Almost every breeder of Thoroughbred racehorses in Canada has dreams of producing a Sovereign Award winner or Queen's Plate runner. Each year, the country's pastures are filled with foals carefully nurtured by people with big dreams for them, knowing only a handful of the 2,500 born each year will achieve such honors. Many of those foals are one of several dozen produced by their breeders that year.
Heart to Heart, 2014 Sovereign Award winner in the 3-year-old male division, was one of two.
The son of English Channel was born in Ontario in 2011 to one of two broodmares owned at the time by Darrell Bauder, and his existence was something of a pipe dream for the lifelong racing fan. Bauder, 54, had been a longtime fan of English Channel in his racing days and was excited to land a good deal on a mating to the horse at the Thoroughbred Charities of America annual season auction.
“He was just an amazing turf horse,” Bauder said of English Channel. “Not a big horse, but a horse who just tries and tries.”
Bauder decided to use the mating for Ask the Question, a Silver Deputy daughter he purchased at the 2008 Keeneland January sale for just $16,000. Bauder doesn't recall his first glimpse of the diminutive mare as a “love at first sight” moment. He had prepared a list of horses he wanted to look at before the auction, but by the time he made it to Central Kentucky, he caught a flu bug. A few of his other potential purchases didn't work out, and Bauder blames his feverish state for not noticing at the time how small Ask the Question was.
“I was kind of delirious, I'd say. I barely made it through to sit in the ring,” he said. “When I went and looked at her, I was surprised she was not as big as I'd thought she was. She looked great, but the plan was to sell commercially and size does matter.”
By this point, Bauder had been in the breeding business for just four years. He had grown up at the track, watching his father Jim race horses at Northlands Park starting in the 1970s. Bauder had always planned to participate in racing on his own in some form, and after he had established his career as an IT security consultant, he purchased 20 acres at the foot of the Canadian Rockies and set out to begin breeding — and foaling out — his own horses. Bauder thought he'd produce about a dozen foals over several years, send them through the sales, and then reexamine his business strategy.
As someone who grew up at the track, but not in the barn, he quickly realized this hands-on approach would bring with it a new challenge. He took classes at nearby Olds College and consulted with fellow breeder Cal Britton to learn how to handle, feed, and foal horses. By the time his first foals were due at his Red Hawk Ranch, Bauder admits he was a little nervous about handling the births himself.
“There's definitely a learning curve,” he said. “It's not something you can enter into and not know what you're doing. You're dealing with a life. You have to know what to do if something went wrong. Horses have been having foals for hundreds of thousands of years and they pretty much know how to do it, but as we all know, things can happen from time to time and go bad very quickly.”
Bauder counts himself lucky that there were no major complications in his first foaling seasons, so he and his family had a chance for some hands-on experience without too much drama. By year two or three, he feels like they had a good system in place for bringing Red Hawk horses into the world.
When Ask the Question shipped to visit English Channel, the breeding incentives in Ontario were good. Rather than bring the mare all the way back to Alberta, Bauder had the mare foal out in Ontario and come home with the new baby.
Heart to Heart was a precocious foal, Bauder remembers. Not mean, but all colt — active, nippy, mouthy, and waiting for people to turn their backs so he could have a bit of fun with them.
“He was in your face, totally in your face. And really cute with that heart on his head,” said Bauder, referring to the horse's marking. “That's the tough part — you want to realize a decent price for them, and you have to pick a price and let them go for that. But it has been tough for me to get rid of his siblings.”
Heart to Heart sold to agent Alistair Roden for just over $25,000 at the 2012 Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society (CTHS) Canadian-Bred Yearling Sale, and that was that. Just like any other breeder, Bauder had dreams for the colt's future, but even he was surprised when the horse was stakes-placed at two and finished just off the board in the Simcoe and Coronation Futurity for owner Terry Hamilton… and even more so when the horse headed to the Queen's Plate.
“You always hope,” said Bauder, who is now an at-large member of the Breed Improvement Committee for the Alberta Division of the CTHS. “You hope to get a stakes winner. When I started this, the hope was just to get a horse who could compete in stakes in Alberta. Heart to Heart has gone way, way beyond that and it seems like he's still on an upward trajectory.”
Since then, Heart to Heart has won six graded stakes races and a Sovereign Award. He's three for three in his last starts, including the Grade 3 Canadian Turf last month at Gulfstream. Bauder was on hand for the race (he feels fortunate to have a great relationship with Hamilton and stays up-to-date on the horse's next moves). But does he ever regret selling his statistical longshot?
“When he was sold I was a little disappointed he was off to the States because there were more opportunities for him to earn breeding bonuses in Ontario. But all that matters… is that he's in the right hands,” he said. “I'm perfectly delighted now that he's running where he's running. There's not a bittersweet part of it, because the plan was always to sell him.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Bauder has no plans to significantly grow Red Hawk's broodmare band (though he does plan to purchase one more horse this year). Instead, breeding incentive funds from Heart to Heart may help him raise the quality of his bloodstock. But despite such enormous early success, Bauder is sticking with his original business plan — he's going to wait until he gets his 12th foal and then reassess. In the meantime, Heart to Heart's half-sister shipped to Kentucky this week for a date with English Channel. Bauder is hoping lightning could strike twice.
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