Profiles

Meet Joey Gee, Ontario’s Newest Top 10 Thoroughbred Owner

Joe Guerrieri (Joey Gee), the new owner of the former Gardiner Farms, cracked the top 10 in the Woodbine Thoroughbred owner rankings in 2018.

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After only a few minutes of conversation with Joe Guerrieri (Joey Gee), Ontario horse racing’s newest top 10 owner, it is easy to hear his fascination for the sport.

It has taken the Italian-born, Mississauga resident just over seven years to go from owning a couple of horses in partnership to managing his own farm (none other than the former famed Gardiner Farms) which is home to over 130 horses including some 40 broodmares.

In 2019, he will stand his first stallion, the impeccably bred Seattle Serenade, a stakes-winning son of Smart Strike from the family of Canadian Triple Crown winner With Approval and Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold.

Guerrieri’s stable of racehorses, including his first crop of homebreds, earned just over $1.1 million (Cdn) in 2018, putting him seventh on the owner’s list at Woodbine, His horses won 28 races, tied for third at the Toronto track.

“I’m a big fan of horse racing,” said Guerrieri. “I sold my business and took about a million and a half from that to seed my horse business. It has been challenging, but I enjoy it.”

Guerrieri has his finger on virtually every aspect of the thoroughbred business. He prides himself on being hands-on from planning broodmare matings by studying pedigree crosses, keeping up on race results and trainer statistics and working at surrounding himself and his horses with the best horsepeople.

He has had a passion for horses and racing since he came to Canada with his parents at the age of four. He learned to ride at Double R Ranch in the Toronto area and worked for free cleaning stalls to do so. He followed the major horse races at every opportunity and worked one summer as a hotwalker for trainer Bob Bateman in the early 1970s.

Bateman trained a successful string of homebreds for Warren Beasley, including the 1969 Queen’s Plate winner Jumpin Joseph.

Guerrieri remained a fan of racing while he built up his computer and software businesses. It was the sale of those companies that jump-started his involvement in racing. His first horses were owned in partnership with friend Aldo Ventresca, including Black Hornet, a bargain yearling purchase by trainer Pat Parente who went on to earn about $600,000.

He went out on his own in 2014 and won the Halton Stakes with new claim, Hampstead Heath. It was the stable’s lone win that year, but, two years later, he watched his horses win 25 races.

Wanting to continue to expand into the breeding business, Guerrieri moved his horses to Gardiner Farms, which had been renamed Mapleville and was owned by Na Lui. In early 2017, Guerrieri bought the farm outright and renamed it Winview.

“I believe what happens to a horse in the first couple of weeks of their life has an effect on their life,” said Guerrieri. “That’s why I bought the farm, to have a facility you don’t have to double check on all the time. If I want stakes winners I feel I have a higher chance of getting them by breeding myself.”

Guerrieri, with the assistance of bloodstock agent Beth Hancock, bought young mares with good pedigrees and his first foals arrived in 2017.

A lot of those early bills needed to manage a farm were paid by Guerrieri’s first big horse, Channel Maker, who won the 2017 Breeders’ Stakes, worth $400,000 following a good fourth-place finish in the Queen’s Plate,

A son of English Channel, Channel Maker was a big-ticket fellow for Guerrieri after the gelding won the Vandal Stakes as a 2-year-old on the turf and finished third in the Summer Stakes (Grade 2). Following that race, Guerrieri sold shares in the horse to American owners Gary Barber and Adam Wachtel.

Channel Maker was well beaten in the Breeders’ Cup and transferred from Canadian trainer Dan Vella to Bill Mott.

Following his Breeders’ Stakes win, Channel Maker, who was named Canada’s Champion Three-Year-Old Male at the Sovereign Awards, went to the U.S. permanently and Guerrieri sold his remaining share but still collected some financial rewards when the gelding won the Grade 2 Bowling Green and Grade 1 Turf Classic in 2018.

It was when the first homebreds hit the races last year that the excitement really heightened for Guerrieri.

“I had about 12 homebreds race and I was in the top 20 breeders in Ontario by breeders’ awards,” said Guerrieri. “This year (2019) I will have 13 homebred 2-year-olds to go with the 3-year-olds.”

Leading the first crop of Joey Gee homebreds was Speedy Soul, a 2-year-old filly by first crop sire Souper Speedy (Indian Charlie) from the Perfect Soul (Ire) mare Classic Soul, whose second dam is the great Sam-Son mare No Class. Guerrieri offered the youngster at the CTHS sale along with a few others but bidding only reached $9,500 and bought her back.

Speedy Soul won both of her starts as a juvenile including the Muskoka Stakes and earned over $100,000. She is one of several promising sophomores the stable will have pointing to the Canadian-bred classics in 2019.

One of his auction purchases, the Drosselmeyer filly Hastalavistababy, is a serious Woodbine Oaks contender. Purchased for just $8,000 from breeder Charles Hayden, the filly attracted new partners in Team Valor and Gary Barber after her maiden win and then finished second in the Ontario Lassie Stakes.

Older fillies Line of Vision, a multiple stakes winner and yearling sale purchase by Court Vision, and stakes-placed Stormy Summer also make for a strong racing team in the coming season.

“I breed and buy my horses based on crosses,” explained Guerrieri. “There is no magic formula but I do a lot of research and try to go with what has worked before.”

As for dipping into the stallion venture, Guerrieri said it was not something he was looking to do until he spotted Seattle Serenade in the Keeneland November Breeding Stock sale last fall.

“This horse is Mr. Canada in my mind, He’s by Smart Strike and his third dam is (Outstanding Broodmare) Passing Mood, who is the dam of Daijin, his second dam.”

Seattle Serenade, bred by Hill ‘n’ Dale Equine Holdings and from the Champion Older Mare Serenading, was a $1 million yearling purchase. The big bay won the first two starts of his career, a pair of fast sprints in California. A nagging injury plagued the horse throughout the remainder of his career, but he was a stakes winner at nine furlongs on dirt and also won on synthetic dirt.

“It was an opportunity that I thought, if it doesn’t work out I’m not going to feel stupid. I will be breeding about 27 of my own mares to him.”

At the racetrack, Guerrieri expanded his stable of horse trainers to more than half a dozen in 2018. Andrew Smith is one of the main trainers and also oversees the training division at the farm.

“To me, the best trainer is a good manager and a good horseperson,” said Guerrieri. “I am not the easiest owner to train for a trainer who is not on top of everything. But I am the easiest owner to train for if you are on top of everything.”

While the Joey Gee/Winview operation is moving along well in its early years, there are elements of the industry that concern and frustrate Guerrieri, in particular the apparent disconnect between racing groups.

“There is no unified purpose between breeders, trainers, the race office and Woodbine or AGCO. They all seem to focus on their own areas but meanwhile all those areas are interlocked. I had some trouble with the racing office and with races being written but I do think Woodbine and CEO Jim Lawson have done a great job getting the track international exposure.”

Most racing weekends, you will find Guerrieri at the races with his mother Antoinette — “coming to the races has given her new life” — and his brother Ted.

“I do this as a passion. My horse business to me is like a team that I want to get better but I am in it for the long term and I think that is done by surrounding myself with people who can help you get there, remembering that nobody can take you there.”

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