Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Tribute to Wando

By Kelsey Riley
Our job as journalists is to be objective, as it should be, but I could not let this occasion pass without sharing some of my personal feelings about Wando, who died suddenly today at the age of 14. A simple obituary is not enough to describe the horse that, to me, embodies everything that is great about horse racing.

Wando and I
Wando emerged into the spotlight of Canadian racing when I was 14 years old. At that point I had just been hit by the racing bug, and the gorgeous and brilliant front-running chestnut stole my heart the instant I laid eyes on him, and my love only grew from there. You see, the first thing that is special about Wando is his raw ability. After a career as a top-class 2-year-old, he went on to sweep Canada’s Triple Crown–three races in the space of seven weeks at 1 1/4-miles on dirt, 1 3/16 miles on dirt and 1 1/2 miles on the turf. He also won stakes races at as short as six furlongs. Anyone remotely familiar with horse racing knows that this kind of versatility represents a rare type of talent.

The second thing that was special about Wando was his people. One of my favorite things about the racing industry is that even those without the advantage of family involvement can reach the top, if they are willing to work hard, because those in racing are so passionate about it that they are willing to help those who share their passion and drive. I found this character in bucketloads in Wando’s humans. I met Wando’s trainer, Mike Keogh, and his wife, Lou, at Keeneland just before the start of the horse’s 4-year-old campaign, and after telling them that Wando was my favorite horse, they invited me to visit again at their barn at Woodbine when they returned. I took up the offer, and that’s where I met owner Gus Schickedanz and Lauri Kenny, the manager of Gus’s Schonberg Farm, where he bred Wando as well as Langfuhr, Langfuhr’s dam, and Wando’s dam. I was extended another invite, this time to visit Schonberg Farm, and when I arrived there a month later I was certain I had just been plunked in the middle of my wildest dream. I knew for sure I must be dreaming when Lauri suggested that on my next summer break I could work at the farm. I took up his offer and stayed for five years, never losing the excitement of spending time with Wando, his dam and slew of sisters, Lauri, Gus, Mike, and the many other friends I made along the way. My job at Schonberg Farm propelled me to a season at Lane’s End prior to being accepted to the Darley Flying Start course in the summer of 2010. I have always been convinced that my career would not have reached the heights that it has without Wando and his people.

The third thing that was special about Wando was Wando himself. He was described by his racetrack groom, Amanda Erwin, as a kind horse to care for, and that disposition, amazingly, carried over into his stud career. Even as a breeding stallion, he was the most loving, gentle horse one could imagine. I haven’t lived in Canada for three years, but every time I went back to visit I would visit Schonberg Farm and naturally, Wando, who would allow me to walk out to meet him in his paddock, throw my arms around his neck and run my hands all over him. Last summer, I jumped up on his back while he ate from his fence feeder. Even that was acceptable.

I could go on, but there are not enough words to describe how I feel about Wando. He was an icon, a companion, and a special friend I knew would always be ready for a hug, no matter how long I’d been away. I still cannot believe that today I have written his obituary, and that he will not be there waiting for me the next time I go home. Rest in peace my beautiful friend.

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