Built with Pride – Windhaven is still an Industry Leader
Bill Graham considers himself an optimist and in the world of the thoroughbred, positive thinking is imperative.
By: Jennifer Morrison |
The 75-year-old former football star – turned construction entrepreneur is also tough and persistent and perhaps that’s why, after 35 years in racing, his Windhaven just had the biggest year in its history.
Graham bred four of the top juvenile colts in Canada in 2012 including Grade II winner Uncaptured, considered a leading contender for the biggest race of them all, the May 4 Kentucky Derby.
“It was a pleasant surprise, actually,” said Graham about his year. “It’s all about the mares and it’s taken a long time to gather up this group. I try to breed my mares to the best stallions I can afford. You just try to keep yourself in the best company.”
Over the years. Windhaven has bred and raced dozens of stakes winners, but only once before in its history had it bred the earners in the six-figures: in 2011 when his horses collected just over $1 million.
In 2012, the Graham breds earned over $2.2 million, putting him in a prime spot to collect his first-ever Sovereign Award for Canada’s Outstanding Breeder.
Married to racing
Graham’s involvement in thoroughbreds started on a trip to Gulfstream Park racetrack in Miami, Florida when on his honeymoon with his late wife Valerie.
“We were in Florida, looking for something to do,” said Graham. “Valerie loved the racing so we went. I started looking at claiming horses after that.”
As a youngster, Graham had a horse growing up in Goderich, Ontario. “Well, it was just a horse, I would ride him, hitch him up to a horse and buggy.”
Horses did not figure in Graham’s academic life, however, as he became a sports star in high school. He played lacrosse and Junior B hockey once his family moved to Brampton, ON. He then took up football, becoming an all star halfback at Brampton High School from 1953-56.
When he made the transition from halfback to lineman he played for the East York Junior Argos and then graduated to the Canadian Football League in 1960. He played professional football for the Argos, Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions until his career was cut short due to commitments to the family construction business.
Graham Bros Construction, founded in 1959, is still going strong, building highways, roads, bridges, and industrial developments.
Despite being called to the business, Graham continued his athletics, playing rugby until the late 1960’s for the Bramalea Satellites when it won its first Canadian senior crown in 1967.
Meanwhile, Graham started up a small horse operation that was based in Brampton. The horse business began to grow through the mid 1970’s and many of his yearling purchases at American and Canadian horse sales turned to gold.
Proud Lou, a Proud Clarion filly, won the Grade I Frizette at Belmont Park in 1974 and became his first major horse.
In 1977, Majestic Kahala (Majestic Prince – Charvak, by Alcibiades) won the Grade III Nettie Stakes and retired with four stakes wins.
Graham hit the jackpot when he sold her as a broodmare prospect at auction for $2.5 million a few years later.
Movin’ on up
Windhaven moved to a 150 acre property on a hill in lavish Caledon in 1980. Complete with furlongs of paddocks, a European walker, arena, barns and his own residence, the farm continued to thrive.
Through the 1980’s Windhaven’s pink and blue diamond silks frequented the winner’s circle at all class levels.
Among the top runners was Blondeinamotel, a cleverly named Bates Motel chestnut filly who won the 1989 Woodbine Oaks and was third in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks. Graham sold her for close to a million bucks when she retired.
In the 1990s, the Graham fillies continued to reign: there was 1997 champion 3yo filly Cotton Carnival and 1999 champion 2yo filly Fantasy Lake. Cotton Carnival, who raced for Graham, is one of just two horses buried on the Windhaven property along with stakes winner and farm favourite, Silver Spook.
About 15 years ago, Graham purchased a Kentucky property of about 100 acres to complement his Canadian operation and it is there where his Canadian-born foals go a couple of weeks after birth.
Year of all years
While the total numbers of stakes winners bred and raced by Graham over more than three decades is difficult to compile, the farm has consistently produced earners of about $400,000 from the year 2000. There is no doubt, though the last two years, have been the best for Graham.
Earnings by his homebreds, whether they raced for him or others in Canada or the United States, jumped to just over $1 million in 2011, thanks to the exploits of a racy grey named Joyful Victory.
Born at the Caledon farm, Joyful Victory, a 2009 offspring by Tapit – Wild Lucy Black, by Wild Again, was sold by Graham at the 2009 Keeneland January sale as a short yearling for $60,000. He then watched her sell the following spring for $400,000 as a 2yo in training.
