Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Queen's Plate Interviews: Carolyn Costigan

It's an obvious fact: the media digs feel-good stories. That story surrounding this year's Queen's Plate is of Carolyn Costigan and Roan Inish. In less than a year as a licensed trainer, Costigan has parlayed a wealth of international experience into wins in two of Canada's most important races with the filly owned by her parents. Carolyn goes about her job with a focus on the horse, a refreshing air of confidence and a not-to-be-denied attitude.

For this reporter, however, the most intriguing tidbit about Carolyn is her obvious passion for racing, and her desire to innovate the sport in an effort to generate new fans. I was fortunate this morning to spend some time with Carolyn this morning as part of an upcoming feature for The Blood-Horse, and I was able to ask her about her ideas in detail. Here is what she said:

*"Editor's Note": As Carolyn is determined that the focus should be on the horse, she may not be pleased about this. But I find it so interesting, I couldn't help it!

KNR: One of the things that I’m really interested in talking to you about is that you seem to be really interested in getting more people involved, new fans and that kind of thing, in the industry, and I wonder if you can tell me what you think are the most important things that need to happen within the industry to grow the fan base and to make the sport thrive?

CC: Money needs to be invested in advertising and giving access to the horses online. Digital media formats like YouTube. Woodbine is only now beginning to show horses doing fast works on their website. Keeneland had been doing it before, and they’re still not doing a good enough job. All the horses that worked this morning, you should be able to go on the Woodbine website, punch in their name, and watch their work. And they need to invest more in IT.

KNR: You use Twitter…

CC: That’s really easy. I didn’t know what it was. My brother was like, you’ve got to start Twittering. My brother is 25. I was asking him, what do I need to do with my website? Because he’s young, he’s seeing the new websites that are being created, and he’s online all the time so he knows what the new things are. He said you’ve got to Twitter, that’s where you need to be.

And then, I’m always reading Inc Magazine, and Wired Magazine, and all these magazines that talk about what people are doing that’s new. So I try to read them and see if there’s something I can apply, like the webcam that’s being set up. We’ve just run into so many closed doors. We’re getting there. It’s the smallest thing now that’s holding it up. But what I read about Twitter is that Twitter is supposed to bring people to your site. So like Ray Paulick is doing now, he’ll Twitter, this is the news that I posted today, and this is today’s topic, and then you bring them to your website, then they read your blog. I’m careful with the blog that it’s about the horses, and what the horses did, and I’m trying to make the blog so that it’s not just for horsemen, it’s for people that don’t know why we do certain things, or don’t know why two-year-olds need to gallop together, or that they need company, or different little things like that, like the horses had their teeth floated today, and just being able to give little tibits that someone would say, ‘oh, I had no idea that horses had to deal with that.’

Like Darley has their Darley For Kids. It’s set up for five-year-olds, but I mean, even five-year-olds are probably bored with the Darley For Kids sites. How they’re doing a diary of the foal. Well, the foal is changing every week, and that’s where the industry has to change, it has to be proactive, and it has to realize that these things are important. And that means kids want updates all the time. I don’t want to wait until next week to see a new photo of the foal. The foal is changing every day.

KNR: Well with the nature of the media now, people have become accustomed to having up to the second updates, and that’s how the industry really needs to grow to realize that.

CC: I think one of the issues that the industry faces worldwide is that the people that are in places of control and are in charge of things like the status quo, and it’s easy to keep things the same, and it’s easier to deal with the enemy you know than the enemy you don’t know, type of philosophy. Change is hard, especially for older people. I think in some respects the industry all over the world needs to work as a team, like I think marketing people in North America should go to Australia, and see how the Australians market, because they do a fantastic job there. They just need to be proactive and talk to more people who are under 25, and see what interests them, and work at it so we can keep their interest.       

There’s a famous quote out of the movie Let It Ride where the main character’s wife is with him in the Turf Club, and she says to him, “I don’t understand why everybody has to gamble, why can’t you just watch the horse race?” And he says, “there’s no racing without betting.”

