen’s Plate on twenty-one occasions.
Major stallions bred by Windfields include Nijinsky II, The Minstrel, Storm Bird, Devil’s Bag, Archer’s Bay and Vice Regent.
Much of the success comes on the back of the irreplaceable Northern Dancer who sired 635 foals over 23 seasons.
The brilliant Northern Dancer at Windfields - with footage of the Kentucky Derby win
By 1984, Northern Dancer’s sire success was such that his stud fee soared to an unprecedented $500,000 with no guarantee of a foal. In time, that figure climbed to the million-dollar mark. His death, at the age of 29, left a legacy that cannot be surpassed.
The racing program will forever be testament to the success of Northern Dancer - a sire of champions.
In time the colours of my silks will fade completely. The material will tatter. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the inside of the silks was stamped with a simple “Windfields 0145” brand. I’m not sure what the number means, but what the colours represent is stamped indelibly on my memory.
Stamped for success
In The Sweater, Roch Carrier states, “We lived in three places - the school, the church and the skating rink - but our real life was on the skating rink."
For those that live and breathe horse racing, real life was spent at the track and some of the best years were spent cheering turquoise and gold.
(UPDATE: An email from Woodbine this morning helped clear up the mystery of "Windfields 0145". In short, "...the number 0145 on the silks is their official 'silks number' by which the silks are indexed at the colours rooms at least at Woodbine and Fort Erie and perhaps at any other North American track. This number is assigned to the silks at the time that they are registered. As an indicator for how long Windfields has held that number, modern silks numbers are roughly issued in numerical order as new silks are registered and most silks numbers in the Woodbine colours room are 5 digits long.)
What follows are photos taken on Saturday morning as thousands of racing fans came to pay their respects at an auction dispersing all of Windfields property. Soon, the land will be destroyed and turned into a housing subdivision - the graveyard, where Northern Dancer is buried, and the main barn will remain as part of a commemorative park.
(As always, left click on the photo to enlarge. Use your "Back" button to return to the post.)
Start your engines
Sign of the times
Bids 'reined' in for a piece of Windfields history
Chilled bidders looked for warmth with this Schossberg blanket
Key to Paradise
A unit of halters including one that belonged to Mobil
All was for sale
Fans poured in to pay their respects...
All around us were plaques proclaiming success
La Lorgnette - the super filly that won the Plate
Golden Choice - Still my best Queen's Plate pick
All would be sold
The public lined up to visit the grave of Northern Dancer
Vice Regent - A Canadian legend
Victoria Park - sire of 25 Stakes winners
Archer's Bay - Won two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown
Ascot Knight - His progeny earned more than $28M
X marks the spot as the auction begins
Auctioneer plays to the crowd
Saddle up, it's time to go
La Petite Justice - Son of Lit De Justice, who is a son of El Gran Senor, in turn a son of Northern Dancer.
Tacky Affair - Her dam Ascot Affair was a daughter of Ascot Knight who is a son of Danzig, in turn a son of Northern Dancer
In these fields, greatness grew
Thank you for the memories.