About five years ago, Al and Bill Ulwelling from Minnesota approached Woodbine trainer Kevin Attard and told him they wanted to invest in Canadian racing.

“We told him we wanted to have horses race in all the big Canadian races and try and win them,” said Al. “He probably thought we were a little crazy at that time.”

The Ulwellings had been leading owners at Canterbury Downs in their home state and had moved into breeding their own horses to better their racing stock. Al, 45, and father Bill, 67, had raced a few horses at Woodbine. It was a trip to the Toronto track in 2014 that sold them on setting up a breeding and racing business in Ontario.

“We went to see Pumpkin Rumble run in the Toronto Cup and they put us up in the Woodbine Club and the facilities there were amazing,” said Al. “Everyone was so nice. My Dad and I went back home and looked at the Ontario breeding programs and awards and decided to go for it.”

On Tuesday, September 14, 2021, a plain bay gelding from the Ulwellings’ very first crop of Ontario-breds, HADDASSAH, went out and won the second jewel of Canada’s Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie.

“I lost my voice yelling at the television,” laughed Al. “Boy, that was fun.”

The Ulwellings watched the Prince of Wales from home; they had been to Woodbine to watch Haddassah in the Queen’s Plate where he finished eighth and although they had a last-minute chance to hop a plane and get to Fort Erie, they elected to stay put.

“My dad’s satellite went out as they were going into the gate so suddenly he’s roaring up our driveway. We all ended up watching it at our house.”

Haddassah and jockey Gary Boulanger, sent off at 6-to-1 in the eight-horse field, were perfectly spotted early in the 1 3/16 mile race on dirt. The Air Force Blue – Lady Haddassah, by Whywhywhy gelding tracked pacesetter Ready at Dawn through opening fractions of 23.67,  47.30 and 1:11.53. Inside the quarter-pole Haddassah was given his cue by Boulanger and he went by a fading Ready at Dawn.

Sam-Son Farms’ Tidal Forces also made a bid with another Kevin Attard trainee, Harlan Estate looming up three wide and yet another Kevin colt, H C Holiday, rallying from the back.

In the stretch run, Harlan Estate joined Haddassah for a battle but he never got past and Haddassah won by half a length in 1:56.15. Harlan Estate finished second over Keep Grinding, owned by Kevin’s son Joshua and trained by his father Tino, with H C Holiday fourth – an all-Attard superfecta.

The filly Curlin’s Catch, favoured by $160 at 3-to-1 over Harlan Estate, finished fifth.

“It was such a fantastic end to the race,” said Al. “Our bloodstock agent, Clay Scherer, owns a part of Harlan Estate so we had a few giggles with him about that.”

It was a sweet win for the Ulwellings and Kevin Attard after what can only be described as a very difficult 2021.

Coming off a good year in 2020 with their horses despite racing being delayed and then curtailed early due to to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ulwellings agreed to leave their horses in Ontario for the winter as Kevin thought it best to stay north during the pandemic. The team rented part of Winview Farm in Caledon East and horses were all set to go in April.

But the pandemic was far from being done and Ontario leaders kept a lid on all businesses. so racing was postponed from its start date in mid-April.

“I can’t put into words how frustrating it was, said Al. “I consider myself a generally happy person all the time but that just ate at me every day. It wasn’t just the financial aspect but the whole team, everyone working so hard with the horses to get them ready and no one getting rewarded. I felt so bad for everyone.”

Kevin and some of his barn staff got sick with Covid, too.

“I remember Kevin calling me when he got Covid and he sounded terrible. He is trying to update me on horses and I had to tell him to call me when he was feeling better.”

In the midst of all that, Al’s brother Mike passed away suddenly, devastating his family.

With no start date for racing in sight, the Ulwellings were close to sending all their horses to the U.S. to race with the intent of coming back later. Finally, the season got underway in early June and things began to roll.

It was their colt Stephen, the Coronation Futurity winner from the fall of 2020, who carried the family’s Plate hopes early. But an injury sidelined the son of Constitution.

So it was Haddassah who would go to the Plate off a solid third-place effort in the Grade 3 Marine Stakes and off the Lasix medication. In the Plate, however, Haddassah was too headstrong early and tired.

The decision to run the gelding back in the Prince of Wales was one that was taken seriously by the Ulwellings and Attard.

“The reason we went in there was a few things,” said Al. “The distance was slightly shorter and his dam Lady Haddassah loved the dirt. Then when he had a good workout at Fort Erie, they told me he worked like butter, we decided to go.”

The Prince of Wales win put $240,000 into the pockets of the Ulwellings and Haddassah now has two wins in five starts and earnings of over $327,000.

Haddassah is the second stakes winner for his sire Air Force Blue, a son of War Front. Lady Haddassah was claimed by the Ulwellings for $16,000 and she went on to be stakes placed.

“She is the smallest horse you will ever see,” said Al, who was not sure they were going to keep the mare to breed because of her size. But a trip to see Lady Haddassah at Remington Park with his wife Gabriella and their four kids changed that. They fell in love with the friendly mare.

Lady Haddassah, like all of the Ulwelling mares, foals at Glenn Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ dale Farm in Nobleton. The mare is in foal again to Air Force Blue.

“I am so proud of Haddassah and so proud of our mare,” said Al. “And it is days like these that my Dad cherishes, he loves it so much.”

AUTHOR NOTE: Al Ulwelling, who enjoys bantering with many of us who cover and handicap Woodbine races, simply loves the Ontario racing product from all aspects.

“Jeff Bratt, Jason Portuondo, you, Robert Geller, you guys all get it, you get the sport. You watch replays, you remember everything and you love the game. Woodbine should be proud of all of you. And we appreciate everything you guys do.”