Gus living his dream
By ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun
SCHOMBERG -- Gus Schickedanz is having a good day and counts it as a trip to a bigger winner's circle.
He is feeling the vigour of having returned from his morning ride through the trails of his 350-acre spread of rolling horse paddocks and forest.
Now he is petting Kathie's Colleen, a mare dear to his heart and the mother of Wando, one of the favourites for Sunday's 144th running of the Queen's Plate.
Fit and still feisty at age 74, Schickedanz will be easy to recognize at today's Plate barbecue, the traditional kickoff to Woodbine's Festival of Racing week.
He'll be the one puffing with pride as he shows off Wando and stablemate Mobil in the walking ring.
And why wouldn't he be?
He not only owns but is the breeder of the powerful one-two punch that many think can't be beat in this year's crown jewel of Canadian racing.
Schickedanz, though, has more reason than most to count his blessings this time around as he tries for another Plate win to join Woodcarver's triumph in "If one of them could win, that would be the icing on the cake for me," Schickedanz said as he surveyed a cluster of the 61 thoroughbreds who reside on his farm.
"When you are my age and have had three strokes you just hope you have another good day. I am pushing 75 and I realize more than ever how lucky I am to have these two horses.
"I believe this is it."
Schickedanz isn't being pessimistic, just realistic and he isn't seeking sympathy. He has bounced back from the strokes, the only visible sign being a hitch in his speech.
But he also knows another attack may well be the last. All the more reason, then, to enjoy what he has.
"I can ride my horses," Schickedanz said, measuring his words as he now must. "I can walk. I can enjoy a little drink. And I can pet these beautiful horses."
Schickedanz will be the first to tell you he has lived a full and successful life. Born in Memel, Germany, he escaped the Nazi regime in the 1940s and eventually made his way to Canada in the early '50s.
Once here, Schickedanz and his three brothers formed a company that would eventually become one of the biggest home builders in Southern Ontario.
When he had the means, Gus turned to horses for recreation. At first it was the riding horses he still enjoys, and by the early 1980s it was on to breeding thoroughbreds.
He has always loved the animals, but those close to him believe an extra special bond exists now.
There is an undeniable and indescribable hold horses have on those who treat them as pets. And for Schickedanz, the majestic animals have been therapeutic.
"I really believe the success these two have had have helped pick up his head a little," said trainer Mike Keogh, who would desperately love to deliver another Plate win to the boss with either Wando or Mobil.
"Since they started winning, you can see a big change in him. The fact that he bred both of them means a lot to him. He is a very proud man."
And well he should be.
Though he has never operated on the scale of the giants of Canadian racing such as the late E.P. Taylor and Ernie Samuel, Schickedanz has had extraordinary success.
Of the 218 horses he has bred, 183 have made it to the races and a stunning 169 have been winners. Of those, 35 have won stakes races, a most respectable 16% average.
The latest stars, Wando and Mobil, are sons of former stable legend Langfuhr. The pair will generate much of the hype leading to the Plate and most likely will be one-two in the wagering come post-time on Sunday.
Also expected to be in the field is Peef, a third son of Langfuhr whom Schickedanz co-bred with Hill 'N Dale Farm.
"What are the chances to have two horses like this?" said Schickedanz's long-time farm manager, Lauri Kenny.
"It took a lot of years to get broodmares like this. You just can't go out and buy them overnight. And (Schickedanz) realizes what he has accomplished and how special it is to have horses he bred in this situation."
Though Schickedanz would gladly take a win from either in the $1-million race, it is clear he has a soft spot for Wando.
His mother, Kathie's Colleen, was not only a stakes winner herself but a horse everyone close to her fell in love with. Wando's grandmother, Royal Colleen, died while Kathie's Colleen was a youngster and the latter quickly became the resident pet.
"There was something about her demeanor," Kenny said of the mare who has produced a two-year-old full sister to Wando named Six Sexy Sisters. "She is the kind of horse that likes to put your head on your shoulder or is extra friendly."
As Kathie's Colleen nudges up to Schickedanz, you can see the attraction and the effect she has had on her owner.
And you can only imagine the joy this man will feel should either Wando or Mobil win this year's Plate.
"There is no better therapy, I believe, than these beautiful, beautiful animals," Schickedanz said. "To have two lovely colts ... how much luck do you have to have?
"Win or lose it will be a good day."