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Royal victory for the quintessential “small guy”

As One Bad Boy began to pull away from favoured Avi’s Flatter in the stretch of the 160th Queen’s Plate, Ron Clarkson's 56-year dream was coming true.

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As One Bad Boy began to pull away from favoured Avi’s Flatter in the stretch of the 160th Queen’s Plate, time seemed to both expand and contract as the moment slowed down and the years came rushing to Deb Ehrat. After 56 years of breeding horses, her father’s dream was coming true and Ehrat made a point to carefully study his face.

“I watched him pretty closely. He’s a pretty calm, non-emotional guy, but there was a smile on his face that said he had done it, he had realized the dream, and at 80, that’s pretty important,” Ehrat said, less than 24 hours after One Bad Boy, bred by her father, Ron Clarkson, posted a 3 ½ length victory over Avi’s Flatter in 2:02.98 at Woodbine Racetrack. It was the first Plate winner produced by Clarkson, whose Rolling Ridge Farm is based near Orangeville, ON.

A small Ontario breeder that produces just two or three horses a year and currently has just three mares, Clarkson said the first thought that flashed through his mind as One Bad Boy crossed the wire was it would prove to people that he was still in the game and still producing good horses.

“I thought that maybe people would think I could still produce a horse, because if you don’t come up with something big, people kind of forget that you’re in the business,” he said. “Now at least they know I’m still in the business, because we’re very, very small.”

Given the struggles of breeders everywhere in Canada in recent years, Clarkson said he hopes other smaller Ontario breeders could gain some inspiration from his triumph; one that was a lifetime in the making.

“We saw Sam-Son win year after year or the other big farms and we would say, ‘They can afford the stud fees, they can afford the broodmares.’ I think it does help that somebody with not too much does have a little luck. I think anybody can get lucky in this business.”

Clarkson said the Plate victory, “means that (small breeders) still have a chance, but you’ve got to keep trying. I always say to people, ‘If you don’t love this business, get out of it really quickly because you have more bad times than good, usually.’ So, you’ve got to celebrate when you do well.”

Fruit of His Labour

Clarkson said he loves the horse business so much that if he had a chance at a do-over he would never had followed his father into the fruit and vegetable business.

“(Horses are) all I ever wanted to do when I was a young guy. I wanted to go into it. My dad was in the fruit and vegetable business and a wonderful guy. He said, ‘You can do that when you get old. You just lose money in horses.’ So, I went into the fruit and vegetable business and had the horses on the side. If I had my life to live over again it would be straight horses. I think everybody should do what they love.”

Though Clarkson left the fruit and vegetable business some 30 years ago, Ehrat said she vividly remembers how busy the family was, particularly in the autumn.

“Back in the day my dad had a farm of orchards and strawberries, etcetera. He was a market gardener. So, the yearling sale happened just as the apple crop was coming, just as school was starting, just as everything was going. That particular first week of September, as we all know, that yearling sale was a week here in Canada. So, it was a pretty special time,” Ehrat said. “If dad had two or three (horses), he was gone. To have him gone from the farm left a huge hole that we all had to pick up. It wasn’t easy, but it was very memorable.

“I’ve been going to yearling sales as long as I can remember.”

Though this was just the second Plate starter Clarkson has produced — Majestic Sunset was a DNF in the 2014 race; “He really shouldn’t have been in there,” Ehrat said — the goal from the very beginning, “was always to breed good, solid horses that could run in the best races we could produce,” she said.

In One Bad Boy’s case, that journey started at the Keeneland November Breeding Stock sale in 2013.

Something About Her

The first time Clarkson saw One Bad Boy’s dam, Cumulonimble, at the Keeneland sale, he instantly knew he had to have her. He turned to Ehrat and said he was going to buy the mare.

