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>When Bunkhouse Babe rolls in behind the starting gate at Rideau Carleton Raceway on Sunday evening, there will be more riding on the two-year-old filly’s shoulders than the opportunity to win a $130,000 Gold Final title.


Last fall Joe Thomson decided to retain the daughter of Royal Mattjesty and Bunker To Bunker when bidding on her stalled at $17,500 during the Canadian Open Yearling Sale. The breeder liked the filly and wanted to give her the best possible opportunity to succeed, as much for her parents as for Bunkhouse Babe herself.


“She’s from a really good family, but the mare hadn’t produced. She was the first one that looked really good,” explains Thomson, who operates Winbak Farms of Chesapeake City, MD with his wife Joann. “And part of the job of the breeding farm is to make the stallion.”


The filly’s mother, Bunker To Bunker, is a Western Hanover half-sister to $1 million winner and successful sire Dragons Lair, $772,607 winner Bruces Lady, and $682,380 winner Cole Muffler. A number of the mare’s half-sisters have had productive broodmare careers, but of the six foals that preceded Bunkhouse Babe, only two of them made race track appearances and the most successful has only earned $25,378 to date.


Royal Mattjesty, a winner of $1.8 million during his five-year racing career, stands at Winbak Farm of Canada in Caledon, ON. The stallion’s first offspring appeared in the provincial program in 2009, earning a total of $266,440 through 47 starts, good enough for an eleventh-place ranking among Ontario-based pacing sires. The top Royal Mattjesty performer last season was two-year-old pacing filly Bay Girl, who racked up $160,200 in nine provincial appearances.


Thomson is a big fan of Royal Mattjesty and felt Bunker To Bunker deserved one last opportunity to improve her progeny record. So he brought the filly — one of about 300 sold by Winbak last fall — home and when it was time to select a trainer he went with the recommendation made by Winbak’s Director of Racing Operations Jeff Fout.


“Jeff Fout said, this one I think should got to (Bob) McIntosh,” recalls Thomson. “Bob’s a good guy, and certainly a good trainer and we sprinkle them around.”


The decision has proved a prescient one as Bunkhouse Babe has posted two wins, two seconds and one third in five starts for earnings of $71,670. Bunkhouse Babe scored her first victory in an elimination of Grand River Raceway’s Battle of the Belles Stake on July 26, sprinting home to a half length decision in 1:56.2. On Aug. 2 the filly was a neck short of catching pacesetter Village Janus in the Battle of the Belles Final, but Bunkhouse Babe turned things around in last weekend’s Gold Elimination, where she controlled the pace and Village Janus tried to play catch up in the stretch. In spite of sloppy, rain-soaked conditions that caused the Rideau Carleton oval to be rated two seconds slower than normal, Bunkhouse Babe stopped the clock in 1:57.1, almost two full seconds faster than the 1:59 mile logged by her McIntosh stablemate Lauren in the other Gold Elimination.


This week Bunkhouse Babe and driver Steve Condren will be hampered by the outside Post 8, while Lauren gets the trailing Post 9, but even if she cannot overcome her post and claim the Gold Final title, the filly’s early season success has already provided a boost to both Royal Mattjesty and Bunker To Bunker’s careers.


“We took a chance for the stallion and for the mare, and she turned out okay,” says Thomson. “But it could have gone the other way too.


“We didn’t know what she was going to be like,” he adds. “I would like to say, from Day 1 we knew she was going to be good, but we didn’t.”


At the halfway mark in the Ontario Sires Stakes season, Royal Mattjesty has almost surpassed the numbers he posted through all of last season. From 41 starters his progeny have earned $240,420, led by sophomore pacing filly and Canadian Breeders Championship winner Bay Girl, three time three-year-old pacing filly Grassroots winner Heavenly Ash, recent two-year-old pacing colt Gold Elimination winner Dr. Dew, and Bunkhouse Babe.


“We just have a lot of faith in Royal Mattjesty. He’s sort of an outcross and he paced sub 1:51 five years in a row,” says Thomson. “Bunkhouse Babe is the proof of the pudding.”


Bunkhouse Babe will attempt to provide her connections with further proof in the seventh race at Rideau Carleton Raceway on Sunday. The Ottawa oval’s first race parades in front of fans at 6:30 pm.