Story by Chris Lomon
Photos by Dave Landry
For over 40 years, Vera Simpson
has navigated through the ups and downs of Ontario horse racing with an unwavering optimism, cognizant of its challenges, but buoyed by its opportunities.
“I want to show people how much fun racing can be, how much fun you can really have by being a part of it,” started the woman whose education in horsemanship was initially developed through the British Horse Society Pony Club. “There’s nothing more exciting than seeing your horse cross that line first.”
Simpson, who knows that feeling well, wants more people to enjoy that same exhilaration.
It is that unwavering passion for horses and horse racing that inspired her to create the not-for-profit Thoroughbred Race Club (TRC).
Offering the chance to be part of the Sport of Kings at Woodbine Racetrack, TRC delivers an opportunity to be part of a group affiliated with up to 10 racehorses, risk-free, while being guided through the numerous aspects of racing by highly regarded experts, including Hall of Fame trainer Reade Baker and his wife, Janis Maine.
For their part, Woodbine offers TRC members first-class treatment, including Royal Enclosure tickets, tickets for the Queen’s Plate, functions in the posh Woodbine Suite, select wines, seated dinners, backstretch tours, and an insider’s view of horse racing.
Simpson is no doubt familiar with the sport and having success in it.
A former provincial director of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society for 14 years (with terms as provincial vice-president and national director), Simpson, along with her husband Michael Dube, has owned and operated their Thoroughbred nursery, Curraghmore Farm, for nearly 35 years.
Fittingly, the words, ‘A Nice Place To Raise A Horse – A Great Place To Raise A Champion,’
greet visitors on the farm’s website homepage.
Located in Waterdown, ON, Curraghmore foaled numerous major stakes champion for Mel Lawson’s Jim Dandy Farms. Multiple stakes and Sovereign Award winner Eternal Search is buried on the farm grounds. Notable names such as Canadian Triple Tiara winner Sealy Hill, Solid Appeal, Sky Conqueror, Fatal Bullet, Woodbine Oaks winner Academic, Breaking Lucky and Jiggs Coz have all called it home.
“I’ve always had an affinity for horses and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to work with a significant number of distinguished owners since we opened the farm,” said Simpson. “We’ve had so many good customers all these years.
“It was in 2015, three years after the SARP cancellation, when the challenges of racing in Ontario really hit me. But I didn’t want to get out of this business because I love it. We had seen the number of owners dwindling – for different reasons – so I started gathering information through my little campaign, looking around the world through my computer, searching for ways to introduce people to horse racing. It’s just so rewarding to see the big smiles and joy people have through that association with these beautiful animals.”
Now, Simpson’s aim is to attract new racehorse owners for Woodbine while also developing buyers of Ontario-bred horses through TRC.
“I view it as an elite experience, where we guide people through everything,” said Simpson, who set up a booth last fall at Woodbine to encourage multiple-ownership. “Rather than people doing it on their own, we educate them and deliver a one-of-a-kind experience from day one. From seeing the horses up close, to taking people outside of the racetrack, to social events, to watching horses train, to guest speakers – we want to showcase just how wonderful this sport is and what it can offer to people.”
Modeled after the successful race club at Royal Ascot, TRC, whose threefold focus is, ‘exhilaration, fellowship and kindness,’ will broker connections to local trainers and discuss ownership options, including how to apply for an owner’s license and selecting race silks.
“I was looking at the idea of it through the lens of it being fun, a lifestyle, a way to be around other people enjoying the thrill of horse racing, enjoying the life we all love, but seeing it from a different perspective,” said Simpson. “I went and looked around and saw how Royal Ascot – who were really helpful – had this highly regarded race club. That was the starter where all this went from. That was the key that made me see we had to do something different. I wanted to do this for the community of horse lovers that we are.”
It’s something she saw first-hand when she met Anthony MacDonald. The longtime horseman, along with his wife, Amy, created TheStable.ca three years ago.
TheStable.ca offers a chance for people to invest in a Standardbred racehorse. Each horse has an initial offering of 100 shares and under Thestable.ca’s single share purchase program, buyers can get into racehorse ownership starting at 1 per cent, all the way up to 100 per cent.
“I spoke with Anthony about a year ago,” recalled Simpson. “He’s a super guy, generous with his time and a forward-thinking, positive person. He was going in a different angle with the Standardbreds, but speaking with him was so helpful. He introduced me to his owners and I was able to learn so much.”
Currently, Simpson has five horses training at Woodbine and others stabled at Curraghmore. She’s hopeful they’ll thrive on the Tapeta, turf and beyond the racetrack.
If TRC stable horses win money, the expenses get paid, and the rest goes back to the subscribers (against their initial payment).
A percentage of purse earnings from TRC horses will also be donated to charitable organizations that enhance the connection between people and horses. After their racing careers come to a close, TRC horses will be placed in loving, responsible environments to enjoy their off-track life.
“That was extremely important to us,” said Simpson. “We want to keep that bond that people have with their horses.”
She sees TRC as an ideal way to begin that association.
“Like anyone else in this industry, we want to see new owners get involved and for them to see just how amazing this sport is,” said Simpson. “I want this (TRC) to be a special experience.”
For more on the Thoroughbred Race Club, visit www.thoroughbredraceclub.com
For more on Curraghmore Farm, visit, www.curraghmorefarm.com