If you know the back story, it makes perfect sense that the dam of presumptive Canadian Horse of the Year Lexie Lou was effectively given away to a good home and vanished into Quebec’s eastern townships. But, that didn’t make it any easier for Sherry McLean to track Oneexcessivenite down and bring her and her Spaniard yearling home.
McLean, who recently went out on her own after working as a farm manager for Mapleville Farms and its predecessor, Gardiner Farms in Caledon, ON, spent over a year trying to figure out what happened to Oneexcessivenite after Lexie Lou began showing promise as a two-year-old in the summer of 2013.
“I knew the mare went to Quebec. I just didn’t have a name on the lady that had her,” McLean said.
Oneexcessivenite effectively vanished in the fall of 2012. It was a disastrous year by any measure. In March of that year, around the time the government of Ontario announced it was pulling the plug on the Slots at Racetracks Program (SARP), Dr. Mike Colterjohn died of brain cancer at age 55. Colterjohn, McLean’s friend and former boss, had originally acquired Oneexcessivenite for Gardiner for $15,000 at a sale in 2006 and then bought her and all the Gardiner breeding stock when the farm liquidated in 2008.
After Colterjohn’s death, with the industry downtown picking up steam rapidly, Colterjohn’s widow, Dr. Moira Gunn, decided to disperse the mares the couple owned under their Paradox Farm Inc. name.
Shortly after Lexie Lou sold as a yearling for $5,500 to trainer John Ross in the open session of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society’s (CTHS) 2012 Canadian-Bred Yearling Sale, Oneexcessivenite, then in foal to Spaniard, was sold privately after failing to reach her meagre RNA price.
“We basically sold her after the fact for nothing,” McLean said. “We were just trying to get her a good home. The ladies said they wanted a baby and wanted to use her as a mare / pet / riding horse. She’s a great big, strong mare. That seemed to be fine for her.
“Of course, it was during the downturn of our industry, too. It wasn’t very nice. It was a kick in the teeth. But, anyway, she got a home, which was most important. She left for Quebec never to be heard from again.”
Or so they thought at the time.
Sometime in 2013, near Drummondville, Que., Oneexcessivenite foaled her Spaniard baby and was bred back to a Quarter Horse. The Spaniard foal was just two months old when she was purchased by a young woman who has a farm about two hours further east, in East Broughton, Que. That fall, the owner of the yearling contacted McLean by email looking for information about Spaniard, a sire that stands at Mapleville.
“I kind of kept in contact with her,” McLean said, admitting language was a huge barrier. McLean doesn’t speak French and the young woman doesn’t speak English. “I was asking her if she had any interest, given how Lexie ran, of putting her in a yearling sale, but she said she wanted to keep her as a riding horse.
“I flew out to Quebec last spring to try to see the filly and see if the girl was interested in selling. I tried to talk to her and make a deal with her where I would sell the horse for her… When I saw her, the filly’s best friend was a dairy cow and she was being raised like a backyard pony. She had a tiny paddock. It was all dirt. She lived on a farm that had no grass. She wasn’t getting enough exercise. The structure was there, but she needed to work.”
With translation help from Quebec native Denise Sutherland, who is married to the father of jockey Chantal Sutherland, McLean was able to convince the young woman that the yearling needed more exercise, a proper feed program and to be out on grass. A few months later, McLean received a photo of the Spaniard yearling grazing in an enclosed area beside an in-ground pool.
“That was her solution to grass and keeping the filly contained,” McLean said, laughing. “I thought, ‘What if she went into the pool? How the hell would you ever have gotten her out?’”
All the while, McLean kept searching for Oneexcessivenite, while updating the young woman about the exploits of Lexie Lou, who beat the boys in the 2014 Queen’s Plate and later finished second to U.S. Horse of the Year California Chrome in November in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby.
Then in the fall, McLean caught a break. The owner of the yearling had tracked down the owner of Oneexcessivenite and offered McLean the man’s phone number. She called immediately and offered to buy the mare over the phone, sight unseen, hoping to make the deal before someone else found out where the dam of Lexie Lou was located.
She declines to say how much she paid for Oneexcessivenite.
“I didn’t give a lot of money for her, but I made a good deal with the guy because he put effort and thought into breeding her to a Quarter Horse and a nice one,” she said. “I got in the truck and trailer and a friend went with me and we headed out to Quebec. We stayed overnight, made the deal, picked up the mare the next morning, met the vet out there and loaded her on the truck.”
The deal calls for the Quebec man to keep the Quarter Horse foal.
A week later, the owner of the Lexie Lou’s little sister called looking to sell the Spaniard yearling. Using an online translation program, McLean was able to translate the purchase contract into French and get the deal done.
“I made three trips to Quebec and got two of the family back and the girl did a super job with the filly in the three or four months from when I first had seen her,” McLean said.
McLean now owns Oneexcessivenite outright and the Spaniard filly — now in training at two in Florida — with Dennis Andrews, who has named her Spani Lou in honour of her sire and high-profile older sister.
McLean admits she is hoping the deals will help her get her own farm started.
“I’m on my own now and my future depends on being able to make a living,” she said.
Still, she’s being realistic.
“Right now, it’s still a little bit of a fairytale, but do fairytales always turn out well? We don’t know. But I’d like to think that maybe it will. It’s hope that got us all here and it’s hope that keeps us going,” she said.
After Oneexcessivenite foals the Quarter Horse in March, the plan is to breed her back to Lexie Lou’s sire, Sligo Bay. It is as much smart breeding as it is a tribute to Colterjohn, who developed the family and bred Lexie Lou.
“It all comes back to how Mike saw things,” McLean said. “I’d really like to try.”
Recently, McLean stumbled upon the video of the Celebration of Life in honour of Colterjohn. She hasn’t been able to watch it until now.
As family and friends gathered in the Northern Dancer room at Woodbine to pay tribute to Colterjohn, the comment was made that maybe they would all be back at Woodbine watching one of Colterjohn’s horses win the Queen’s Plate.
“This was two years ago before Lexie Lou won the Plate. That was as far as I could watch,” McLean said, her voice catching in her throat. “And then we had Lexie Lou.
“This, for me, is all about that. It was all about that line. It was something that Mike set out to do.”
The least Sherry McLean could do is try to carry on that legacy.