“She said, ‘What do you mean? You’ve hardly looked at any.’ I said, ‘That is the nicest mare I’ve seen. I’m going to buy her.’ I didn’t know if I could afford her or not, but I bought her for $60,000 (U.S.),” Clarkson said. “A guy came up to me right after and said, ‘You stole that mare.’ I said, ‘Pardon?’ He said, ‘They should have had a reserve on that mare.’ I said, ‘You could have bid on her. I’m just here to try and buy a mare.’ It was kind of funny.”

Clarkson said taking a shine to Cumulonimble on first sight was the kind of karma horse racing is known for.

“I think some people, especially people that are really in the horse business, if they see something that they really think can work then they should really go after it because something else doesn’t work the same,” Clarkson said of following one’s gut instinct.

Cumulonimble, a daughter of Stormy Atlantic out of Crown Gulch, was a multiple Illinois-bred stakes winner between 2008 and 2012 that earned more than $340,000 at the races. She was raced by Illinois-based Two Bucks To Show LLC a syndicate that includes Patti Davis, a lifelong racing fan that works in public relations in Chicago.

Davis has since become one of Clarkson and Ehrat’s closest friends — “because she wanted to know all about her offspring,” Clarkson said. Davis even attended this year’s Queen’s Plate at the invitation of Ehrat and Clarkson.

“She came from Chicago and she was with us. So, it was extra special,” Ehrat said of their triumphant Plate Day.

Lucky Mating

As for mating Cumulonimble to Twirling Candy — the match that produced ridgling One Bad Boy — Clarkson said it was a gut thing with a lot of luck involved, similar to having to have Cumulonimble in the first place.

“Not too much went into that,” Clarkson admitted. “We just usually look at a stallion and how well he’s done and how we think he suits the mare. We just got lucky. We’ve bred lots of mares before to stallions we thought would suit and got nothing. I’m not saying we did the right thing, it’s just we got lucky. I think anybody could get lucky. It’s just our turn.”

The ridgling is the third of four foals out of Cumulonimble and has the same California connections as his 4-year-old half-sister Ms Bad Behavior (sired by Blame) — Santa Anita-based trainer Richard Baltas and owners SayJay Racing LLC, Greg Hall and Brooke Hubbard. Ms Bad Behavior was purchased by the group for $75,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in 2016 and has gone on to earn more than $320,000. The group went back to the same well at the same sale a year later and bought One Bad Boy for $65,000.

“They loved his half-sister and came back. It was kind of unreal,” Ehrat said.

As a foal, Clarkson remembers One Bad Boy as being less flashy than Ms Bad Behavior.

“I just remember that he wasn’t nearly as round as the filly. He was more the narrower type. He was going to be taller than the filly, but he wasn’t quite as striking as she was,” Clarkson said.

Ehrat said that changed by the time One Bad Boy was ready to go to the sale.

“I remember him as a yearling and him being a striking-looking individual. Dad prepped him here at the (Ontario) farm to get ready for Keeneland. I could remember being excited because he was a good-looking individual.”

From LA To Dreamland

Ehrat said she was even more excited when she learned the connections were going to send the ridgling from California to Toronto to contest the Plate.

“The fact that they brought him from California was pretty special,” she said.

Yet, nothing compares to that frozen moment in time when One Bad Boy crossed the wire as Queen’s Plate champion.

“This is the greatest business there is in the world as far as I’m concerned. It’s not like any other business. It’s the dream,” Clarkson said. “You’re dreaming and you’re hoping you can put it together if you breed to the right stallion and that it doesn’t get hurt growing up and you get it to the sale and somebody decent buys it. So many things can happen along the way that you have to love it.”

Ehrat said watching the horse her father produced win the Plate was, “a dream come true. My dad’s been breeding horses for 56 years and to watch him achieve that was the pinnacle Canadian milestone that every Ontario breeder dreams about,” she said.

After nearly six decades of trying, Clarkson said it was terrific that it all finally fell into place.

“It’s nice to have one day like that in your life,” Clarkson said, laughing.

After 56 years of producing just two or three horses a year, 80-year-old Ontario breeder Ron Clarkson finally has his Queen’s Plate winner.

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