What motivates someone to invest in racehorses? Maybe it’s a family affair. Maybe it’s a chance meeting with someone already in the business. Maybe it’s curiousity.
For De Winton Alberta businessman, Peter Van Seggelen, it was a combination of all three. “I was about 14 when my parents took me to the races at old Greenwood in Toronto,” he told me. I fell in love with the sport and claimed my first horse, a thoroughbred, from Connie Smyth, the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team, when I was 16. I had occasion to meet Max Jurgenson who was a harness trainer in Toronto at the time. When I moved to Calgary and started my landscape business in 1977, I looked Max up. He was racing at Stampede Park at the time. I told him if he found the right horse, a buddy of mine and I would buy it. That horse turned out to be, if I remember right, Demon Lee, and we got him for $1,500. He won his first and second starts for us at the $2,500 claiming level. We put him in at $3,500 and lost him in a claim. I thought, Wow, this is the easiest money I’ve ever made.” He was laughing as he said it.
Like every owner, there have been ups and downs over the last 35 years. Van Seggelen owns Tajma Hall, which made better than $700,000 during his racing career and now stands at Sam Johnson’s farm in Sherwood Park. “Tajma Hall was a printing machine for us,” said Van Seggelen, “a tough old racehorse. What he earned gave us the opportunity to buy some broodmares and get into the breeding game. At one point I had about 20 mares. But I cut back in recent years and moved some of the mares to BC. It’s hard to make any money racing in Grande Prairie and I wasn’t sure what the future of the industry was going to be in Alberta.”
That future has brightened a bit with the opening of Century Downs and the imminent rebuilding of the horse racing brand in Edmonton. One of Tajma Hall’s more prominent offspring is Tajmeallover, which has dominated the Open fillies and mares events at Century Downs this summer. Tajmeallover picked up her 26th career win last Saturday and boosted her career earnings to nearly $170,000. Van Seggelen owns her in partnership with Carl Warnaar and Joe Tinelli.
“We’ve put Tajma Hall back on the stallion market this year,” Van Seggelen told me. “I think we’ve bred him to ten or twelve mares this past spring. One of his fillies is Watch My Luck which qualified as a BC-bred and which won all four stakes for which she was eligible at Fraser Downs last season.”
Van Seggelen has had some success in such races as the Northlands Filly Pace but not much luck in the Super Finals. He has high hopes for this Saturday, though, with the 2 year old filly, Outlaw Fireball.
“We don’t push our 2 year olds early,” he told me. “It’s one of the reasons why we like them qualified to race in BC because the stakes schedule at Fraser begins later in the year than it does here in Alberta, and that means the 2 year olds have more time to grow and develop.”
“We bought Outlaw Fireball from Connie Kolthammer earlier this year and she has done really well for us,” he told me. “I think she’s the leading money winner in the class heading into Saturday, so we’ll see if she’s able to win it all at Century Downs.”
Like Van Seggelen, Edmonton based investor, Lorne Duffield, has been at this business for awhile. Duffield, who shares ownership of a half dozen Boston Pizza outlets in the capital, has been one of the backers of Rod Hennessy for more than two decades.
I’ve tended to concentrate on Alberta-breds,” he told me. “We’ve had a few horses that we bought in Ontario or at the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) sale. But for the most part we’ve invested in Alberta stock and have done pretty well over the years. I think one of the first horses we bought was Samantha Lee. As I recall, we got her for $15,000. She made about $70,000 at the races and then we lost her in a claim for $15,000. I thought to myself this is easy: there’s nothing to this. Of course I learned.”
“We also had Weekend Bernie, which I think, won just about every Alberta bred stake for which he was eligible as a two, three and four year old. And I have enjoyed my association with the Hennessy’s over the years. I remember one time we had bought about 14 horses at the yearling sale. On the way out the door, I wound up buying another one. Rod wasn’t with me at the time. When he went to pick up the horses, he left one behind. It was Button Your Lips, the one I had bought while Rod was elsewhere. It took 3 days for someone to find out I was the new owner and to get her to the right barn. And she did pretty well for us. It’s been the source of a few chuckles over the years.”
Back surgery and limited mobility will keep Duffield at home in Edmonton this Saturday, but he’ll still be watching the Super Finals on his computer. “We’ve got Blue Star Maverick and Blue Star Jet for the 3 year old Super Final,” said Duffield. “When we’ve been able to keep them healthy, they’ve done pretty well for us. I haven’t had much success at Super Finals. We had high hopes for Blue Star Jet as a 2 year old last year but he couldn’t get it done.”
“And I do like the way that ASHA has gone about building up the Super Finals concept with the qualifiers and then a big finale. It gives everybody in the industry a chance to share in the excitement and in the dollars. And even if I can’t get to the races right now, I can still watch them on my computer. And if my horse wins, I can watch the race as many times as I like. I always like watching when I know the outcome.”
Two of the people who make racing work in Alberta. More than 60 owners will be represented when the fields for the Super Finals championship and consolation races are run this coming Saturday. Post position draw is Wednesday morning. Nobody wants an outside post. But you can’t win if you’re not in! And there isn’t one owner who wouldn’t want to be in the field come Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile at the Races…
Good to see Tyler Redwood back in the bike after a spill during last Sunday’s card. He had to be checked out at the hospital. But he was back in action Sunday afternoon, piloting Four Feathers to a third place finish in a non-winners of 2 race… Four of the contenders for the 3 year old colt Super Final this coming Saturday, tuned up for the big race by challenging in Sunday’s 5th race at Century Downs. Wrangler Cash, with Kelly Hoerdt at the controls, rallied from PP-7 to win the biggest share of the pot. Blue Star Maverick and Prairie Mystic were second and third respectively, and Icy Blue Scooter finished fifth. They’re all expected to have their names in the entry box on Wednesday morning for the Super Final.
A matinee card has been added to the Century Downs calendar for Remembrance Day, Friday, Nov. 11th. It’ll give horsemen one more payday while Farm Fair and Canadian Finals Rodeo occupy the grounds at Northlands Park in Edmonton. The harness meet opens in the capital on Friday evening, Nov. 18th… there’s a $10,000 guaranteed Pick-4 to spice up the interest in Super Finals for punters on Saturday, Oct. 29th. And for those who bet $40 or more on the live standardbred product that day, using your HPIbet account, you will get 5% cash back.