There’s no racing without betting. And there’s no betting without bettors…

KNR: And there’s no bettors without fans.

CC: Exactly. And there’s no owners without fans. It all comes from the general population. If you can reach for the general population by making them fans, then you have access to them.

KNR: Can you tell me a little more about, it sounds like you’re having difficulties with the webcam thing, but what your goal with that is? Would it be online for people to see?

CC: Yeah. I have to be careful with the grooms and the guys that are working there. There are privacy issues, so if there’s nothing going on in the barn, then yes I would like the webcams to be on in the afternoon, you can go online and check out the horse. We would only do it with horses like, she’s the star of the stable right now, so it’s interesting for people to see her, even if she’s just standing in the box. It’s such a simple concept, but people are attracted to that.

KNR: Like they did with Mine That Bird last year at Santa Anita leading up to the Breeders’ Cup, he had the stall cam. It was called Bird Watching or something, it was really interesting even just to see him standing there.

CC: I actually just purchased a new helmet camera. It’s a bit more advanced than the one I had used previously. I didn’t publish anything I had used previously because the quality wasn’t good enough. Hopefully I’ll get that up and going and get some more video footage.

KNR: Aside from the marketing and publicity of the industry, do you have any great concerns regarding the health of the industry?

CC: Definitely. If you watch the Oaks race replay, and then the camera pans the grandstand, well it’s almost empty. And that just makes my heart deflate. It’s Canada’s premier race for fillies, and the grandstand has every right to be full. That’s just fan base, and that’s advertising, and that’s young people wanting to come. They have to have something they want to come for. If they don’t know about it, like here’s a filly that’s running against the boys in Canada’s biggest race. Well that’s a perfect opportunity for people that know very little about racing to say, “cool, the filly’s taking on the boys.” That should be, you know, I’m going to root for her, because she’s going to be the underdog.

KNR: Especially with fillies doing so well recently, having so many fillies beating the boys around the world recently, it should be a big topic.

CC: It should be. Like Zenyatta is hugely popular. And if the connections of Zenyatta never shared anything about her she wouldn’t have as big a fan base. She’d have the racing fan base, but she wouldn’t have an attraction from the general public, which she has because they share information about her. It’s just advertising, in a blunt format, it’s just telling people and making the information readily available.

I was asked by a couple of reporters yesterday at the BBQ, “so this horse raced in Ireland, how did she end up in Ireland?”, “Well, I was there.” “Oh, you were in Ireland?” All the information is online.

KNR: They didn’t do their research.

CC: Exactly. If they were online, they would know, because it’s been quite clearly stated. If you Google Carolyn Costigan, my website is, I’m paying Google to put the name of my website right there. If you Google Roan Inish, the same thing. If you Google David Moran, the same thing. Arravale Racing will pop up. So these people obviously aren’t online. So they’re already behind the eight ball. And I had to laugh, this one reporters said to me, “what time will you be working Roan Inish on Sunday?” I said, “oh, I’ll Twitter it on Saturday night.” “Oh, so where will I get that?” “It will be available on my website.” “Oh right, ok, so I have to go online.” “Yeah, you do have to go online.”

KNR: Oh my gosh, that’s unbelievable.

CC: Yeah, to you. How old are you?

KNR: 21.

CC: There you go. So we should be talking to people under 25 and saying “how do I get information to you?

That was my final assignment in Dubai, how to attract the next generation to racing.

KNR: What did that project entail?

CC: The website I’m doing right now. At the moment I don’t have anything other clients, I only have my dad, but when I do, the website is set up in a way, as I had done in the project, that you log in, as a client, and then you have your own virtual stable. There’s your webcam and you can see your horses, there’s your horses that you own with Arravale Racing, there’s a little comment about what your horse did today. And you can log on to the website anywhere in the world.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Queen's Plate Interviews: Adena and Attfield

An interview with Mike Rogers, Business Manager for Adena Springs North and Stronach Stables, and Sean Smullen, Farm Trainer for Adena Springs:

KNR: Can you tell me about the decision to breed to that horse (Motivator?)

