It’s usually the sport of horse racing that bring brothers Brent and Russell McLellan together and Ricoh Woodbine Mile contender Dragon Bay has taken them on a thrilling ride to some of their bucket list racetracks they never thought was possible as kids growing up watching the races at Stampede Park with their father.
A two-time Grade 2 stakes winner this year at Woodbine, Dragon Bay has also raced stateside with success, winning the $100,000 English Channel Stakes last October at Belmont.
“He has taken us on a very cool ride,” said Russell of five-time winner Dragon Bay, who has earned nearly $365,000 in purses. “He has taken us to racetracks and to races that sitting back as kids growing up at Stampede Park you never thought would be possible, like running in the Woodbine Mile, running at Saratoga or in Keeneland – those have all sort of been bucket list racetracks that we always wanted to have a horse compete at and then for him to be a stakes level horse, it’s just been awesome.”
Attending the track in Calgary as young boys with their father Roy is how they developed a love for horses, watching the impressive equine athletes get ready for the races and train in the mornings. As they got older, the brothers started a syndicate with their father and delved into horse ownership themselves from there in partnership with trainer and long time family friend Stuart Simon.
“We’re just a couple of prairie boys that are pretty happy to end up where we’ve ended up right now,” said Russell leading up to Saturday’s $800,000 Ricoh Woodbine Mile (Grade 1).
Brent fondly recalls winning his first Woodbine race as one of his highlights as an owner after moving to the Greater Toronto Area in the mid-1990s, and later success with Atlantic Hurricane, who was claimed for $40,000 early in her four-year-old year and rose up the ranks to be named Sovereign Award Champion Female Sprinter in 2011. Of course, Dragon Bay has taken them on their latest journey.
“It was a thrill to win a race at Woodbine for the first time with Stu and then having Atlantic Hurricane and just seeing Dragon Bay win at Belmont last year. He took us to Saratoga, which was a fantastic, and into this Woodbine Mile, which is another real iconic race that I’d love to be a part of,” said Brent, who operates a valve and fitting distribution business in Ontario and Atlantic Canada while his younger brother Russell is also a business owner in Alberta.
The thrill of the sport is just one aspect the brothers enjoy, particularly the ability to travel and meet new people, but they agree the real attraction is being able to share those experiences with family.
“It’s not necessarily the races, but it’s the time that we get together because we live on opposite sides of the Canada,” said Russell. “It’s usually the races that bring us together so it’s about the time that we spend together while we’re at these events, which is pretty cool. We usually go to the backstretch and bug Stuart a little bit and watch the horses exercise in the morning, talk, laugh, go have breakfast. It’s just the part of being together as a family around an event and then if you happen to win, that’s the cherry on the top. But really at the end of the day, it’s more just about spending some quality time together.”
Their love of racing is enhanced by the partnership they have with Stuart, who has trained and owned horses with the McLellan family for almost 30 years, starting out with Brent and Russell’s father in Western Canada. (Roy still owns horses there with Hall of Fame trainer Harold Barroby.)
“Stuart’s a very good trainer, but what I find most about Stuart is he’s an even better human being,” noted Russell. “I’ve just watched him transact with people in the backstretch and the horses that he deals with. My brother and I are incredibly lucky to be associated with a guy like Stuart. He’s just made it so much more enjoyable from a business aspect and we’re just very lucky to have Stuart as our trainer.”
Like brothers, they joke with Stuart that Dragon Bay has given him a few grey hairs with his juvenile antics earlier in his career, but praise Stuart’s horsemanship skills as an integral part of the four-year-old chestnut gelding’s success.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun win or lose,” said Brent of Saturday’s Woodbine Mile. “These type of races are special to be in. He’s a real neat horse, physically fantastic and mentally he’s a happy horse, but he likes to do a few things on his own and I think he’s a bit of a training challenge for Stu. But he’s been worth the effort. We’ve had a lot of fun with him.”