Larry Cordes of Port Perry, ON, realized a lifelong dream Sept. 12 when his homebred colt MIGHTY HEART won the 161st Queen’s Plate at Woodbine racetrack. It was a dream that revved up some 10 years ago when he began breeding his own couple of mares after years of studying pedigrees.
Cordes’ love of horses started at much earlier age, growing up in Penatanguishene. “I remember a lady coming to the door of our house when I was just a kid and she had a pony with her,” he laughed. “She was taking pictures of the neighbourhood kids with this pony and that’s where it all started.”
He became an avid rider, which has carried on until today as he rides his retired racehorse In Memory of Floyd, a half-brother to Mighty Heart, on the trails.
Cordes got his start in racing with Quarter Horses in the early 1970s, training a few horses for racing at Picov Downs in Ajax. “I had a little farm with a track on it, I was just doing it on a small scale.”
What fueled his racing dreams was a horse he purchased as a riding horse for his daughter Evelyn from the Picov family.
Cordes bought her a horse, born in 1971, that originally had cost some $35,000 as a show prospect but as he recalls, the owners “could not do anything with it.”
“I knew Mr. Alex Picov and I was looking for a horse for my daughter. He said he had this beautiful horse named College Fund but no one could handle it at all.”
Evelyn, only nine years old, wanted to get on the horse. “She had a sense with animals that you wouldn’t believe. Wild animals, she would have them come up to her.
“We put a lip shank and a lunge line on him, my daughter got on and he didn’t do anything. I loosened the line a bit more and he did everything right. I took the whole line off and he jumped to the side, went to go to rolling but I tell you, she had the horse doing anything she wanted for 20 minutes. They were eventually inseparable after that.”
Cordes laughs when he remembers when his wife Connie and Evelyn came home one day a few years later with a set of racing silks.
“I said, ‘What the heck is that for?’ and they told me they had registered the horse for the races. I laughed, I mean, he was a riding horse!”
Connie and Evelyn talked Dad into training their horse for the races on the promise that Evelyn would assist in cooling out the horse and bathing him.
Cordes had his work cut out for him as College Fund was about 400 pounds overweight for a racehorse. “We jogged and jogged and jogged him. We took him to the track to try him at the starting gate to see what he would do. I remember people laughing at us. We just broke him out of the gate a few times and then took him home for another three months.”
After more jogging and workouts and gate work, College Fund was ready for his career debut. He was nine years old when he started his racing career in 1980.
“His first race? He won by five lengths.”
Pari-mutuel wagering came to Picov Downs soon after and College Fund won again and then took two more victories in 1981. The gelding’s racing career came to an end soon after, however, when he broke a blood vessel in his sinus cavity. Evelyn went on to train the horse around barrels and perhaps not surprisingly, the horse was a natural.
“We took him up to the Markham Fair for some events and my daughter ended up winning the Junior Championship,” said Cordes.
When Evelyn grew up into adulthood and got married, College Fund became a riding horse for another young girl in a family the Cordes knew. The horse lived out his life until he was 28 years old, said Cordes.
“This horse was so talented all around and he was beautiful.”
Sadly, Evelyn passed away from cancer in her 40s not long after Connie passed away, also from cancer. Cordes stepped away from horses and racing for several years, but knew his wife and and daughter would want him to continue pursuing his love of horses and racing.
What followed – his purchase of a fast filly in 2011 and her foal who lost an eye in 2017 – is now etched in Canadian horse racing history.