MR: What happened was, there was a private offering to buy shares in him; He was a syndicated stallion. Frank reviewed it, thought it was a good investment, so we bought a share in Motivator. So we own a share in Motivator. The Queen is the controlling shareholder, but we own a share, so once we purchased a share in him, the Queen stands him at The Royal Stud, so we sent one of our mares over there to breed to him because we’re part owner and we bought a share in him. And that foal of course is Mobilizer.

KNR: So that share entitles you to one breeding per year?

MR: Yes. Actually I think the first year they allowed two. They allowed two breedings in year one with our share, and the other foal wasn’t born, the mare didn’t catch, so we only have the one foal, and that was Mobilizer.

KNR: So since then have you continued to breed a mare to him each year?

MR: No, we haven’t, we haven’t taken advantage of that share. I think one year we sold it, and then the other year he couldn’t stand because he had a health issue he was dealing with, and I’m sure this year we’ll send another mare to him.

KNR: Can you tell me why the decision was made to send that particular mare (Kris Is It, dam of Mobilizer) to Motivator?

MR: For sure it had to be a barren mare, she couldn’t be in foal, because of the timing to ship them over there, so we went through our list, we looked for mares that weren’t in foal at the time, because the timing wouldn’t have worked, because we had to get them in quarantine and get them over there. And with our typical breeding program, we don’t like to inbreed, so that foal, Mobilizer, is not inbred. So that was one of the reasons.

KNR: What time of year did you have to send her (Kris Is It) over there?

MR: We sent her over in the fall of 2005 I think it was. We boarded her at a stable over there for a while, then she bred to Motivator and we brought her back I think it was roughly 65 or 70 days after being in foal. We brought her back actually to the States first to our Kentucky farm, it was just easier, and then we shipped her up to Canada in the fall of that year, and she had Mobilizer here in Canada.

KNR: So she had to be in England a certain period of time before she was bred as part of the quarantine rules?

MR: Yeah. We just wanted to get her over there sooner, get her acclimatized. We got her in the fall and she was bred that winter. She got covered early, early January. We’ve sold her since, we probably shouldn’t have.

KNR: That’s usually how it goes, right? I wonder if you can tell me if you have any memories of Mobilizer as a foal? Was he a standout?

MR: Me, I’m the business manager, but I was always getting reports that he was well liked. And then when he was being broken as a young horse at our Florida farm, the trainer down there said he was clearly standing out as one of the better ones. Then when we got him to Roger Attfield. He immediately liked him. He liked him right away. When he was two years old, Roger said, ‘let’s be patient with this horse’, and we’ve done whatever Roger recommended, but he liked him from day one, so he’s clearly shown himself as having above average abilities right from the very beginning.

KNR: Do you know of anyone I could speak to who worked with him at a young age?

SS (Sean Smullen, who happened to be standing nearby): He was with a group of two year olds that came up that year and started breezing a little bit on the farm. I mean he really stood out. He was the one that would jump out at you. I remember watching him breeze, and he just stood out amongst them, you know what I mean?

KNR: This was as a two-year-old?

SS: This was as a two-year-old after coming up from Adena Springs South.

KNR: Can you tell me what his course of action was, after he was broke as a yearling, what he did from there before he began his career?

SS: The majority of the two-year-olds ship from Adena Springs South up to Adena Springs North. He just started to progress a lot at the early stages. We just started breezing them a bit, then they went to their various trainers. So he was at the farm for a short period of time and had a couple of early breezes then went on to Roger.

KNR: Mike, one more comment from you. You know obviously the last time the Queen was here was in 1997, of course another Stronach homebred that year (winner Awesome Again). Do you think that’s an omen?

MR: I don’t know, it would be fantastic, it’s definitely pretty exciting. You know, she invited us over for dinner. All the shareholders in Motivator, we went over to Windsor Castle and had dinner with her, so she’s clearly had a connection already, so it would be great to see this horse win.

