A new breeding season in Ontario is just around the corner, mare owners are planning matings and racing fillies are being retired from the track.
In Waterdown, ON, not far west from Woodbine racetrack, Vera Simpson and Mike Dubé are excited to usher in your Ontario mares and welcome little ones of 2021 at their Curraghmore Farm, one of the most successful destinations for Canadian breeders for almost 40 years.
The list of clients who have had their champions and stakes winners born and raised at Curraghmore is an impressive one that includes Eugene Melnyk, Danny Dion’s Bear Stables Ltd., Brereton C. Jones, Cavendish Investing, Richard Kennedy, Mel Lawson’s Jim Dandy Stable, Earle I. Mack and William A. Sorokolit, Breeders’ Cup-winning owners Manfred and Penny Conrad and Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson, who currently have mommas-to-be at Curraghmore.
And it was no surprise that Curraghmore was back in the racing news this month as a colt foaled by Simpson and Dubé at their farm, Mighty Heart, won the $1 million Queen’s Plate, the most famous race in Canada.
“I think we were kind of shocked,” said Simpson about watching the one-eyed Mighty Heart streak to a 7 1/2 length victory. “There he was [winning the Queen’s Plate]. I mean, we knew him, we foaled him. And boy, he was a tough little guy, his dam was tough.”
Simpson, who studied horsemanship through the British Horse Society Pony Club, is a passionate and tireless member of the Ontario breeding and racing industry. There have not been too many veterinary (AAEP) conferences, equine nutrition courses, herd health clinics and seminars on everything breeding that she has missed over the years, and it shows.
“We are about two things: nutrition and living and working on the farm. We don’t have a farm manager, we do everything ourselves.”
On the beautiful Curraghmore Farm there sits the only mix-mill in Ontario. Simpson and Dubé have fresh ingredients such as soya beans which they grow themselves, and mix their own feed.
“I have been very proud of our nutrition program,” said Simpson. “I don’t believe it is the main focus for a lot of farms and with our on-site mix mill, I don’t believe anyone does it like we do.”
Simpson credits the late Marc-Andre Blouin for helping her develop a successful feed program and she remains aware of the newest technologies. This consistent education is complemented by her dedication and skills for assessing horse wellness. These two qualities are essential to her success as a herdsman in raising strong, healthy athletes.
In addition, Simpson is a respected member of the horse racing community within Canada. She has been a member of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society since 1980, holding various positions on the board, including 14 years as provincial director, with terms as provincial vice-president and national director.
Raising a Queen’s Plate winner has certainly been a highlight for Simpson and Dubé in 2020, a tumultuous year otherwise due to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. And in recent years, the broodmare population in Ontario has been working its way back up following the negative reverberations of Ontario racing losing the slots at racetracks partner program.
“Thoroughbred racing and breeding has changed dramatically over the last five years,” said Simpson. “Broodmares are not as abundant as they were.”
The good news is that programs such as the Mare Purchase Program and Mare Recruitment Program introduced by Ontario Racing have been incentives for people to go out and pick up an affordable mare and get some money back.
Simpson is hoping that she can fill her stalls with mares for the upcoming season. Champion trainer, bloodstock agent and mare owner Reade Baker, currently purchasing horses at the Keeneland September yearling sale, recommends Curraghmore to any mare owner.
“I have done business with Vera for twenty-five years and her care of horses is exemplary,” said Baker. “She does everything for the good of the horse. In my experience, her care and hard work was better than any other farm I have dealt with in any country.”
Simpson is also an avid racing fan and wants to promote the experience of attending the races, the stable area and all things Thoroughbred racing. She is hoping to give her Thoroughbred Race Club a good start in 2021 after some bad luck getting momentum late in 2018.
“Our industry seems to have shifted from a social activity to just making money,” said Simpson. “I want to help get racing back to being social as it has been and should be. I have fashioned TRC after the Royal Ascot Racing Club which offers members 25 days of racing and lunch, sharing in the experience of being part of a racing club which races horses. I had a good deal of interest before COVID-19 hit.”
No task for Simpson or Dubé is too tough and that shows in their accomplishments and reputation in the Thoroughbred breeding industry. Mighty Heart is the latest testament to the successful Curraghmore Farm and they hope to have a barn full of clients’ broodmares come 2021.