Tag Archives: “Northern Dancer”

In Memoriam: The Renowned Windfields Farm

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Northern Dancer Monument

Artist: David Yeatman, of Aylmer, Quebec. Both the 1964 Kentucky Derby, the Queen’s Plate, and Preakness winner, Northern Dancer is pictured after his historic Kentucky Derby win with Jockey Bill Hartack and E. P. Taylor, owner of Windfields Farm. (Notice the 3D effect as Northern Dancer appears to gallop off the mural!)

For several years now,  housing developments have threatened the Windfields Farm property in Oshawa, Ontario.  Previously owned by entrepreneur E.P. Taylor,  the entire operation gradually dwindled after his death in 1989,  after which his journalist son Charles began shutting down the business and selling off the remainder of the horses. “Though everybody in the family loved the horses and loved to go see them, nobody was prepared to run the show,” said E.P. Taylor’s daughter and Windfields president Judith Taylor Mappin.  Fans of the heritage site watched with dismay as the famous gates at the end of the driveway were dismantled and the property fell into a state of ruin – Oshawa’s beloved landmark has fallen victim to nature, vandals, and appalling post-closure disrespect.

On Saturday September 27th,  the City of Oshawa held an open-house which featured numerous interesting places and spaces in the City,  including Windfields Farm.  During the doors open event it was shared that the new owner,  the University of Ontario, has begun exploratory meetings and discussions with regards to fundraising to allow further repairs to the buildings, barns, and the arena. The roadmap ahead with regards to the intended usage of the core of the farm remains somewhat unclear, but it appears efforts to make the property more publicly accessible in the future were underway, a great step towards allowing the public more routine access to visit the farm and revere in its history.

Access to the farm and the famous gravesite has been restricted by the University of Ontario and it’s rarely accessible to anyone.  It’s far off the main road and unless you remember what the imposing stone gates looked like,  you probably wouldn’t find it.  We’re shuttled onto the property and have the opportunity to meet several fascinating people and veterinarians who lived and worked on the property and recall all the personality quirks of the individual racehorses.  The following was part of our informational session, and the originals are available in PDF format here.

Northern Dancer Cemetery – University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT)

Graves and new stallion barn

Overview of the New Stallion Barn and the Gravesites. There are many other horses buried on the farm in unmarked graves.

Windfields Farm was a 1,500 acre thoroughbred breeding farm founded by businessman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, E.P. Taylor. In 1950 he purchased what was then named Parkwood Stables, from Col. R. S. McLaughlin.

A number of stallions stood at Windfields Farm. They servied Windfields Farm’s broodmares as well as broodmares owned by other thoroughbred owners, through a commercial breeding operation. From the late 1960’s to the mid-1980’s, Windfields Farm was North America’s top breeder – leading breeder in purses, winning nine times; leading breeder of stakes winners thirteen times. Taylor’s thoroughbred operation grew to be the most successful in North America (Unterman McPhail, 2002).

Overview of Graves

Not eerie, but very nostalgic…

Horses of international fame were bred at Windfields Farm including Nearctic, Victoria Park, Nijinsky, The Minstrel, and Vice Regent.

After Mr. Taylor’s death in 1989, downsizing of the farm began with large parts of the property being sold. Windfields Farm ceased operations entirely in 2009. The “core” of the farm includes the Northern Dancer Cemetery, the Arena and the Old Stud Barn, Barn 2, Barn 6, and the New Stallion Barn. The land that these buildings and the cemetery are situated on is now owned by UOIT and will be incorporated into the Campus Master Plan, which is currently being developed.

The Northern Dancer Cemetery

Windfields Farm was the birthplace of numerous outstanding thoroughbred racehorses, including the great Northern Dancer. 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Northern Dancer winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Queen’s Plate. Northern Dancer retired from racing after his 1964 racing season but went on to have an unbelievable stud career, becoming the most influential sire of the 20th century. Northern Dancer spent the majority of his stud career at the Windfields Farm, Maryland division, and was returned home to his birthplace upon his death in 1990. (Unterman McPhail, 2002).