KNR: When did you get to do that?

MR: It was May of 2006, so Motivator’s first year at stud, she invited all the shareholders over for dinner, so we had dinner at Windsor Castle. It was amazing.

KNR: Well maybe you’ll get to meet up with her again.

MR: That would be great.

 A few comments from Roger Attfield, trainer of Mobilizer:

KNR: Roger, how do you feel about Mobilizer coming in off of his big effort in the Plate Trial? Do you feel confident in him?

RA: I think that probably would have done him some good, because he’s a horse that didn’t run as a two-year-old, and the schedule I put together for him I think has made sense, and I’m happy with it. I would have liked to have seen him win that race, but he ran a good race. He was really tight there inside and I think he still gets a little antagonized when that happens, and we thought maybe he hung a bit, Jono thought he had plenty of horse there and he should have got up, but he actually did get his head in front there, and the other horse really dug in and run hard. Maybe that’s what got me beat, and Jono tried to actually run the horse strongly. I might run him in cheaters on the day, you know the cheater blinkers, because he just might hang a little bit when he gets to a horse, you know?

KNR: He’s clearly a very talented horse, so I wonder if you could tell me when you started seeing that talent with him?

RA: I saw it as a two-year-old, I was very high on him as a two-year-old, but he was very immature and that’s why I didn’t run him as a two-year-old. He had a few baby aches and pains that stopped me from moving forward maybe at the end of the year, but basically if I had run him, it would only have been once or twice at the end of the year.

*Look for a feature on Mobilizer later this week on Bloodhorse.com.

Artic Feeling

Oh, the racing game. It never fails to humble. Anyone who has been involved long enough has tasted its notoriety for devastation and disappointment. As quickly as you are on top, you’re booted to the bottom.

Just two days ago, I could not have been higher. I was tooting the horn of Artic Fern, the Queen’s Plate contender I had foaled, helped raise, and broke at Gustav Schickedanz’s Schonberg Farm. I would tell the story of the night he was born, and remind everyone that I was the first to sit on this rising star’s back. I told all my family and friends, “put your money on this horse. He’s for real. This is the one.”

Artic Fern would be the one. It all made sense. His breeding suggested it: He is by Langfuhr, sire of a Queen’s Plate winner (Wando), out of Wood Fern, a full sister to a Queen’s Plate winner (Woodcarver). This year, the Queen would be coming to the Plate, which is to be run on my birthday, the fourth of July. Artic Fern is three for four, riding a three-racing winning streak displaying versatile running styles. And he couldn’t be going for better people: both Schickedanz and trainer Mike Keogh are the picture of class and humility, and well-loved by many at Woodbine and in the global industry. Yes, everything seemed to be falling in to place, and the excitement was electrifying.

That was until a late night phone call on June 27. Upon hearing the news, my head seemed to stop working, and all of the strength seemed to leave my body. In an instant, the electricity was gone, and I found myself leaning against the wall for support as I fought back tears of disappointment and anger. The feeling is as cold as the Artic.

Artic Fern had his final work in preparation for the Plate on Saturday the 26th, moving five furlongs in 1:00.40. He exited the work in good order, but came up lame Sunday morning. His chances looked dim Sunday evening, and he was officially withdrawn from consideration on Monday morning.

So this is where our story ends. But the end of one story must mean the beginning of another, and perhaps bigger things are in store for Artic Fern and Gus's stable. While the disappointment is still crippling, the best I can do is be thankful that it wasn’t worse; Artic Fern is still in the barn, and with some better luck, will live to run another day. I will now have to shift my interests back to D’s Wando and Mobthewarrior, the two Plate contenders bred and sold by Schickedanz. 

