Old World Work Ethic
John Carey is a hands-on, eighth generation Irish horseman that has made an
John Carey is more optimistic about Ontario’s breeding industry now, but it wasn’t that long ago that the squire of T.C. Westmeath Stud Farm in Shelburne, ON thought the situation was dire. This from a man that stands Old Forester, a horse that consistently ranks as one of the top sires in the nation.
“It was devastating to have a horse like that that can be used twice, three times a day and he was just going out once a day,” Carey said. “Having a top stallion and wondering if I’m going to get close to a book of mares from him, or not. Then people were saying, ‘Oh, sorry, but I’m taking my mares to the States.’ I’ve had so many people say, ‘John, I won’t be breeding this year because we don’t trust the Ontario-sired program.’ They moved right on and moved their mares to the States.”
The dark days were a direct result of the Ontario government’s decision to cancel the successful Slots at Racetracks Program (SARP), but Carey said he has been more bullish on the future since the government announced in the spring that it was augmenting breeder awards and increasing purse bonuses for Ontario-sired horses.
“Our yearling sales for Ontario-sired horses have come back really well,” Carey said. “I was very happy because I came home without any yearlings. I sold every yearling. I got some really nice prices. You always want more, but for the situation being, I came home better than I anticipated.”
Old Forester was one of the leading stallions during the select session of the 2014 Canadian Premier Yearling Sale at the Woodbine Sale Pavilion on Sept. 2 with a sale average of $39,500.
That’s not surprising since Old Forester was the leading sire of two-year-olds in Canada in 2014 by earnings, a trick the 13-year-old Forestry—Halo River by Irish River stud turned for the third time in the five years he’s had racing-aged progeny.
“He’s been the best I’ve ever stood,” Carey said of Old Forester. “Great Gladiator was certainly a great stallion in his day, but he would not have been as good as Old Forester. Though, Great Gladiator was certainly the horse that put me on the map. His progeny were out there to win, as well.”
An eighth-generation horseman, Carey came to Canada from Ireland in 1977 at the age of 22 after a short detour to take a course at The National Stud, “just to brush up on things.”
Carey said he could see the potential in Canada when he first arrived.
“I could see lots of opportunity,” he said. “I could see a future in the horses, although it wasn’t very good. I could see that it could get better. I also could see that there could be money made with horses. Our purse structure here was very small when I first came here, but our overall expenses were low, too. I could see a really good future.”
Before long, Carey became farm manager for Gardiner Farms. In 1993, after many years at Gardiner, Carey decided to branch out on his own. He purchased a 100-acre beef farm in Shelburne, north of Orangeville and named the operation T.C. Westmeath Stud Farm. The initials are in honour of his father, Timothy Carey, and close friend Tom Campbell, who owned Great Gladiator. Westmeath is the name of the county in Ireland where Carey grew up, some 100 kms west of Dublin.
“It’s a lovely area,” Carey said of Westmeath, though he admits he prefers the Ireland he remembers from his youth.
“I wouldn’t care for Ireland at all now,” he said. “(In 1977) it was easy going. You never had money, but you got from A to B somehow or another. Friends would pick you up and you’d go out to the pubs and you’d go wherever. Everybody was happy… It’s not the same old country where you go around the winding roads. It didn’t matter where you went in Ireland, you had to go around the winding roads. Now it’s all straight roads… The Old Country was an awful lot better, I think.”
Carey grew up on a mixed farm with horses, cattle and sheep, but his family’s history with horses goes back at least a couple hundred years.
“On my dad’s side of the family, there’s seven generations in the breeding of horses. That goes back to the days of breeding the heavy horses and then on to jumpers and show horses and steeplechasers,” Carey said. “It goes back many generations in the thoroughbreds, as well. Before my life and before my dad’s life.”
Building T.C. Westmeath
A few years after buying the initial 100 acres that made up the original T.C. Westmeath Stud Farm, Carey bought another 100 acres across the road. “We have one farm that’s a breeding operation and the other farm is raising foals. It’s laid out to be a practical farm.”
He has a staff of four — including two of his three sons, at the moment — to care for six stallions, about 16 of his own mares (down from about 40 a few years ago), plus outside mares and young horses. Besides Old Forester, T.C. Westmeath Stud Farm is home to active stallions Pool Play, who joined the roster in the winter of 2014, Bold N’ Flashy and War Cry.
“War Cry sold as a yearling for $2.7 million. Unfortunately, he had a training accident as a two-year-old and he fractured his shoulder, which means he didn’t get a chance to race in his early days. He tried twice in his later days and could not get over his injury,” Carey said. “He’s got an incredible pedigree and he’s an incredible-looking horse. He needs the opportunity, but he came to stud when all of this (SARP) turmoil was on. So, he’s not gotten the really good excitement.”
Carey touts Bold N’ Flashy as an underrated stallion from the Bold Ruckus line and Pool Play as “the workhorse of North America. He was always so consistent. He’s a Grade 1, he’s a Grade 2, he’s a Grade 3 winner. He’s won at 7 furlongs and he’s won at a mile-and-three-quarters… We’re getting a nice reaction, but unfortunately he came in a year too soon because when it came to the Ontario-sired program, people held back.”
Old Forester stood his first season in 2007, after finishing a racing career in which he was on the board 19 times in 22 starts for earnings exceeding $460,000. Carey said Old Forester was “all heart and determination” on the track.
“The first year at stud he was very well received. We bred 122 mares to him at $5,000,” Carey said.
Strangely, two of the better horses Carey has produced are by other sires.
Hippolytus, a son of Philanthropist, was second in the 2011 Queen’s Plate won by Inglorious. Asserting Bear, by Bear’s Kid, was third in this year’s Queen’s Plate won by Lexie Lou.
“I’m very proud of the operation and what it has done for me over 20-odd years, because I have produced many, many stakes horses; a lot of winners. I’ve maximized breeder awards many times,” Carey said. “I’m just happy the way it’s gone overall. For financial reasons, it’s been great to me. Ontario has been great to me. Ontario breeders have been very good to me. I can’t expect anything better, really. Overall, it’s been great living in Ontario.
“The big thing that I like is all the competitiveness in regards to getting mares pregnant. That’s a very competitive thing… We have been very successful. I’ve had the same vet (Dr. Usha Knabe) from day one.”
When it comes to work, Carey is as hands-on as they come, working from dawn to dusk each day — “Whenever I close my eyes is when I’m finished,” he said.
Carey rarely takes a day off.
“It’s just like joining the army,” he said, laughing. “Oh, I’m hands-on. I have been all my life. Even as a manager years ago, I was always hands-on. You’re as good as your help, and I’m lucky to have top-of-the-line help.”
John Carey laughs when he’s asked whether working with horses has been good for his soul.
“Oh, sure it is,” he said. “But for a guy like me, what does he know other that that?”