Story by Dave Briggs

Photos by John Watkins

When Winbak Farm of Ontario brought in four new Standardbred stallions to stand at its Inglewood, ON operation for 2020, Pat Woods said he knew the time was right for an open house and stallion showcase, but not without some trepidation about doing it in February in Canada.

Ontario Sires Stakes pacing stallion Shadow Play at Winbak Farms Stallion Showcase 2020

Shadow Play (John Watkins)

“We were terrified because it costs a lot of money to do this. We had so many people behind it that we were just so worried about a bad day,” said Woods, the farm manager of Winbak Ontario. “You know what the weather in February can be like, and if we got a bad snow day, we would have had 30 people.”

Instead, the weather on Feb. 9 cooperated and Winbak played host to close to 10 times that number of guests who came to view the farm’s 11 stallions — including newbies Jimmy Freight, McWicked, Stag Party and The Bank — and wish Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame 2019 inductee Angus Hall a happy retirement from his stud duties. Winbak also stands veteran stallions Archangel, Artspeak, Betterthancheddar, Bettor’s Delight, My MVP, Royal Mattjesty and Shadow Play at the former location of the famed Armstrong Bros. breeding farm.

“We had just shy of 300 guests and I was really pleased with how our stallions behaved and how our staff handled them and had them looking,” Woods said. “They came out and they looked as good as these horses are.”

Woodbine Mohawk Park race caller Ken Middleton, Jr. acted as emcee for the event and his colleague on the broadcast team at the Campbellville, ON track, Monique Vag, interviewed industry celebrities such as trainers Anthony MacDonald and Scott McEneny, driver Louis-Philippe Roy and Jimmy Freight’s owner Adriano Sorella, a key part of the planning and promotion of the day. Sorella sponsored a couple of food trucks and arranged for a number of prizes to be given out to attendees to be given out through the afternoon.

Woods said Sorella’s involvement and marketing savvy really helped grow an event that had been in the planning stages since December.

Woodbine Mohawk Park broadcaster interviews stallion owner Adriano Sorella at the 2020 Winbak Farm Stallion Showcase

Monique Vag interviews Adriano Sorella (John Watkins)

“When Adriano came in and said, ‘I’ll sponsor a food truck’ then more people started to jump on board and it just sort of took off,” Woods said. “A lot of it is that he’s thinking outside the box. He has a lot of knowledge in the advertising and marketing side of things and he has a lot of fun and he’s so passionate about the sport. He takes that passion and he’s not afraid to put his money and ideas behind things. And he’s there in full support, saying, ‘What do you need me to do? Would this work for you guys? I don’t want to step on any toes, but can we do this?’ He always asks permission, but he’s just got great ideas that help fuel the whole business and people love it. They love these little prizes, they love the advertising, they love the ideas he’s coming up with.”

Sorella said the open house was, “a huge success. I had many people approach me with questions on breeding, Jimmy Freight’s overall attitude, and what I thought of his overall racing style. I didn’t see one person not smiling during the day, and we did get decent weather for winter. Winbak was well organized and we had pretty much everything covered in the way of food. I hope we can do this year after year. Who knows, maybe we’ll have a big summer barbeque.”

Two days after the open house and stallion showcase, Sorella also announced he was extending his $100,000 Jimmy Freight Stakes at Woodbine Mohawk Park for progeny of the stallion for at least a second year and has added $20,000 in breeder bonuses for Jimmy Freight’s first crop, due to hit the racetrack in 2023.

“I was really looking to do something different when I announced the $100,000 Jimmy Freight Stakes (to debut in 2023),” Sorella said. “It was so well received that I decided we would continue into 2024. I’ve been getting updates on his book and it’s a good one, so I decided to throw something else out — $20,000 in breeder bonuses for the Jimmy Freight-sired of 2020. No gimmick here, he’s got close to a full book and that’s huge for Ontario. This is my way to say, ‘Thank you.’ I couldn’t imagine being happier for the response he got. I did hustle, but the support was one that I truly appreciate. I’m happy for my syndicate partners and we invite others that might be interested. One thing’s for sure, I will use all my advertising potential to support my syndicate partners, Winbak and, most importantly, Jimmy Freight.”

Woods said Sorella’s marketing know-how has already paid off for Jimmy Freight and Winbak Farm of Ontario.

“We had just shy of 300 guests and I was really pleased with how our stallions behaved and how our staff handled them and had them looking” – Pat Woods

“It just makes people look at things and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to support that horse.’ A little story here is that Adriano gave a prize to the Indiana year-end awards and there was a gentleman down there that thought that was a really nice thing for him to do. He bought a mare up here in Ontario and brought it to Winbak Farms to breed and he’s breeding to Jimmy Freight for that reason, because (Sorella is) supporting people in the industry,” Woods said, adding the open house led to direct business for some of the farm’s other stallions, too. “We sold a couple of shares that day and we sold a bunch of breedings that came in this week, as well as some syndicate shares to a few of the stallions.”

Woods reported fantastic support from a wide number of industry partners and associations and Winbak owner Joe Thomson flew in from the United States to be at the farm despite a very busy week for his non-horse business Pacer Financial.

“I know he had one of his national conferences this week down in Florida and he didn’t think he was going to make it up to the (Winbak) event.” Woods said. “He called me Thursday night and said, ‘No, it’s too important. I’ll be flying up.’ He flew up in the morning and had to leave in the afternoon, but he felt it was too important not to be here.”

Thomson, who also has Winbak Farm operations in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and the home base in Maryland, has long been a huge supporter of Ontario racing and breeding.

“He just feels that there’s a lot of incentive,” Woods said of Thomson. “He loves the racetracks up here, he loves the breeding program, the sires stakes and he’s been relatively successful up here and he’s been supported well at the sales by the Ontario buyers, so he continues to feel like he needs to support it. That was one of the big decisions about putting the four new stallions here, to keep this industry and the Ontario market strong.”

Feature Photo: Angus Hall (John Watkins)