Like a talented artist with a blank canvas, Andrij ‘Andre’ Brygidyr has created businesses from virtually nothing and made them into something immaculate.
His latest project is breeding thoroughbred racehorses and if the Toronto resident’s track record is any indication, it won’t be long before horses born on his Belwood, ON farm are popping up in the winner’s circle.
Together with his similarly-enterprising 26-year-old daughter Andrea, the Brygidyrs have already had quick success with his first handful of, admittedly, impulse horse purchases. They currently have one runner, the petite filly, A. A. Azula’s Arch, a Grade 3 stakes winner of $200,000 and their first small group of young horses born at their farm have attracted attention at sales this year.
And it all started with an excited raise of the hand at a breeding stock sale at Woodbine in 2009 when Andrij bought an 8-month old weanling for $10,000.
“Oh, we had no idea what we were doing at the time,” said Andrij, laughing. “We have been learning as we go. We started off loving the racing but we really enjoy the tranquility of the farm and spending time with the foals as they grow up. We’d like to take a page out of some of the top breeders and make our own business of it.”
AN IMMIGRANT’S TALE
Likely the first horses that Andrij would have seen soon after he was born in Germany in 1949 would have been work or transportation horses, possibly even soldiers’ horses from World War II.
His father, Mychaylo, who had fought with the Ukraine and National Army, and mother, Lidia, were in a refugee camp in Germany when Andrij was born and within three years were able to join some 36,000 who emigrated to Canada.
“It was the typical immigrant story,” said Andrij. “We were the second wave of displaced people who came from Europe after the Second World War. Some went to Brazil, Australia or the U.S. and other came to Canada. Actually, it was more like an escape because the KGB were looking for Ukrainian people.”
Andrij and his parents got on a boat to Halifax’s Pier 1 in 1952 and then boarded a train to Saskatchewan.
“We went to a farm in Saskatoon, we had to be sponsored. We had no money, spoke no English and it was the middle of January and it was bitterly cold. It was quite a culture shock.”
The family made their way to Toronto a few years later with the senior Brygidyr working in construction (he had been an economics professor in Germany) and his mother working in the laundry department of a hospital even though she had been a second-year medical student before leaving for Canada.
As a student growing up in Toronto, Andrij thought he might want to be a doctor and he studied technical microbiology at the University of Manitoba. That didn’t stick and instead he returned to Toronto and obtained his Master of Business Administration in marketing at the University of Toronto.
Andrij married and he and his wife Anne welcomed their only child, Andrea. After Andrij and Anne’s marriage ended, Andrea was raised by her father and his mother Lidia.
BIRTH OF A&A FARMS
It was at this time when Andrij, who had just lost a job, was sitting in his den in the West Village at Bloor in Toronto that he picked up a phone and a fax machine and started A&A Merchandising, a marketing company that is now 400 employees strong and boasts clients such as Google, Bell and Chanel.
Then horses entered his life.
“One day I asked Andrea what she wanted to do for her birthday and she said she wanted to ride horses. So I signed her up for English riding lessons and I thought it looked like fun so I took them too,” said Andrij, laughing.
Soon father and daughter were going from stable to stable trying Western, English and trail riding. Andrea rode in a pony club and, along with Grandma Lidia, did a stint in fox hunting with the Caledon Hunt Club.
Andrij and Andrea even tackled the difficult game of polo and that took them to matches in California and Thailand.
Andrea started re-training retired thoroughbreds while her dad eventually retired from the saddle — “I kept falling off and breaking things,” he said.
They bought their 100-acre farm north of the Toronto city limits and filled it with riding horses. In 2009, when they learned of a horse ownership seminar taking place at Woodbine racetrack they signed up and when a friend mentioned the annual breeding stock sale at the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society pavilion near the track, they went there too.
Andrea remembers falling in love with the weanlings as they were led into the ring. She also remembers her dad suddenly raised his hand at $10,000 when a chocolate coloured youngster with a heart-shaped white mark on his forehead came into the ring.
They packed up the little guy, a son of Canadian Horse of the Year Peaks and Valleys, into their trailer and took him home to live with their riding horses.
Accomplished trainer Debbie England was hired and their first racehorse purchase was christened A. A. Grenade. In his 13th start in the fall of 2013, A. A. Grenade won his first race and went on to win two more and collected over $80,000 in earnings before retiring to their farm.
The Brygidyrs took more courses, bought a couple more horses at auction and when one of those, A. A. Flaxen Queen, who never made it to the races, suddenly had a very famous younger brother, they decided to change things up.
