Day At The Track

Seelster again up for harness racing kudos

06:29 PM 21 Jan 2017 NZDT
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Ann Straatman
Ann Straatman, reproduction manager at Seelster Farms.
Free Press file photo

It doesn’t matter how many times you see your name among the best, being nominated for one of the top awards in harness racing never gets old.

Seelster Farms, based in Lucan, has been nominated and will be looking to win it for their third time. It is one of the biggest breeding farms in Canada.

Seelster is one of three finalists for an O’Brien Award as breeder of the year. It was nominated along with Marvin Katz and Al Libfield. The Seelster Farms team has a long history of success, having won the breeder of the year award in 2006 and 2013.

The O’Brien Awards celebrate the year’s best in harness racing. They are the highest honour in the sport and are named after the late horseman Joe O’Brien, a member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

“No, it never gets old hat,” said Walter Parkinson, assistant farm manager at Seelster. “It’s nice to be a finalist for this award. Whether you come away a winner or not it’s just great being nominated for this award. It’s recognition that you’ve had a great season.”

Seelster Farms is Canada’s largest commercial breeder. Seelster-bred horses won 293 races and more than $3 million in 2016, including almost $800,000 in the Ontario Sires Stakes for their best season in the program since 2007.

Hard work is one reason for the success of Seelster Farms, but it also takes an intimate knowledge of breeding. A little bit of luck doesn’t hurt either.

“It starts with our brood mare purchases, crossing those with the best stallions available whether our own or stallions across Ontario and the U.S. trying to produce the best horse from conception to when we sell them as a yearling,” Parkinson said.

Some of the highlights for the breeder this year included top performers like Arsenal Seelster, Mayhem Seelster, Soiree Seelster and Tycoon Seelster, as well as top-aged performers like Godiva Seelster, Nirvana Seelster and Tessa Seelster.

Three-year-old pacing filly Mayhem Seelster (Mach Three-Macapelo Rose) was their top money-earner with a $237,746 campaign and two-year-old pacing filly Soiree Seelster (Big Jim-Smilesplace) was another Gold winner from the Tony O’Sullivan stable.

They’ve also added multiple Molson Pace winners and 2015 horse of the year State Treasurer to their 2017 stallion roster.

“It’s just a really great staff at the farm and that’s what leads to being successful,” Parkinson said.

The 600-acre farm is managed by Karen Favacho. Ann Straatman is reproduction manager and Tina Marie Howard the registered veterinary technician at the farm, which is owned by Catherine Van Bussel and Hubertina Van Boxmeer.

“Being up for these awards tells you you are on the right path and want to continue it for years to come,” Parkinson said. “We go a few very rough years but these two past sale seasons have been very good for us. We’ve had good yearling sales in 2016 and 2015. Breeding is starting to turn upward again; our horses are performing at the top of the OSS (and other areas). It is a special time and this sort of gives it a benchmark. It tells us we must be doing something right. It’s really a great honour.”

The O’Brien Award winners will be announced at the annual gala on Saturday, Jan. 28, in Mississauga.

By Morris Dalla Costa

Reprinted with permission of The London Free Press

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