The other horses buried in The Northern Dancer Cemetery include: Archers Bay, Ascot Knight, Ballade, Canadiana, Cats At Home, New Providence, South Ocean, Vice Regent, Victoria Park and Windfields.

 

Parkwood Stables Era – the Arena (Breeding Shed) and Barn 2

Arena Gate and clock

Arena/Breeding Shed,  its forlorn clock permanently stopped @ 5:40

Windfields Farm has a rich and exciting history, linked to two very affluent Canadian families who built their businesses in Oshawa, Ontario.

Parkwood Stables was established in 1927 by the first important family to own the property. Colonel R. S. McLaughlin, the founding President of General Motors of Canada. Later, in 1950, Parkwood Stables was purchased by E.P. Taylor

Colonel R.S. McLaughlin was one of Canada’s most successful businessmen of all time. He initially established Parkwood Stables to house his daughter’s show horses and then later, his thoroughbred racehorses. Parkwood Stable’s thoroughbreds won The Queen’s Plate three times, The King’s Plate once, and many other high profile races (Unterman McPhail, 2002).

Arena

Arena/Breeding Shed

Two of the barns that are now located at Windfields Farm were originally built between 1914 and 1917 on Parkwood Estate, located at 270 Simcoe Street North, Oshawa, Ontario. The barn we refer to as Barn 2, as well as the large indoor arena and attached stable (the old stud barn), were dismanted in 1935; in some cases, stone by stone; marked and rebuilt at the property on Simcoe Street North, now known as Windfields Farm. These buildings were moved from Parkwood Estate to make room for the addition of the reflecting pool and fountain of the Formal Garden area.

The Arena/Breeding Shed, the Laboratory and the Old Stud Barn

The arena was primarily used as a breeding shed. It was also used as a place to break difficult yearlings;the horse could be contained within the arena if it unseated its rider

Windfields Farm hosted many tremendous parties within the arena. One such occasion was when Windfields Farm won the Canadian International Race. E.P. Taylor is the only owner to have won the International on four occasions. He won with Nephisto in 1950; Bull Page in 1951, Navy Page in 1953 and Snow Knight in 1975.

Stallion showings would also take place in this building. It would be transformed with tapestries and seating.

arena breeding shed

Inside of abandoned Arena

Due to the short stature of Northern Dancer, it was believed to be beneficial to breed him to larger mares so that together they would produce larger offspring. Lacking in height, Northern Dancer required help reaching a mare for breeding. Therefore, a pit was dug in the dirt floor of the arena, lined with outdoor carpet to aid in traction (this was later changed to rubberized carpet). Then the mare would be positioned at the lowest point in the pit. This was the only way he was able to reach to breed the mares. There was no artificial insemination in thoroughbred breeding, only natural cover is allowed.

Northern Dancer’s stud fee near the end of his career was $250,000 – $1,000,000 with no guarantee of a foal.

After the New Stallion Barn was built, the Old Stallion Barn would house the overflow stallions (there were only 8 stalls built in the New Stallion Barn).Arena turret

There was also a lower laboratory attached ot the Arena and the Old Stallion Barn. This lab was used to collect dismount specimen from the stallions at stud. This would be checked for sperm count and mobility. It would be collected and passed through a window where it would be checked and recorded.

The Laboratory was located above the Old Stud Barn and occupied three rooms. The rooms were used for Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Haematology.

Mares, stallions, foals, weanlings, yearlings and racehorses received first rate care at Windfields Farm. Prevention was the key to having a healthy population of thoroughbreds. The highly trained staff, combined with a well-equipped and modern laboratory, helped to keep the horses monitored on a constant basis. Many tests were done routinely on the population, which often exceeded 500 horses.

Barn 2

Originally Barn 2 was used for breaking yearlings within the barn itself. The barn is shaped in an oval, with the stalls being located in the middle of the barn. The yearlings would jog around the corridor, until they were ready to jog on the track outdoors or within the arena.

Later Barn 2 was used as a transient barn for outside mares being brought in to be bred by Windfields Farm’s stallions. Quarantining the mares would ensure that Windfields horses were not at risk.