“You can’t keep all of them,” Graham said about selling Joyful Victory, “If we had hindsight in this business we would all be miracle workers.”
Owned by Fox Hill Stable, Joyful Victory was a multiple graded stakes winner as a three-year-old in 2011, was favoured for the Grade I Kentucky Oaks (she finished fourth) and she won or placed in six stakes races in 2012. She has earned over $600,000.
And then there was 2012 when Windhaven breds collected over $2.2 million.
Among the top runners were four of the best two-year-old colts in Canada: Uncaptured, River Seven, Star Contender and Alberta’s unbeaten Bosco.
His 32 homebred starters included 20 winners of 43 races.
Tom Beeson, Windhaven’s Kentucky farm manager for the last 15 years, remembers Uncaptured (Lion Heart – Captivating by Arch)from his early days.
“He was easy to take care of,” said Beeson. “He had a good mind, you could tell he was a quality horse from day one.”
Uncaptured’s dam, Captivating, won just $320 in two career races but Graham, who bought her for $50,000 as a yearling, kept the mare in his broodmare band.
Her first foal, the Tomahawk filly Dancing Raven, became a multiple stakes winner in the Ontario-sired ranks at Woodbine the year Uncaptured was foaled.
Following his mantra where he sells most of the colts, Graham took Uncaptured to the Keeneland September sale in 2011 and watched him bring a bid of $290,000 by trainer Mark Casse for top owner John Oxley.
Uncaptured won six of seven races in 2012 including the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs and was a finalist for the Eclipse Award for top two-year-old male. He is also the front runner for champion two-year-old colt in Canada as well as a contender for Horse of the Year.
Captivating had a 2012 filly by Majestic Warrior and is in foal to champion Uncle Mo.
There was also River Seven in the 2012 juvenile crop. The Johannesburg – Sans Souci Island, by Chester House gelding, was an $80,000 yearling for Graham and then a $60,000 two-year-old purchase by Tucci Stables. The juvenile beat Uncaptured when he won the Grade II Grey Stakes at Woodbine.
Star Contender (Henny Hughes – Sanibel Star, by Unbridled’s Song) won the Cup and Saucer Stakes for Oxley and Bosco (Street Boss – Fly Borbelota, by Pulpit) won Northlands Park’s Edmonton Juvenile Stakes.
Caledon farm manager Bob Hancock, who has lived at Windhaven for 31 years with his wife Beth (who is a top sales consignor), has run the farm since 1981.
Born in Lindsay, Hancock did not have much exposure to horses as a child and in fact, was well on his way to becoming a professional commercial helicopter pilot at the age of 22.
A snowmobile accident which left Hancock with a broken back among other injuries curtailed that career and after a stint in construction, he found his way to the horses.
Hancock worked at Windfields Farm in Oshawa, Ont. and Good Chance Farm in Ocala, Fla., before moving to Windhaven with Beth.
Hanock, along with a staff of three others, runs every aspect of the farm from boarders to horses in training to farm maintenance.
He foals all of the mares and then packs them up with their offspring to send them to Kentucky to be raised.
In 2013, Hancock has 15 mares to foal, down from the usual number of 40-50. “We had a lot of boarders from the United States not ship up this year because of the uncertainty of our industry right now (the slots-at-racetracks program is set to end in March).”
Hancock is pleased that Graham has had his best year ever and credits the owner’s perseverance.
“He breeds to the best stallions he finds,” said Hancock. “It’s a lot of luck, but when you do things right, sometimes things click.”
Graham, who was inducted into the Brampton Sports Hall of fame in 1988 and the Ontario Road Builders Association Hall of Fame in 2009, has also sat on the Ontario Racing Commission and has had a long tenure as director at Woodbine.
“I still have a passion for it all,” said Graham. “It has been an honour to be part of Woodbine and its growth over the years.”
And there is so much more to look forward to in 2013, perhaps a Sovereign Award for outstanding breeder, and maybe a Kentucky Derby or Queen’s Plate win by one of his graduates.
“It would mean a lot,” said Graham. “Certainly I’m cheering for Uncaptured, a lot of Canadian-bred horses have tried to make their way to the Derby and have not got there. It would be special.”