Chouinard has never met a challenge he did not attack head-on. He has been winning a battle with cancer since he was diagnosed four years ago and he continues his daily work as a broker (he’s entering his 42nd year) and as vice president of CIBC world markets. Oh, and in his spare time he has built his Bar None Ranches into the biggest thoroughbred multi-use operation west of Ontario.
“I am very pleased with the way things are going,” said Chouinard, who opened Bar None in 1981 with his wife Cheryl. “I guess my goal is to have a complete thoroughbred operation. I want to breed horses that can compete throughout Canada and improve the quality of racing in Alberta.”
Chouinard, who was born in Grandora, Saskatchewan, is well on his way to achieving all of those goals because of the hundreds of thousands of dollars he has poured into the breeding section of Bar None which encompasses 160 acres of about 10,000 acres of hay, cattle and heavily treed land. Indeed, it is fitting that the entrance to the expansive property in Dewinton, Alberta has the words “Lynn’s Dream’ attached to the Bar None moniker. “The farm has never been as big as it is now,” said manager Mike Vanin, 32, who joined Bar None in 2005. “It has grown very quickly in the last few years.”
Setting a trend
Lynn Chouinard’s first experience in horse racing was not unlike that for a lot of other newcomers to the business. A graduate of the University of Saskatchewan with a Bachelor of Arts in education, Chouinard was working as a broker for Merrill-Lynch when he bought one-third of a racehorse with friends. “His name was Trendy Max and I watched him break a leg in his first start he made for us,” said Chouinard. “So, I went out and bought a couple of more,” he added with a chuckle.
From there, a handful of racehorses turned into double that amount as Chouinard dabbled in the game strictly as a hobby.
In the early 1980’s, Chouinard set forth a plan to build up his racing business and purchased the Bar None property, located just south of Calgary. “My 10-year-old son said to me when we bought the place in 1981, ‘Dad, we are going to have the best farm around, bar none.’,” said Chouinard, “So that’s what I named it.”
Immediately, Bar None became home to hundreds of Simmental cattle and the expansive section of hay fields was procured and sold. Dozens of acres were landscaped with immaculate gardens and a 100-year-old church that overlooks the main house, was kept intact. The operation remained private and small for two decades and during that time the Chouinards raced Alberta stakes winners Miss Double Dip and, towards the mid 1990s’, Code Name Fred, a Pole Position gelding who earned over $473,000.
For all Alberta
Chouinard took Bar None to another level in 2003 when he began to build up the racing and breeding operation in a bid to assist all horsemen in the province. A racing barn, with 100 stalls, was added as well as a 100-foot equicizer and a five-furlong training track the size of Calgary’s Stampede Park. Within three years, a breeding barn, shed and lab were added as Bar None began to welcome clients from all over Canada.
Vanin, who was working as an exercise rider and yearling breaker for Bar None and its trainer Ron Grieves, took over duties of running the fast-growing business at the time when Chouinard began to add stallions to the mix. Tempered Appeal, a stakes winning son of Valid Appeal, was the first to arrive and his initial crop, foals of 2006, included stakes winner Tricky Temper and stakes placed Desperate Appeal.
It was at this time that Vanin was sent on a mission to find another stallion for Bar None. He set his sights on the American champion Gilded Time, winner of the ‘92 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, who was standing at Vinery Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. “We were looking for a nice, proven horse with some name recognition,” said Vanin. “Plus it was a bonus that he is a huge influence of speed, which is helpful at Northlands Park (a six-furlong track).”
Vanin had to make more than half a dozen offers to the Gilded Time syndicate before the son of Timeless Moment finally arrived in Alberta for the ‘07 breeding season. His first Canadian crop race this year.
“He’s 21 now, but we manage him well,” said Vanin about the sire who has had 57 stakes winners including last year’s Grade I winning sprinter Gayego. Bar None added graded stakes winner Saint Stephen (by Saint Ballado and a full brother champion Ashado) to its stallion roster in 2008 and his first foals will also debut on the track in 2011.
Chouinard, who is active at the big breeding and yearling auctions in Kentucky as well as the Alberta yearling sale, now has a broodmare band of about 69. Including clients and boarders, the farm will breed about 150 mares to its stallions this season.
“During our peak time we usually have about 25 staff, 235 stalls are filled and our training numbers expand too,” said Vanin. “We had 98 in training for ourselves last year but had about 200 training, in total, last spring.
Vanin, acting as agent for Chouinard last fall, bought two weanlings and two broodmares at the Keeneland November sale and 10 yearlings from the Keeneland September Sale including a $70,000 Ontario-bred colt by Roman Ruler and a $40,000 Ontario-bred filly by Gone West. “We want to have more horses racing in Toronto this year and two of our three-year-olds of 2011 are currently in training at Tampa Bay Downs in Florida to get ready for Woodbine.”
It was the purchase of a hyperbaric oxygen chamber two years ago that has elevated Bar None to a new level in horse training and therapy. By infusing pure oxygen into the machine — up to 16 times that of the regular atmosphere — it creates a pressurized environment and boosts oxygen in the bloodstream. This is thought to create new blood cells, promoting healing of infected wounds, injured muscles, ligaments and tendons. The chamber, believed to be the only one of its kind in western Canada, has proven to be very popular with horsemen as Vanin said it is running almost all day, every day. Each two-hour session for a horse costs $275.
Vanin said Bar None is close to embarking in a research project in partnership with the University of Calgary on the effects of the hyperbaric chamber on horses in general and then its use with bleeders or horses with soft tissue injuries. The addition of the chamber has lured various breeds of horses to Bar None such as Quarter horses and sport horses as well as polo, barrel racing, steer wrestling, chuck wagon and reining horses. The ranch is also home to an Aqua-Pacer, a treadmill in water, that has also proven to be popular with all horsepeople.
Recently, the Rocky Mountain Turf Club recognized Chouinard’s efforts to bolster the industry in Alberta with the Horseman of the Decade honour. “Besides having an unbelievable complex of barns, paddocks and gardens at Bar None Ranches, Lynn himself is one of a kind, said RMTC CEO Max Gibb. “He’s been fighting terminal cancer… and continues his daily routine, embracing life and the passions he has – his family, race horses and gardening.”
Chouinard welcomes visitors to Bar None and in the spring, one can behold over 40,000 tulips in bloom. “It is a place of real beauty,” said Chouinard, a father of four and grandfather to five children. “On the farm, the add-ons on my property complement each other. I spend most of my time now with my horses and grandchildren but I want to be able to support all horsemen in Alberta.