The Courtship of a Farm Girl
Twenty-five years ago, Ron Fawcett bought a farm to impress the woman he was dating and Tod Mountain Thoroughbreds was born near Kamloops, B
By: Dave Briggs |
Ron Fawcett’s voice bounces as he looks out the window of his home and spies a group of fillies frolicking in a nearby field as hay is delivered to a feeder at Tod Mountain Thoroughbreds near Kamloops, B.C.
Fawcett, 76, couldn’t be more pleased.
“They’re just out there performing like you wouldn’t believe, running around,” he said. “They’re having a ball and it’s just beautiful to see.
“That’s why we’re still in it.”
To impress a woman
One of British Columbia’s premier thoroughbred breeding operations began 25 years ago as Fawcett’s way to impress a woman he had met just three months before. Rae, a self-professed “farm girl,” had three broodmares as part of her divorce settlement. Ron, the president of the Kelson Group, a 40-year-old company that owns and operates a number of apartment buildings, calls himself “a city boy.”
“The next thing you know, I said, ‘We should buy a farm.’ When I get doing something I kind of get carried away,” Ron said, chuckling.
Rae, who later became Ron’s wife, said that is indeed how Tod Mountain Thoroughbreds got started.
It all sounds like that old sitcom Green Acres somewhat in reverse — in this case with Eddie Albert’s character going from the city to the country.
“I found this man that was in business and everything was black and white and red and I moved him into this great big grey area of thoroughbreds,” she said, laughing about the picturesque farm located in Heffley Creek in the foothills of the Sun Peaks Ski Resort in the B.C. Interior.
“We weren’t looking for anything quite as big and as beautiful as this. We were just looking for maybe 10 or 15 acres and we were going up the road looking at this one particular place that was for sale. The fellow who was showing us the property said, ‘Oh, by the way, this other farm is for sale.’ It was huge. It’s about 140 acres and had hay fields and everything like that. After we looked at the one up the road, as we were coming down Ron said, ‘Now this is the kind of farm I want.’ I thought, ‘Oh my God. Does he really know what he’s getting into?’ It’s a big farm.”
It was originally a cattle ranch that was, basically, hay fields, range land and had one small barn and a house. Ron and Rae built a large barn and paddocks, added a few more homes on the property for themselves and staff.
About a decade later, Tod Mountain Thoroughbreds was home to some 35 broodmares, produced 25 foals a year and was one of the most successful breeders in the British Columbia.
“It’s a beautiful place to raise horses,” Rae said. “There’s very little level ground. I think the horses from our farm — and other people have told us this, also —have great bones and good feet. The ground is very hard in the summer. We have to irrigate everything so there’s no mud or soft spot. In the wintertime it’s frozen. They’re pounding on hard surfaces at all times. That, I always felt, was good for a good strong bone on a horse.”
It’s one reason Tod Mountain Thoroughbreds has remained popular with winter boarders. The other is the climate.
“Our winters are very cold here and dry,” Rae said. “So, if it does snow, it’s a dry snow and it lands on their back and almost stays there. It’s not a wet snow. No mud or anything like that. So, we’re able to keep them out most of the time, which is what the clients and the trainers really like.”
Rae said she’s proud of every horse the farm has produced — “It’s like sending your kids off to school. You hope that they do their very best.” — but Ron said there have been a few special ones that have stood out.
“We’ve sold a few in Kentucky that have done well,” Ron said. “We sold one that was $250,000 U.S., but the guy put her on his private jet and flew her to England. She actually raced in a big stakes race over there and came third, I think. But after that she sort of faded. She was a Forest Wildcat out of an Ascot Knight mare.”
This year, the likely B.C. Two-Year-Old Filly Champion named C U At Eau Claire flies the Tod Mountain Thoroughbreds banner. The farm bred the daughter of Haynesfield out of Sweetheart Rose by Awesome Again and sold her to Don Danard for $38,000 out of the 2014 Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society (CTHS) B.C. Sale.
The Greg Tracy trainee has earned just shy of $100,000 in her rookie year, with a 3-1-1 record in five starts. Richard Hamel rode her to victory in the $50,000 B.C. Cup Debutante Stakes on Aug. 3, the $50,000 Hard Rock Casino Vancouver Handicap on Aug. 21 and the $100,000 Sadie Diamond Futurity on Sept. 20.
Tod Mountain Thoroughbreds was named B.C.’s Breeders of the Year for both 2013 and 2014, but this year they decided to downsize.
“We’re down quite a bit,” Rae said.
Just four foals are expected to be born at the farm in 2016.
“Now we’ve sort of gone to just race everything ourselves,” Ron said. “This last year we didn’t sell anything (at auction). We used to sell practically everything.
“Even now we’ve got some nicely-bred mares on the farm, probably better quality than anybody else in B.C., but we’re still way down. I think we’ve only got eight mares left.”
Rae said cutting back on the number of mares naturally led them out of the commercial breeding game.
“When we were prepping 10 or 15 for a sale it was easy to get our staff all together, get a big group together. But, when you’ve only got three or four we thought, ‘Why don’t we just race them?’ If someone wants to claim them from us they can buy them that way if we put them in a claimer, or we’ll just carry on with racing our own,” Rae said.
Ron said he’s excited about the prospect of keeping their own to race, despite the fact Hastings Park is three-and-a-half hours away in Vancouver.
He and Rae have their horses with trainers Terry Clyde and Mike Anderson at Hastings.
“We’ve only ever had one or two in training and this year I have eight yearlings being broke. Next year we’re going to have 10 at the track, which is quite a change,” Ron said.
They have retained C U At Eau Claire’s half-brother, a horse they hope will make his debut next summer.
“He’s probably got the most potential, but you never know,” Ron said. “Some of our best horses we’ve given away and then they go to the racetrack and turn out to be good. This idea that people know what makes a good racehorse, I have some doubts about that.”
Though Ron said he prefers the racing side of the game and Rae is more of the farm girl, he said the fact they own a farm is the sole reason they have horses.
“If we didn’t have the farm we wouldn’t be in the business,” Ron said.
To think, life on the farm all started as a way to woo Rae.
“He’s adapted so very well,” Rae said, laughing.
A quarter-century later, Ron couldn’t imagine his life without Tod Mountain Thoroughbreds.
“We built a gorgeous big home. If we couldn’t see this…” Ron said, his voice trailing off. He is watching the fillies frolic on the other side of his window.
“That kind of a life is very important to me,” Rae said. “Fortunately, Ron, also thought it was great.”