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Adena Springs goes the extra mile for its horses

Adena SpringsA row of modern town houses and a Home Depot looms in the distance, but things on the adjacent 400-acre parcel of land that is Adena Springs North in Aurora, Ont., could not be more pastoral. Behind the iron gates marked with an “A” is one of Canada’s top thoroughbred breeding and racing operations, that has produced some of Canada’s best racehorses, most recently, this year’s Queen’s Plate winner, Shaman Ghost.

On this sunny summer day, a field full of foals and their moms graze on one of Adena Springs’ expansive undulating pastures. North Light, an Irish-bred Epsom Derby winner and one of Adena’s resident stallions, enjoys his time outside, not really bothering to acknowledge his visitors.

On the other side of the property are Adena Springs’ proprietor Frank Stronach’s Angus cattle, and in the back of the farm the dirt training track, where young horses get in their exercise before being sent to the track, a barn for show jumpers and horses on rest from the racetrack, as well as Adena’s thoroughbred retirees, waiting to be rehomed for second careers as riding or companion horses.

“And that’s where Shaman Ghost was born,” said Dermot Carty, who oversees the stallions at Adena North, pointing toward a long, grey barn, with a copper roof and a steeple, not unlike the twin spires that are part of the trademark architecture of Churchill Downs.

Three years ago, Shaman Ghost, a son of Stronach’s brilliant Ghostzapper, was one of those foals and grew-up in that same field unaware of his destiny. Today, Shaman Ghost is the Plate champion and the favourite for the Prince of Wales, the second leg of Canada’s Triple Crown, which will be run on July 28 at Fort Erie Racetrack.

At Adena North, roughly 120 babies are born and raised. Foaling season is finished for the year, and for the next few months, the newborns and their dams will hang out before it’s time for the offspring to be weaned from their mothers. Many of the mares will foal again next spring and the babies will head to Florida to be trained to race, carrying the hopes of one day filling the shoes of Shaman Ghost.

Stronach came to Canada in his early 20s with very few dollars in his pocket, but a hunger for success. He started a small tool and tie company, called Multimatic International. Multimatic grew and began developing auto parts. Soon after that, Multimatic became Magna International, the world’s largest manufacturer of auto parts.

Despite his success in the corporate world, Stronach yearned for something to enrich his soul. That’s where the horses came in. In the automotive industry, he made things to exact measurements, but with thoroughbreds, nothing is precise and nothing is guaranteed.

But Stronach has employed the same amount of care and attention to detail with his thoroughbred operation as he did with making windshield wipers and sun visors.

Case in point: the stallion barn.

“This is the love shack,” explains Carty as he opens the doors to the breeding shed. Here, nine studs reside in the Taj Mahal of barns.

Inside the shed, mares and stallions court in an airy room with vaulted ceilings, adorned with whitewashed pine that Stronach sourced from northern Ontario.

“The whole ambience of this whole operation is to make sure the horses are kept healthy, and not feel stuffed up and feel like they are encroached,” said Carty.

There is a high-tech ventilation system that can clean the air in the barn in less than five minutes and engineered lighting to create the right mood.

From Feb. 14 to June 15, the stallions breed mares, and each stallion can take upwards of 120 mares a year.

“We start exactly on Valentine’s Day,” explained Carty, with a wry smile, but explains the day is more about horses’ gestation period and less about romantic undertones.

“That’s based on the on the whole idea of trying to get the baby as close to January 1st.”

The stallions are Adena’s bread and butter, and the offspring represent the hope.

“It’s not about selling (stallion) seasons,” said Carty. “It’s about creating the dream.”

Adena stallion Sligo Bay is the sire of 2014 Queen’s Plate winner Lexie Lou, and Giant Gizmo fathered last weekend’s Bison City Stakes winner Brooklynsway.

Stronach Stables has bred and/or raced 225 stakes winners, won eight Eclipse Awards as North America’s outstanding breeder and nine Sovereign awards as Canada’s outstanding breeder.

Shaman Ghost’s sire is Ghostzapper, who is a son of Adena’s homebred, Awesome Again.

Adena Springs Ghost Zapper

Hopes are high Shaman Ghost can carry on the legacy.

“By winning that race, it said to him, ‘We worked hard and we did things right,’ Carty said about Stronach. “It’s not about the money.”


(Source: Katie Lamb, Special to The Toronto Star, Wed July 22, 2015)



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