There were also offices attached to the south side of Barn 2. The lower level office was for the manager, while the offices located on the second floor were for the secretaries of Windfields Farm.

Barn 6

Also known as the Foaling Barn, this building was built during the Parkwood Stables period, probably in the 1930’s. The north two-thirds of the building appear to have been constructed first and then the south one being a later addition (Underman McPhail 2002). Numerous greats such as Northern Dancer, The Minstrel, Bridle Path and Vice Regent were born in this barn.

The New Stallion Barn

New stallion barn

New Stallion Barn

The New Stallion Barn was built in the 1960’s. It housed many successful stallions during the Windfields Farm era. The stallions would travel a short distance across a path to the breeding shed (Arena) to breed the mares.

There were once beautiful paddocks north of the barn, where horses were turned out to play and graze daily

There was a sitting room located on the east side of this barn.

Heritage Impact Study Report, Windfields Farm Limited, City of Oshawa, Ontario.

Presented to Windfields Farm Limited, November 2002. Prepared by Unterman McPhail Associates, Heritage Resource Management Consultants

 

Death In The Fast Lane: Reaction to PeTA Exposé

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peta - horses aren't machines

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

It used to be that phenylbutazone was what got a horse disqualified from a race. Dancer’s Image became the only winner in the Kentucky Derby’s 134-year history to be disqualified for using a banned substance, when bute was found in his urine sample after the race in 1968. Two years after Secretariat’s recordbreaking US Triple Crown took the sport to a new level of popularity, the breakdown and death of Ruffian brought on a new era of safety concerns.

Analysis of horse carcasses submitted to the CHRB Postmortem Program revealed that 40.9% of all fatal injuries occurred during racing and training in 3-4 year old racehorses. Injuries, unlike accidents, do not happen by chance. The science of injury prevention has demonstrated that injuries and the events leading up to injuries are not random. Like disease, they tend to follow a general pattern. Studying these patterns has made it possible to learn to predict and prevent injuries from occurring, Yet this type of knowledge is ignored when pitted against the profit incentive of racing.

PETA-Kentucky-Derby-3As a result, many fallen jockeys have found that their mounts eventually became wheelchairs after they were paralysed in falls by their horses or horses they were trailing who should have been scratched from races. In 1990, apprentice jockey Benny Narvaez was paralyzed from the chest down after his horse threw him while jumping over another horse who had broken down directly in front of him during a race at Tampa Bay Downs. A jury found that Tampa Bay Downs was responsible for Narvaez’s injury because the track veterinarian failed to perform an adequate pre-race examination on the horse he was trailing. That horse’s pre-existing conditions had been cloaked by drugs a few days before the race.

So the recent PeTA expose of trainers Steve Asmussen and Scott Blasi in the New York Times wasn’t all that surprising, except in how quickly it went viral and how many racing fans jumped into the fray to excoriate PeTA. This wasn’t just about anyone – these guys who are accused are at the top. Asmussen has built one of horse racing’s largest operations. He ranks second in career victories, with more than 6,700; has earned more than $214 million in purses. But now they are accused of subjecting their horses to cruel and injurious treatments, administering drugs to them for nontherapeutic purposes, and having one of their jockeys use an electrical device to shock horses into running faster. Asmussen and Blasi are also accused of employing undocumented workers, requiring them to use false names on Internal Revenue Service forms, producing false identification documents, according to the complaints filed with state and federal agencies. Asmussen also paid the PeTA investigator $5.95 an hour — less than minimum wage — and did not pay proper overtime wages, according to complaints filed with the labour departments of Kentucky and New York. In 2012 the Asmussen Horse Center dumped 10 of their bred mares at one of the biggest kill buyer auctions in Texas, so they hardly sound like an upstanding group of people.

Sport of Kings,  or exercise in controlled chaos?

