The Winbak Farm Winner’s Circle at Woodbine Mohawk Park was a happy haven for many who celebrated victories both big and small in Canadian harness racing in 2021. It’s a place to take a moment and recognize the hard work that goes into producing a champion. And it’s a place where Winbak’s own Pat Woods had the chance to celebrate the pinnacle of an O’Brien Award-worthy season.
A first-time candidate as a result of revised eligibility in 2021, Winbak Farm was named an O’Brien Award finalist for Armstrong Breeder of the Year.
“It is always an honour to be recognized by our peers in this industry for something we love to do,” Woods, manager of Winbak Farm of Canada, told Trot Insider. “We are always striving to produce nice racehorses, so it’s very rewarding for those horses to succeed on the racetrack. We are very proud of our Winbak-bred horses.
Among those horses are O’Brien Award finalist Desperate Man, the 2021 North America Cup champion and Ontario Sires Stakes star who led all horses in Canada for earnings under the management of the Cecchin family. OSS Gold winners Camealongway and Kolby Two Step also contributed to Winbak’s chart-topping season in the provincial program as the farm led all breeders with earnings totalling $1,174,095.
Overall, Canadian-sired or Canadian-foaled horses bred by Winbak earned more than $5.2 million in 2021, with 251 starters producing 475 wins through December 21. But one victory certainly stands out for Woods.
“Without hesitation, it was Desperate Man winning the North America Cup final. I was at the track that night with friends and staff for dinner cheering him on," said Woods. "Getting the opportunity to be in the Winbak Farm Winner’s Circle for the win photo with a Winbak-bred champion was incredible. There is no better feeling than to watch one of your babies win Canada's biggest race. We are so proud of him and so happy for his connections. It was definitely the pinnacle of our season. It's in those moments that it makes all the long days and hard work worth it.”
Hard work and a dedicated team with a wealth of breeding expertise and a commitment to excellence spanning across North America is behind the farm’s success.
“Teamwork is how we succeed this year and any year,” said Woods. “Winbak Farm is a big operation, only through dedicated staff, teamwork and support from clients can we be at our best. Our staff work so hard to do their best for these horses. They check their egos at the door, share their knowledge and experience for the betterment of the animal, and trust the process to building a racehorse. That is how our Winbak team succeeds. We are also very lucky to have wonderful support and trust from owners and trainers who turn our yearlings into quality racehorses. Sometimes it doesn't hurt to have a little racing luck too.”
The culmination of the team’s efforts resulting in an O’Brien nomination was news that Woods was eager to share and quickly spread across the Canadian contingent in Inglewood, Ont., to the flagship farm founded by Joe and JoAnn Thomson in Chesapeake City, Maryland.
“I was the one that got the call personally from Kathy [Wade Vlaar]. It is so thrilling to just be nominated and recognized. As soon as I got off the phone, I gave our owners and management team the great news who passed it down to the whole Winbak team. Everyone was so elated on the nomination. Winbak owners, Joe and JoAnn Thomson, were very honoured and quick to give credit to their hardworking staff for Winbak's successful year and the O'Brien nomination.”
With the 2021 O’Brien Awards gala a virtual affair as the COVID-19 pandemic persists, Woods will be cheering on Winbak and its supporters from afar, including fellow nominee George Millar of Millar Farms.
“It's unfortunate that it has to be virtual but that is what it is today. I always think it's nice when you get to see someone's reaction live when they win and get to congratulate them in person,” said Woods. “I will watch from home this year, cheer on Desperate Man and my friends that are up for awards also. I will even be cheering our friend and client, George Millar, who is up against us for Armstrong Breeder of the Year. Millar Farm had an incredible year, and so deserving of the nomination. They are great people who have always supported our Winbak stallions year after year, so we are so happy for them and wish them the best of luck. I am fortunate to stand great stallions here at Winbak who have produced great sons and daughters who are nominated. So, it’s an added bonus to see how they all do. It should be a great night. I will definitely enjoy it.”
The winners will be revealed on Sunday, Feb. 6 via a live streamed presentation on standardbredcanada.ca.