Chiefswood Stables, nom de course of Robert and Mark Krembil, is a family owned and operated thoroughbred racing farm that breeds its own stock with an eye to competing in Classic races. Robert Krembil is the co-founder and CEO of Trimark Financial Corp, and his son, Mark, leads The Krembil Foundation, a philanthropic initiative with an initial focus on neuroscience which has now expanded to include focused research pillars in the areas of neurodegeneration, the immune system and arthritis.
As perennial leading owners by purse money at Woodbine Racetrack, Chiefswood Stables have earned Sovereign Award honours as Canada’s Outstanding Owner the past two years. Its regally-bred stock continue to push the thoroughbred breed forward in Ontario and beyond.
Canadian Classic winners for Chiefswood Stables include 2004 Queen’s Plate winner Niigon, 2013 Woodbine Oaks winner Nipissing and 2018 Breeders’ Stakes champ Neepawa. Niigon was guided to his Queen’s Plate score by Hall of Fame jockey Robert Landry, who is now general manager for Chiefswood Stables.
Chiefswood Stables is also represented by multiple graded-stakes winners Tiz a Slam and Yorkton and are among the outfits’ 1,875 career winners thus far with purse earnings in excess of $19.6 million. The classy full-circle operation is home to the Chiefswood After Care Program, led by Stacey Krembil, which pledges to find lifelong adoptive homes for their horses.
What are the most critical challenges facing the industry in Canada today?
“Racing is losing its fan base. We could talk about losing fans because of the increase in gaming opportunities, but I would take it one step further and say that we haven’t created a good reason for the next generation to come to the track. Racing hasn’t maintained its brand. People can go anywhere to gamble, they don’t need to come the track and spend the time learning how to read the forms. We need to build a brand that features honesty, integrity, and fair competition so that we can grow the fan base. We need to create an atmosphere where people want to bring their families and groups can be part of the horse racing lifestyle.
“Part of building that brand is doing a better job of showing our love for the horses. In a good year, Chiefswood will breed 20 babies, and we will also transition 20 of our racehorses away from the track. Five of those will become broodmares or stallions or get claimed, and the remaining 15 go into our own aftercare program where we work to retrain them and find new jobs. We aren’t alone in this either, I suspect that most owners make a concerted effort to find good new homes for their horses that can’t race anymore. Some will find new owners themselves and others will support retirement organizations and pay them to find new homes for the horses. We need to do more to celebrate these stories and to show our dedication to the horses.
“Once the brand is developed you can work on trying to improve the game because then your audience is coming because they are invested in our stories and the experience. But first, we need to evolve to be part of the dinner table conversation rather than just be in the gambling business. The fan base is crucial because that’s where the revenue comes from.”
What needs to change about the industry in the next 5-10 years?
“From an outsider’s perspective, the industry appears fragmented with many vested interests. The industry players need to be open minded and work together for the betterment of racing. If we build a brand for racing that was centered on being open and honest and caring for our horses with good, fair competition then any solution would have to fit into that brand. At the moment we have a lot of different factions that aren’t necessarily coordinated around a central premise.
“I don’t think we need a government body coming in and wielding a big stick to make this happen, but I do think that one spokesperson would be beneficial. We don’t need another body – we already have HBPA, CTHS, WEG etc. – we need better coordination to solve these problems.
“We have the remnants of a great racing industry because of E.P. Taylor. He was the unofficial driver for Ontario racing and we have benefitted from his passion and vision ever since. Unfortunately, he’s been gone a long time and racing is suffering. I’m not sure we will find another E.P. Taylor, but something like that has to happen rather than fighting amongst ourselves.”
How can you help affect that change?
“Many of the other owners on this list will have the same issue, we are all busy doing our own thing that supports this lifestyle. It would be nice if we could all be more involved.
“For my part, we let our actions do our talking – we contribute to the industry by investing in it. We have both a training centre and a broodmare farm in Ontario to train and care for over 100 horses plus we have many other homebreds in training with several local trainers. As mentioned, we try to breed 20+ babies every year and we send our broodmares to the best stallions and most of those offspring go to Canadian trainers.”
Where do you see the thoroughbred industry in Canada in 10 years?
“That will depend on how successful we are in re-branding the industry. If we aren’t successful in that, we will continue to shrink and become more and more irrelevant.
“I don’t want to dwell on the negative because we can fix it. There are examples near and far of success stories. Think of Saratoga with its family atmosphere where friends and families come for the day and set up picnics. DelMar has the same vibe. In Australia, Melbourne Cup Day is an annual public holiday in the state of Victoria. These tracks create events for their customers which drives their fan base, these are the kind of experiences we need to develop.”