Nehro, the horse in the surveillance video, was acknowledged to be in pain and needed to be retired, yet still he continued to train. On the morning of last year’s Kentucky Derby, Nehro got sick on the backside of Churchill Downs and later died from colic in a van on the way to the hospital. In all likelihood,  he may have had ulcers from excess medication with bute,  which may have contributed to his colic.  Blasi and the farrier spent so much time conspiring in that barn that they were unaware everything they said and did was being recorded by an investigator who used a hidden camera to record terrible mistreatment. Ultimately, PeTA filed 10 complaints with the state and federal authorities.

I’m surprised at the vitriol hurled against PeTA for this undercover work. Lots of defensiveness and doubling-down, shoot-the-messenger type comments on the various message boards, including that of the New York Times. Lots of 1111111_1024debate also as to whether the farrier was referring to Nehro not having a pulse in either his legs or his feet being as  good thing or not. A horse’s foot is highly vascularized – circulation is needed to help them function and repair damage. A healthy pulse in either foot or leg is faint, but discernible, especially to an experienced vet. In the context of the video, Blasi and the farrier are complaining about Nehro’s foot being a “nub” with an enormous painful hole in the frog and hoof walls held together by glue. A horse with such extensive hoof damage should have an strong bounding pulse due to inflammation. The lack of pulse despite such physical evidence of damage suggests heavy duty dosages of painkillers that are numbing both blood flow and pain responses to the feet. It sure seems medically unlikely that a horse could have such holes in the frog and hoof wall and simultaneously have no pulse unless drugs are being used to mask the pain.

While PeTA has always had some serious credibility issues for me, I’ve always thought that their investigative work was first-rate. Problematic for me is that they’ve long been accused of objectifying women for their cause. Between a banned Super Bowl ad claiming that vegetarians have better sex and their “Save the Whales, Lose the Blubber” campaign, it often felt to me as if PeTA was promoting animal rights at the cost of the women’s movement – issues that are both paramount for me. A quick browse through their print campaigns clearly shows that while women are often depicted naked, with few exceptions, men are depicted clothed. The problem is that, after looking at half-naked celebrities, few people want to sign a petition or take action. And aggressive and often misguided attempts by various Huffington Post authors to discredit PeTA have had some impact – I’m seeing the oft-repeated mantra of their articles perpetuated in other social media channels. These so-called journalists are confusing the provision of a quick and painless end to what would otherwise be a miserable life, with a gleefully murderous objective. PeTA is not killing animals for amusement or for profit.

peta quote 1

Another huge gaffe for PeTA caused intense frustration amongst horse people who were lobbying furiously against horse slaughter in the US in 2013, when they misguidedly proclaimed that slaughter should return to the US as it was the “lesser of two evils” – the other evil being long transport to slaughter in Canada or Mexico. Imagine how shocked horse advocates were to hear pro-Ag and pro-slaughter mouthpieces quoting PeTA back to us! Exasperatingly, the PeTA statement in favour of a return to horse slaughter was one of the main reasons the Oklahoma horse slaughter law passed. The legislators used that statement as a banner. Yet PeTA is an anti-slaughter group and they promote the passage of the S.A.F.E. Act.

I’ve included some of their print campaigns against racing in this blog post. I think these ones are a lot more thought provoking than the ads featuring naked celebs. But it was a few undercover campaigns that really put them on the map. Whatever you think of them, you’d probably have to acknowledge that they have really demonstrated their ability to create dialogue about things that many people hold sacred, such as circuses and animal labs. Over the past 30 years, PeTA has aggressively assailed corporations for the way they treat animals. But the Asmussen/Blasi investigation was PETA’s first significant step into advocacy in the horse racing world.

The Silver Spring Monkey Investigation

One of PeTA’s founders, a student named Alex Pacheco, set out to gain some experience in a laboratory and began working undercover at the Institute for Behavioral Research.   IBR was a federally funded laboratory in AB004594Silver Spring, Maryland, run by psychologist and animal experimenter Edward Taub, a man with no medical training. There, Pacheco found 17 monkeys living in tiny wire cages that were caked with years of accumulated feces.

