Success From A Hemisphere Away


The tightly-run ship at Warrawee Farm in Rockwood, Ont., continued to operate through the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, although its chief operators were left stuck in a whole different country more than 14,000 kilometres away.

Dr. Mike Wilson and Dr. Julie Yager make annual trips down under to New Zealand, escaping the colder months of the north with their stay from November through into the new year. However, by January 2020 the coronavirus began to spread to other nations and eventually spiraled into a pandemic by March, leaving Dr. Wilson and Dr. Yager exiled while Warrawee Farm’s manager, Duane Avery, ensured the farm maintained its high standards.

“It actually went fairly smooth,” Avery said of running the farm with its main owners remote. “It was definitely different not having Mike here, having the spur of the moment chats you know? But we kept in contact -- especially during the summer—around three to four times a week on FaceTime. So we’d have some good talks there.

“They didn’t really have a choice, it kind of hit because New Zealand shut down everything so quickly in the spring time,” Avery also said of Dr. Wilson and Dr. Yager getting stuck in New Zealand. “So they didn’t really have a choice for the longest time, and then there were a lot of hurdles to get back here. And it was just coming into spring over there, and they decided it was definitely safer to stay. I think it was a couple weeks ago they mentioned that they hadn’t had any cases near them at all for six weeks, so that’s going on two months now.”

And though North America grappled to control the virus through 2020, the harness racing season nonetheless pressed forward and the strong bloodlines from Warrawee Farm made themselves evident. Last year saw the return of Warrawee Ubeaut as a four-year-old, and the Ron Burke trainee who set a world record of 1:48.3 as a freshman at Lexington managed to make herself competitive in a generationally-strong group of aged pacing mares. Thanks to a win in the $290,000 Roses Are Red final, Warrawee Ubeaut boasts 21 from 45 starts with earnings of $1,948,175.

Warrawee Ubeaut winning the 2020 Roses Are Red

“’s hard to say she had a down year, but expectations were so high with her all along that she still had a great year. She’s raced hard at two and three and danced all the dances then. That four-year-old year is always hard for some of them. And she still made $300,000 or close to it and won the Roses Are Red. So yeah it wasn’t a bad year at all.”

Warrawee Ubeaut stands as just one from a line of successful foals out of the Warrawee broodmare Great Memories, a now 20-year-old daughter of Apaches Fame who finished second in 2020 Dan Patch Pacing Broodmare of the Year voting. 'Ubeaut' is the second millionaire and world champion out of the mare -- the first being her half-brother Warrawee Needy, a 1:46.4 winner by E Dees Cam with $1,255,384 earned. More recently, the talent from Ubeaut’s other half sibling Warrawee Vital has manifested, with the Captaintreacherous colt pacing a 1:47.1 mile at Lexington while also scoring wins in the Simcoe and Somebeachsomewhere.

Warrawee Vital setting a stakes record in the Simcoe

“It’s hard to believe she’s got the fastest foal out of E Dees Cam, the fastest filly out of Sweet Lou, and the fastest Captaintreacherous,” Avery said of Great Memories. “You come and look at the mare’s in the field, she’s on the smaller side of what we have for broodmares. I guess she had a sinus infection at two or three and they drilled a hole to clean it out, so her one side of the face is in a bit. And she’s had one ovary removed, and she’s still producing at 20.”

In 2020, Great Memories foaled another full sister to Warrawee Ubeaut with Warrawee Youknow, a highlight on the year for Dr. Wilson. On top of that, the Great Memories bloodline will try to continue with Warrawee Yankee, a three-quarter brother to Warrawee Ubeaut out of the Sportswriter mare Warrawee Quick.

“Definitely during the summer time, you could tell the anxiousness with Mike to see how the yearlings were, how the foals were growing,” Avery said. “He wouldn’t be able to go out and see them play, [but] we have cameras set up in most of our stalls so they’re able to see them. I think they actually saw some of the births there this year, but you can definitely tell he wanted to be here as the summer went on with the foals outside, so he didn’t get to see them as much.”

With as many high-caliber prospects as Warrawee Farm has put out over the years, the operation has managed to do so on a small scale of about 15 broodmares. In the last 10 years, Warrawee Farm has been nominated for O’Brien consideration on four occasions, and earned the honour for Breeder of the Year in 2011.

“It’s still an accomplishment; there’s a lot of good horses, good breeders out there,” Avery said. “To be put in that class is always a compliment for sure. Hopefully we do a good job here and they go to a place where the trainer gets along with them. There are a lot of good trainers out there, but not everybody gets along with certain types of horses. So everything has to fall in place for sure.”

Both Avery and Dr. Wilson accredited the success seen by the farm in part to a number of Warrawee employees: most notably Michelle Coupland, Brooke Dean and Monica Ryiski. Dean also help manage the farm's digital presence in addition to her hands-on work with the horses that Avery notes all three individuals take a genuine interest in day in and day out.

As we advance through 2021, the point at which Dr. Wilson and Dr. Yager can return to North America remains uncertain. Access to the vaccine in both countries has been increasing while case numbers continue to rise. The pandemic continues to rage in North America, prompting this year’s O’Brien Awards to a virtual showcase while the numbers in New Zealand are currently much less dire.

“We won’t be returning until we are vaccinated and the disease dies down a bit more in North America,” Dr. Wilson said. “There are zero cases in New Zealand community, several in quarantine. Been like that for quite a while. We have been here since February 2020 and have no idea when we will be back, but it's a wonderful place to be stuck. We are sad that we won’t be able to attend to support nominees and to congratulate winners. As a COVID refugee stranded in New Zealand I will be watching.”

Avery will also be taking in the awards remotely, and the longtime horseman admits this form of ceremony suits him just fine.

“I’d be lying if I said I’m not going to miss it a whole lot,” Avery said of the O’Brien Awards. “Working on the farm, the only time you get to see people on a regular basis is yearling season. I do enjoy talking to people you don’t see every year down there. But staying home isn’t going to hurt me that much.”

The 2020 Virtual O’Brien Awards Gala takes place on Sunday, January 31, 2021 and will be available for viewing on from 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. (EST).

(Photo in headline image of Great Memories and Michelle Coupland at Warrawee Farm: Dave Landry Photo)

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