Queen's Plate BBQ

We are officially within a week of the 151st running of the Queen's Plate, and on June 28, Woodbine Racetrack hosted a barbecue to honour this year's contenders. The event kicked off at 12 pm with nine of the expected runners parading in the Woodbine paddock, with track announcer Dan Loiselle providing commentary to the media and horse connections assembled. The Sid Attard-trained Ghost Fleet was the first horse to the paddock, and was followed by the royally bred Mobilizer, D's Wando, Vicar Street, Mobthewarrior, Smart Sky, Dark Cloud Dancer, Giant's Tomb, and the filly Roan Inish. While all of the horses turned out quite well, standouts to this reporter were Mobilizer, Mobthewarrior, and Roan Inish. Dark Cloud Dancer, the most regally bred horse in the field (Storm Cat - Dancethruthedawn, by Mr. Prospector) was also nothing to frown at.

Here are some photos of the early Queen's Plate contenders. With six days remaining until the big dance, last minute additions are still possible, but the current probable field stands at 12 with the June 28 defection of Artic Fern.

Ghost Fleet with trainer Sid Attard (left)

Mobilizer, son of Motivator

Mobilizer shows some spunk

D's Wando

Longshot maiden Vicar Street

2-year-old stakes winner Mobthewarrior

Smart Sky

Gorgeous and regally-bred Dark Cloud Dancer

Another Sam-Son hopeful: Giant's Tomb (by Awesome Again)

And the filly: Roan Inish

A family affair: Roan Inish with trainer Carolyn Costigan (at head) and owners Bob and Nora Costigan. The Costigan's also campaigned Roan Inish's dam, Inish Glora.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Pedigree Fit For a Queen

Thoroughbred breeder Gustav Schickedanz is a risk taker. And for good reason. How else would the 81-year-old horse enthusiast from Germany have produced more than 40 stakes winners from a small program of mainly breeding homebreds to homebreds?

This is the formula Schickedanz used to produce his 2003 Queen’s Plate winner and Horse of the Year Wando, along with his sire and dam, Langfuhr, and Kathie’s Colleen. Schickedanz has twice won the Queen’s Plate with homebreds (the first being Woodcarver in 1999), but it has been seven years since he tasted victory in Canada’s most important classic, and Schickedanz is hungry for more. That’s why when planning the mating for his 2010 Queen’s Plate contender Artic Fern, Schickedanz took no chances.

Schickedanz loves to win the Plate, and each successful attempt or near miss seems to only fuel the fire. So when Artic Fern, highly touted by trainer Mike Keogh prior to his first start, finished an impressive second in his career debut, Schickedanz began making plans. Those plans were confirmed June 5 when Artic Fern cruised to victory over 1 1/16 miles on the Woodbine Polytrack, toying with a highly-regarded field that included multiple Sovereign Award winner True Metropolitan and the up and coming Good General. Artic Fern notched his third consecutive victory as the only three-year-old in the allowance contest, punching his ticket to the Plate and indicating his chances at serving Schickedanz his third Plate win in 11 years.

The pedigree plan behind Artic Fern was a simple one: to produce a Plate horse. One need only look at the dark bay’s sire and dam to see the pattern. Artic Fern is a genetic mixture of Schickedanz’s two Plate winners, Woodcarver and Wando, and he seems to have reaped the best of both champions.

Artic Fern is by Langfuhr, the sire of Wando, and out of Wood Fern, a full sister to Woodcarver. Langfuhr, who finished fifth in the 1995 Plate, is out of Sweet Briar Too, another Schickedanz homebred who also produced stakes winners Princess Ruckus and Wonneberg. Sweet Briar Too and her dam, Prima Babu Gum, are both still owned by Schickedanz, and are living out their lives as retired broodmares at his Long Leaf Plantation in South Carolina. Langfuhr is by Danzig, and is the product of a no guarantee season purchased at auction by Schickedanz at the height of Danzig’s prime.

Wood Fern is one of two full sisters to Woodcarver that Schickedanz has retained for his broodmare band. The other is Forest Flute, the dam of 2009 multiple stakes winner Woodsmoke. Retired early this year, Woodsmoke has joined the Schickedanz broodmare band in foal to More Than Ready.

