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Cecil County Life

Winbak Farm: Where stars are born

Dec 07, 2022 10:50AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

Leno Gomez, a groom at Winbak Farm in Chesapeake City, enters into stall Number 53.

He soon reemerges with a Standardbred colt whose coat seems to have been dipped in the colors of copper and chestnut and cinnamon, and the sheen of its stunning presence seems to glisten like ray beams.

His name is Astarwasborn (A-Star-Was-Born), and from the muscle sinew of its hind gaskin to the determined boldness of its eyes, it is a perfect living and breathing specimen of power and potential.

Born on May 8, 2021, Astarwasborn was sired by Bettor’s Delight, a pacer who has earned over $2.5 million during its racing career, and after more than a year of being cared for by the farm’s team of industry professionals and enjoying the pastoral peaks and valleys of the farms’ 2,000 acres, he will leave the farm in early November during a three-day sale of Winbak horses in Harrisburg, where he will be sold to an owner and begin his life on the pacer racing circuit.

“Our main goal is to sell these horses to owners and trainer, so that they can go on to become successful racehorses,” said Winbak Farm General Manager Jack Burke, who has been at Winbak for the past 18 years. “In order to do that, you have to provide them with proper nutrition and excellent veterinary service. You need people that care about their job, because their job is to make sure that these horses are being taken care of in the best way possible, to someday become the best they can be.

“If you keep a horse in small paddocks and keep them in stalls al the time, they are not going to develop as well. Winbak is the place where a horse learns how to be a horse.”

Founded in 1991 by Joe and JoAnn Thomson, the flagship farm in Chesapeake City is located on more than 2,000 acres of farmland, but Winbak also includes satellite operations in Ontario, New York’s Hudson Valley, Wellsville, Pa. and nearby Middletown, Del. Over the course of the past three decades, Winbak has become the Standardbred horse industry’s largest single family-owned and operated breeding farm, and one of its most successful.

As of this October, Winbak-raised Standardbreds have notched 1,637 racing wins and earned near $17 million for their owners and trainers in 2022 alone.

Winbak Farm’s dedication to raising top quality horses has earned them Breeder of the Year on three occasions, and three Horse of the Year graduates, among other accolades.

There are, at last estimate, 1,400 horses residing at all five of Winbak Farm locations, and over the course of a year, Burke and his staff will transport and hopefully sell as many as 300 horses at auction for pries that range from four figures to well into the six-figure range.

On a recent auction in Lexington, Ky., Winbak arrived with 93 horses, sold the vast majority of them, and is now preparing for another auction in November in Harrisburg.

Once sold, Winbak Farm horses race at tracks all over the world, from Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia, while some are also sent to Ontario and overseas to race in Australia, France, Italy and Sweden.

Our commitment is everywhere’

Winbak’s experienced managers spend 100 percent of their time devoted to their particular specialty. Nutrition is closely studied to ensure proper nourishment. The Winbak team tests hay and forage so that shortcomings can be supplemented, while the seasonal climate allows for sufficient rainfall, which produces rich green pastures. Additionally, Winbak boasts on its aggressive blacksmith and farrier program that assures the growth of powerful horses that are complimented with a foundation of strong feet.

Burke’s staff is led by yearling manager James Lanwig; farm veterinarian Dr. Sarah Mackie; broodmare manager Becky Healey; farm foreman Jose Cantoran; foaling manager Jerry Crump; and several support staff.

“Our commitment is everywhere,” Burke said. “We test the grass. We test the water. We make sure all of the nutrients and minerals are there, and if they are not there, we make sure we formulate our feed so that the horses are getting the nutrition they need. If any horse needs a surgery, we get them there.

“We have a staff who comes early and stay late, and it is because they love these horses, and when you care about something, often it is demonstrated in the form of excellence, whether its throwing hay or fixing fence or changing a bandage on a horse’s leg.”

A three-year gamble

Burke and his staff have been preparing for the three-day auction sale in Harrisburg, and at this stage, he can only anticipate that Astarwasborn will be sold on the first day, “to someone who wants him most,” and likely to Canada, where Astarwasborn can compete in the Ontario Sire Stakes.

Given his pedigree, nutritional intake and the attention given him at Winbak, there is every reason to believe that Astarwasborn is going to be a successful pacer, but everything in this industry is a gamble that never goes away, Burke said.

“In breeding horses, it’s a three-year gamble on every single horse,” he said. “It’s about determining who we breed to, and being able to get them in foal, and if we get them in foal, can we keep them in foal? If we keep them in foal, will the baby be born alive or will there be any issues? After it is born, it is keeping them safe and making sure that nothing bad happens to them from the time they are born to the time they are sold, but once we sell them, will they be fast, or will they break down? Once they begin racing, are they getting good post positions? Are they being placed in the right races, and is the competition they are facing all of a sudden great that year?

“It’s all a gamble. The highs are high and the lows are lows in this industry, but Winbak Farm has been pretty good at it for a long time.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].

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