“The monkeys were subjected to debilitating surgeries in which their spinal nerves were severed, rendering one or more of their limbs useless. Through the use of electric shock, food deprivation, and other methods, the monkeys were forced to try to regain the use of their impaired limbs or go without food. In one experiment, monkeys were kept immobile in a dark chamber made out of a converted refrigerator and then repeatedly shocked until they finally used their disabled arm. The inside of the refrigerator was covered with blood. In another experiment, monkeys were strapped into a crude restraint chair—their waist, ankles, wrists, and neck held in place with packing tape—and pliers were latched as tightly as possible onto their skin, including onto their testicles.”

The trauma of the monkeys’ imprisonment and treatment was so severe that many of them had ripped at their own flesh, and they had lost many of their fingers from catching them in the rusted, jagged cage bars. Workers often neglected to feed the monkeys, and the animals would desperately pick through the waste beneath their cages to find something to eat.

PeTA gathered meticulous log notes detailing what was happening inside IBR and secretly photographed the horrible living conditions. Then, after lining up expert witnesses and showing them around the laboratory at night, PeTA took the evidence to the police—and an intense, decade-long battle for custody of the monkeys ensued. Their investigation led to the nation’s first arrest and criminal conviction of an animal experimenter for cruelty to animals, the first confiscation of abused animals from a laboratory.

Peta quote 5

The Japanese Horse Slaughter Investigation

As many as 20,000 horses are slaughtered each year in Japan, partly because of overbreeding of thoroughbreds in the U.S., where racehorses are exploited as disposable commodities.

PeTA’s 2009 horse slaughter investigation took place inside Japan’s largest horse slaughterhouse in Kumamoto. Horsemeat from Claude Bouvry’s plant also makes its way to Kumamoto. Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand was sold to a Japanese breeder and a few years later, when they were done with him, he was unceremoniously slaughtered. PeTA also discovered that Derby and Preakness winners Charismatic and War Emblem are at breeding farms in Japan right now. With their useful breeding days winding down, they are likely to share the fate of Ferdinand. For all I know,  War Emblem may in fact already be dead, since he was something of a failure as a stud and he would now be 15 years old.

peta quote 4

Articles about animal abuse always bring out both the best and the worst of internet posters. In this scenario, racing fans were quick to come up with some flimsy reason why the investigation is bogus, or perpetually ask why we care more for animals than people, make protestations about edited video and the need to provide context, complaints about PeTA’s methods, and any number of other defensive reactions that illuminate how little we want to actually examine our role in the ongoing suffering of animals.

Peta quote 3

The lawyer for Asmussen and Blasi is apparently shocked that someone would go undercover to actually expose the relentless abuse, avarice and greed they visited on these horses. Ironically, Blasi and Asmussen are probably going to see the greatest censure visited on them as a result of the identity falsification charges; after 9/11, this is probably going to be taken pretty seriously – probably more so than the abuse charges. So, an investigation about mistreatment of horses also involved the mistreatment of the human beings who took care of the horses. And If a horse needs electric shock to run faster, then it is no longer the “sport of kings,” but a matter of chaos, controlled by whoever has the biggest cattle prod.

Northern Dancer

Northern Dancer won the American Eclipse Award as Three-Year Old Male Champion of 1964 and the Sovereign Award for Horse of the Year. In 1965, he became the first horse to ever be voted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, an honour he held for thirty-one years and now shares with Canadian Equestrian Champion Big Ben. On its formation, he was part of the first group of inductees into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame and was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1976. In 1977, Northern Dancer won three world sires’ premiership titles being for the number of international stakes winners, international stakes wins and progeny stake earnings. He was retired from stud in 1987 at the age of 26. He died in 1990 and is buried at Windfields Farm in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. Windfields Farm has subsequently been abandoned, and Northern Dancer’s burial site is not publicly accessible. This is the life-sized bronze statue of him outside Woodbine Race Track in northwest Toronto. While tenderness in a tendon ended his career, he belongs to an “old-school” period when horses weren’t run on thyroxine or frog juice.  He did not continue to race on drugs for years with broken-down legs or feet.  Nor was he sent to slaughter after his breeding days were over.