Artic Fern is the second foal from Wood Fern. Her first foal, Longlasting, races in Maryland. Wood Fern’s current two-year-old, interestingly enough, is a Wando colt named Sharpshot. Hypothetically, should Artic Fern taste victory in the Plate, Sharpshot would be by a Schickedanz Plate winner, out of a full sister to a Schickedanz plate winner, and a three-quarter brother to a Schickedanz Plate winner. Whoa. We can dream, right?

Sharpshot as a foal with Wood Fern.

It is also worth noting that Artic Fern is a result of the same Langfuhr/Woodman nick that has produced Wando and two other stakes winners. Woodman mares have provided the most prolific nick for Langfuhr, with 17 winners from 22 starters for earnings of almost $4 million.

For the record, Artic Fern’s name is a combination of Wood Fern and Briartic, the sire of Sweet Briar Too.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I worked for Gus Schickedanz for four years, and as you can well imagine, I think he’s awesome. Having spent a lifetime with horses and having made his fortune as a homebuilder, Gus has a rare combination of horsemanship and compassion that allows him to understand his horses and provide them with the greatest of care, sparing them no necessity. I want nothing more come July 4 than to see him win his third Plate.

Below are more foal photos of Artic Fern (I was lucky enough to help deliver him). Enjoy!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame

On the evening of June 2, the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame at Woodbine Racetrack hosted a wine and cheese reception to introduce its 2010 inductees and to unveil display cases for Hall of Fame members Hugo Dittfach and Gustav Schickedanz.

The event began with a video tribute to the 2009 and 2010 inductees. Each human and horse were honoured with a few seconds of video clip displaying their character or greatest moments. After a few words from Woodbine handicapper Jim Bannon and new Hall of Fame president John Stapleton, the display cases honouring Dittfach and Schickedanz were unveiled.

Dittfach, an inductee of 1983, strung together a career that made him one of the foremost jockeys in Canadian Thoroughbred racing history. A winner of 4,000 races, Dittfach was a leading rider across the country, picking up titles in Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, and Ontario. Dittfach won the Queen’s Plate, Canada’s premier race and North America’s oldest continually run Thoroughbred race, in 1961. Among his accolades are a Sovereign Award as leading Canadian rider, and the 1991 Avelino Gomez Memorial Award.

Schickedanz, a longtime Ontario owner and breeder, was inducted into the Hall in 2009. Schickedanz’s horses call Schonberg Farm in Schomberg, Ontario their home, but the 81-year-old Schickedanz’s success has extended across the world. Most notably the breeder of multiple grade I winner and leading sire Langfuhr and his champion sons Wando and Mobil, Schickedanz is the only Canadian to have bred the winners of the Kentucky Oaks (Gal in a Ruckus), and the Arlington Million (Jambalaya).

The 2010 induction ceremony will take place on August 19 at the Mississauga Convention Centre. Leading this year’s inductees is Victory Gallop, the Canadian-bred winner of the 1998 Belmont Stakes. Victory Gallop, bred in Ontario by Ivan Dalos, placed second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. The son of Cryptoclearance won an Eclipse award in 1999 as champion Older Male.

Also to be honoured in the horses category are Lady Angela and Victorian Era, both long overdue for recognition. Lady Angela is best known as the dam of Nearctic, sire of Northern Dancer. Victorian Era was Canada’s Horse of the Year in 1966.

Also worth noting is Mel Lawson, who, like Schickedanz, is a veteran contributor to the industry with his Jim Dandy Stables. Lawson has campaigned Sovereign Award winners Eternal Search, Let’s Go Blue, and Ginger Gold during his nearly 50 years in the industry.

From the standpoint of an industry participant and fan, and having worked for Schickedanz for nearly five years, the reception provided for a very enjoyable evening. The Hall of Fame looks better than ever, with enough well thought out and interesting displays to keep any racing enthusiast busy for hours.

For more information and a complete list of 2010 inductees, visit canadianhorseracinghalloffame.com.