Gustav Schickedanz: Builder, Thoroughbred Breeder and Good Friend
In April, Gustav Schickedanz, a Canadian horse racing legend, will be honoured with the E.P. Taylor Award of Merit at the Sovereign Awards.
By: Keith McCalmont |
In April, longtime owner/breeder Gustav Schickedanz will be honoured (along with Bill Graham) with the E.P. Taylor Award of Merit recognizing life-long dedication and commitment to thoroughbred racing and breeding in Canada.
Born in Memel, Germany, the 89-year-old Schickedanz grew up to parents who bred Trakehner horses and other livestock. His family escaped the advancing Nazi regime near the end of World War II, and a 21-year-old Gustav immigrated to Canada in 1950.
A bricklayer and stonemason by trade, Schickedanz and his brothers formed one of the largest homebuilding outfits in Ontario, and would later fulfill his dreams by laying the foundation for one of the most successful breeding operations in Canadian racing history.
Inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2009 in the Builder category, the famous red and black striped Schickedanz silks have represented the Canadian breeding industry since the early 1970s.
His legion of successes includes such stars as Langfuhr, a three-time Grade 1 winner in the U.S., who went on to become a prolific sire notably producing his Canadian Triple Crown champion Wando as well as Eclipse Award-winner Lawyer Ron, the Sovereign Award-winning Mobil, and Jambalaya, who remains the only Canadian-bred to have won the Arlington Million.
Schickedanz also bred Gal in a Ruckus, who in 1995 flew the flag for Canada while zipping wire-to-wire to win the Kentucky Oaks. She is still the only Canadian-bred to have captured the ‘Lillies for the Fillies.’
KENNY AND KEOGH KEY
Shoulder to shoulder with Schickedanz through much of this success was his longtime farm manager Lauri Kenny and trainer Mike Keogh.
Kenny is in his 34th year with Schickedanz and has pulled many a stakes winner into the light on Schönberg Farm, a stunning property spread over some 350 acres of southern Ontario farmland.
He looks back fondly on the moment they first spoke about the farm manager position.
“All I asked was to be treated fairly and he said, ‘I will treat you like family.’ We’ve always had a great relationship,” said Kenny. “Gus is a go-getter and his word is his bond. He’s always been the most positive person you could imagine and he’s a really good friend.”
Schickedanz, when in better health, loved to ride horses across the breadth of his acreage.
“He was an out-and-out horseman,” said Kenny. “His grandfather raised horses that would go into Russia and across Europe to France, because that’s how the army got around back then. The family were horsepeople first.”
Kenny and Schickedanz traveled back and forth across the continent to horse sales on many occasions together.
“Going to Kentucky to the sales we’d always drive. We’d stop in Windsor for gas and had sandwiches and coffee in a flask,” Kenny said. “We’d drive straight on to Lexington and stayed in the Marriott Griffin Gate.
“When we went to the sales, Gus always had a specific type of horse in mind. And if you look at our broodmare band over the years, they’re more quarter horse-type than the big thoroughbreds. There were no big monster mares, they were all a similar type.”
DAM OF A PLATE WINNER
It was on one of these trips that Schickedanz would purchase the dam of his first Queen’s Plate winner, the 1999 victor Woodcarver, for a princely sum. The dam, Sharpening Up, would earn a Sovereign Award in 1999 as Outstanding Broodmare, an honour that seemed unlikely to Kenny at the time.
“He bought Sharpening Up for $340,000. She was in foal to Secretariat, who had just passed. She was one of the first to foal that year and I waited three days to call Gus because I’ve never seen a worse looking foal in my life,” Kenny said, laughing.
But success soon followed as Sharpening Up produced the multiple stakes winner All Firmed Up; the graded stakes winner Firm Dancer; and, of course, Woodcarver, who in addition to his Plate triumph took Sovereign Award honours as Champion Three-Year-Old.
“She was broodmare of the year after that and she was the most gorgeous looking broodmare you ever did see,” Kenny said.
It was on another of these trips that Schickedanz would purchase options to breed to Danzig and Mr. Prospector. The two most popular stallions of their era, potential breeders would bid on the options, in the tens of thousands of dollars, for the right to then pay the $150,000 stud fee at a later date.
ALONG CAME LANGFUHR
In 1992, from these prospective matings came Barbeau, a modest stakes-placed chestnut by Mr. Prospector and Langfuhr, by Danzig, who would both eventually stand stud for Schickedanz.
That year provided quite the bounty on the heels of a season in which a virus forced many of their mares to abort their foals.
Kenny can only shake his head at how the farm had grown, was shaken to its very roots, and then re-birthed in 1992.
“We had seven foals the first year I was here and then we gradually got it up to 21 of which there were 17 starters, 17 winners, and seven stakes winner and two stakes placed,” Kenny said. “Langfuhr was in that 1992 crop, Gal in a Ruckus (by Bold Ruckus) was there, Kathie’s Colleen (by Woodman) was part of it. It was just an unbelievable year. And after a year that might have sent others out of the business.”
The remarkable crop provided success not only on the track, but also later on in the breeding shed.
Langfuhr dominated on the racetrack in 1996 winning the Grade 2 Forego at Saratoga and the Grade 1 Vosburgh at Belmont en route to a Sovereign Award as Canada’s top sprinter. He returned in 1997 and took down a pair of Grade 1 races including the Carter Handicap at Aqueduct and the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park.
And then he went onto a prolific stint at stud that only just came to an end.