“A. A. Flaxen Queen’s younger brother Pink Lloyd was showing he was good horse and he became the 2017 Horse of the Year and Champion Sprinter. That’s when we decided to switch gears,” said Andrij.
“We were having fun with racing but we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be even more fun to breed our own?’” he said, laughing.
On a trip to a pedigree and conformation clinic, the Brygidyrs met David Lambert, of Equine Analysis Programs in Kentucky, a company that scans horses for size of their heart and spleen (the larger the spleen the more blood gets to the other parts). They hired Caitlin Calder to pick out a filly for them at the 2017 June Two-year-Old Sale for 2-year-olds in Ocala, FL for racing, but mostly breeding purposes.
When Calder picked out a filly by the popular sire Arch, the Brygidyrs were on the phone in Toronto, ready to bid, when they found out she had been withdrawn from the sale.
Consignor Valery de Meric remembered that a minor throat ulcer needed some time to heal and figured the bids on the filly would not be strong.
“Caitlin was first back at the barn upon realizing she had been withdrawn and bought her privately,” said de Meric, who was selling the filly on behalf of owner Tami Bobo. “She was still a bit immature looking, she was a May 20 foal, but she didn’t strike us as too small, the parts were definitely there.”
Calder was urged by the Brygidyrs to do what she could to buy the filly for them and they got her for $60,000 (U.S.)
THE FOUR PER CENT
Named A.A. Azula’s Arch, the filly launched the Brygidyrs into an entire new category in horse racing. “I didn’t know what a graded stakes race was, how it was different than a regular race,” said Andrij. “I only knew that only four per cent of all horses win a graded stakes race.”
A. A. Azula’s Arch showed talent in her early training with Kevin Attard. She won her second career race just five months after she was purchased and in 2018 developed into a stakes competitor.
In November of that 3-year-old year, she circled a field of tough, older mares and won the Grade 3 Maple Leaf Stakes earning $75,000.
“We were like, ‘Oh my god.’ We couldn’t believe it. We didn’t expect to win, that is for sure, but suddenly we became owners of one of those four per cent,” Andrij said.
A&A Farms was on the rise and, back at the farm, the first horse bred by father and daughter was a filly by an exciting young U.S. sire, Fast Anna, from A. A. Flaxen Queen.
Andrea, equipped with crash courses on foaling mares, helped in the delivery. Named Fast Lida, in honour of Grandma Lidia who passed away a few years ago, the filly was offered for sale this past August at the CTHS auction but was bought back by the Brygidyrs for $47,000.
On Nov. 11, they had a pretty good score when a weanling colt by first-year sire Klimt, sold for $65,000 (US) at the Keeneland Breeding sale in Lexington. It had cost the Brygidyrs $10,000 to breed to the stallion.
“We’re going to stick with breeding for the most part, we like it a little more,” said Andrij. “It is a bit more exciting for us than just two minutes of racing.”
Andrea, who is the account manager for A&A Merchandising and has a degree in digital paging and expanded marketing, keeps an attractive website for their farm and a busy Facebook page that shares photos of their small broodmare band and homebreds.
“This began as a hobby for us, but we are going to treat it more like a business,” said Andrij, a big fan of Sovereign Award winning breeder Ivan Dalos, who also built his successful thoroughbred operation from the ground up after emigrating to Canada.
“His methodology is good,” said Andrij. “I want to emulate what he does with line-breeding and pedigree analysis.”
CUP HALF FULL
Father and daughter have never been shy about taking on new challenges.
“We are entrepreneurs by nature; we tend to have a more of “cup half full” rather than a “cup half empty” outlook,” said Andrij. “I think it’s next to impossible to start companies without a very positive ‘can do’ attitude.
“Counter intuitively, we are actually attracted to industries with challenges and those undergoing change such as the horse business. Challenges create ambiguity and opportunity that drives innovation. As entrepreneurs we embrace the ambiguity.”
Both still juggle the daily workload of their businesses, which now includes the innovative Q-Dental Corp, a mobile orthodontist business and Andrij’s lectures at the Rotman School of Business at the U of T.
They have a small staff at the farm, including manager Jennifer Hamilton, and pride themselves on building up their knowledge about thoroughbred racing.
“You just have to do things and make a whole lot of mistakes in this business,” said Andrij. “There are no schools for this horse racing stuff but I think it would be a good idea if there was.”
Sounds like he is cooking up a new challenge.