“Langfuhr retired last summer, after the breeding season, to Lane’s End in Kentucky and that’s where he will live out his last days,” said Kenny. “He’s just shy of $150 million in earnings which is pretty phenomenal and he has 1144 individual winners. As a broodmare sire, he has 60 stakes winners, which puts him right up there with the expensive stallions.
“He’s done very well and he was a hell of a racehorse. Gus still owns 100 per cent of Langfuhr. He was never syndicated. We had a huge offer from Japan and he wouldn’t take it, and others wanted 50 per cent but Gus wouldn’t budge. He loves Langfuhr.”
KEOGH AND KATHIE’S COLLEEN
That magnificent 1992 crop also supplied the formidable racehorses and eventual broodmares Gal in a Ruckus and Kathie’s Colleen.
The latter would change trainer Mike Keogh’s life, etching his name into the annals of Canadian racing history.
Keogh, an Englishman and proud West Ham supporter, was an assistant to Hall of Famer Roger Attfield when he learned of a potential opportunity to train for Schickedanz.
The initial job interview with Schickedanz set the tone for a relationship that remains strong to this day.
“He was a little intimidating. He’s a big, strong man, but we grew into it with him, and over the years he’s been a very fair man and a man of his word,” said Keogh. “He’s definitely a horseman. He wants good feed, good hay, and wants to see good flesh on his horses, like we all do.
“Our biggest arguments were sometimes when we’d get a decent one, he’d want to run it a little bit higher than I wanted to. He reached for the stars quicker than I wanted to.”
And it was with Kathie’s Colleen that Schickedanz dreamed big enough to send a then allowance winner to the Grade 2 Monmouth Oaks in an attempt to turn the tables on a familiar rival.
Gal in a Ruckus, sold to John Oxley, was the Schickedanz-bred filly that had got away.
She became the first Canadian-bred to win the Kentucky Oaks, and after winning the Dogwood Stakes at Churchill Downs, Gal in a Ruckus traveled to her homeland for the first time and defeated Kathie’s Colleen to win the Canadian Oaks, at Woodbine.
The rematch between Gal in a Ruckus and Kathie’s Colleen at Monmouth was one for the ages.
Kathie’s Colleen, with Jim McAleney up, stumbled at the start as the heavily favoured Gal in a Ruckus tussled for the lead with Russian Flight. A strong-willed Kathie’s Colleen persevered, circling horses, and powered away to a two-length score and her only graded win.
Keogh breaks into fits of laughter as he recalls the post-race celebration.
“After she won it, we had a limousine ride back to LaGuardia and our limousine didn’t have any alcohol in it,” Keogh said. “So, Gus made the driver get another limo to meet us at the New Jersey turnpike and we swapped limousines to the one that had some booze in it!”
While the Oban may have flowed that evening, the duo had plenty more celebrations left to come thanks to the prodigal mare.
Kathie’s Colleen retired in 1996 and in 2000, as a result of a breeding to the Schickedanz favouite Langfuhr, produced the champion chestnut Wando.
Wando would battle his stablemate, another son of Langfuhr named Mobil, for all the glory in the Queen’s Plate.
With Patrick Husbands aboard, Wando went to the lead and never looked back. He opened up by five lengths at the top of the lane and crossed the wire nine lengths the better of Mobil.
It was the first and last time the pair ever squared off on the racetrack.
“Gus left it in my hands and didn’t interfere. The only thing he said to me after Wando won the Plate was that Mobil wasn’t allowed to run against him again. He wanted that Triple Crown,” said Keogh. “He’s a very strong willed man and put his point across to you. When he’s told you something, you know it.”
Wando would win the Prince of Wales, second leg of the Triple Crown, by a widening four lengths and then overcame a Sam-Son Farm trio of would-be challengers to win the Breeders’ Stakes to secure the famous triple.
Keogh looks back on that campaign fondly, though he may hold a tinge of regret for Mobil, who was named Canada’s Champion Older Horse a year later, and was maybe denied a chance at greater fame in his own right.
“Mobil was a fantastic horse. Big, tough and strong and he could run on any surface. I’ve always said that if we had Wando and Mobil a year apart, we’d have two Triple Crown winners,” Keogh said.
WINDING DOWN TOGETHER
Kenny and Keogh continue to make the Schickedanz operation their top priority as the patriarch grows ever older and the racing operation winds down.
“I’m 70 now and loyal to Gus and want to see things through here,” said Kenny. “Now I have 11 horses on the farm, two are ponies. There are four mares in foal and I’ve got a total of nine to breed and six to keep, hopefully all in foal. There will be a few to sell in the fall. He’s cutting back.”
And while Schickedanz may not celebrate with the same zeal as he did in the days of Kathie’s Colleen and Langfuhr, Kenny still sees that spark in the great man’s eyes when it’s time to head to Woodbine.
“He still loves to go to the races, but he will be 90 on February 7 and he’s getting on,” said Kenny.
And so, Kenny and Keogh soldier on.
Keogh and his wife, Lou, make the trek each year to Aiken in South Carolina to train the Schickedanz racing stock. And this year, the pair made time to see an old friend along the way.
“We stopped in Kentucky to see Langfuhr on the way down and he looks great,” said Keogh. “Langfuhr was an absolute gentleman of a horse and has been the foundation of the operation. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think we’d still be going. Pull up the past performances of his wins in New York and see who he beat. He was something else.”
At 27 years of age, Langfuhr retains a semblance of his youthful vigour.
“He was happy to see me,” Keogh said, laughing. “He loves carrots. He used to live on them at the barn and we had bushels of them just for him just to keep him quiet. I don’t know if he knows me or if he can just hear that plastic bag full of carrots, but the guys at Lane’s End say he knows Gus when he comes to visit.”