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Heimbecker High On Harness Racing

Published: May 13, 2020 6:18 pm ET

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Starting out small and working your way to higher levels applies to quite a few things in life, and for Steve Heimbecker it certainly applies to his role in horse ownership.

What started with some early trips to the track with his dad to play the ponies escalated to being involved in horse ownership on a small scale. But today, Heimbecker finds himself in the deep end of the pool swimming with some of the biggest names in the game -- both equine and human.


Steve Heimbecker (second from L) with son Calum after a win with Examiner Hanover in 2019

Success in the business world over the last two decades combined with some creativity and his decision to take chances has led him to the position he finds himself in today as the President & Principal Broker at Nestig, a private lending provider based out of Waterloo, Ont.

“I’ve always been in the finance business, I’ve been in it for about 20 years,” said Heimbecker. “I started at the Bank of Nova Scotia, I got a job there and I lasted about 18 months. It just wasn’t a good fit for me, I needed to spread my wings. There were better options for people, and I soon discovered I wanted to sell more flavours of ice cream instead of just one.

“So I got into the mortgage brokering space and the rest is history,” he added. “In December of 2011 I started up a brand new brokerage -- I was the principal broker -- and I think I had over 40 agents working for me. We had three or four offices in Ontario and two years later we won the best brokerage in Canada. It was quite an accomplishment.”

Accomplishments and success in the racing game were also enjoyed by Heimbecker thanks in part to one of his favourite horses who had his fair share of success when it came to stakes races.


Fast Pay, winning at Mohawk in 2009

“I bought a horse named Fast Pay, he was a nice horse,” said Heimbecker. “I ended up selling him after his two-year-old season. We won the Grassroots final with him, and he had a chip in his ankle. At that point my kids were really young and it was a point in my racing involvement where I backed away from the business a bit.”

After a brief hiatus, he returned to the game and again latched onto a productive pacer turning heads south of the border.

“Hare Craft, I always liked that horse, too,” claimed Heimbecker. “He’s one I bought as a two-year-old I think out of Ohio. We had some fun races with him. He was the best three-year-old in Ohio that year, but he wasn’t good enough to compete with the big boys. He was one of my favourites, he had a big attitude and was a real S.O.B.”

From there, things started to snowball for Heimbecker. He eventually became a part-owner of Courtly Choice, who took everyone involved in his group on an exciting ride.

“I bought into him after a qualifier as a three-year-old,” recalled Heimbecker. “I’d been missing it, and I’d been out for a while and my kids are at a good age right now. It was a good fit.”

The horse rose to great heights thanks to dazzling efforts in a handful of major races -- races that Heimbecker chose not to attend.

“I’m superstitious, I’m really superstitious,” he admitted. “Sometimes I’ll go to the races and sometimes I don’t. I ended up not going the night of the Canadian Pacing Derby [a race that Courtly Choice won]. And after that win Blake [trainer/co-owner MacIntosh] told me ‘you’re never coming to the races again’. But he told me that after the Little Brown Jug, too. I was on my way down and I had this overwhelming bad feeling and I turned around and went home. I think they heard me across the border, because I was just running around and cheering when he was winning.”

Being associated with great horses is the ultimate goal in this game, and Heimbecker feels part of obtaining that goal is lining yourself up with the right people.

“I’ve really tried to associate myself with good people and the best people in the business,” he claimed. “You’ve got a couple owners like Brad Grant -- a super approachable guy, loves the business and a huge advocate for horse racing. You want guys like that in the business. The same with John Fielding. A super great guy, I’ve never seen him not smiling. He’s just projects a real positive energy, and the first time I met him was at Lexington this past year and now we’ve got two really nice trotters. Again, it’s just surrounding yourself with good people and I think we can all learn from that.”

Heimbecker found himself involved in one of the most startling stories of 2019 when he became a part owner in the sport’s first million dollar yearling, Maverick.

“I saw Tony [Alagna] and Brad [Grant] sitting on a bench just outside, and I walked over said ‘boys I’m going to take a seat with you if you don’t mind.’ I ended up sitting down there and Brad said ‘So, what do you like?’ And I said ‘I like a lot of them. And he said ‘Are there any standouts?’ And I said “The brother to Greenshoe is a no-brainer, but it’s going to come at a real high price.’ Tony didn’t say much and Brad just kind of said ‘I think we might be going on him, would you be interested?’. And I said ‘Well, what kind of number are we talking? This could be $900,000 or a million. A million plus.’ And he said ‘Yep, we think so, too.’ And I basically just looked at Brad and I looked at Tony and said ‘If you get it, count me in.’ And Brad got him, so it was pretty exciting.”

And Heimbecker admits the early reports on trotter who came with a $1.1 million price tag are just as exciting.

“Tony [Alagna] really loves him,” claimed Heimbecker. “He’s a well-mannered colt, he does everything right and he’s smart. Some are smarter than others, and he’s a really smart horse. We’ll see how deep he can go and everything else, but right now he’s doing he’s asked of and Tony’s very excited.”

Owning a part of Maverick is just the tip of the iceberg for Heimbecker, who finds himself paired up with a number of other keys players in the industry.

“I have two trotters with John Fielding, and they’ve both had fantastic reviews,” said Heimbecker. “Julie Miller has Padre, she loves him. And Nancy Takter has Locatelli and she’s very, very happy with him, as well. He’s one of her top colts in the barn. I got in on Trip Sevens at a fairly good price, and Blake loves this filly. I’ve seen her a few times at the barn, and she’s really nice to look at. Casie compared Extrilla Hanover, which is a nice filly we’ve got, to Idyllic. And then we’ve got a real nice pacing colt with Casie that Mac Nichol and I are 50-50 on -- Beachhead, a Somebeachsomewhere. He’s just a monster. He’s big though, but right now he’s within himself. He’s going super.”

Just like everyone else in the industry, Heimbecker finds himself champing at the bit for racing to get the green light to return.

“I think they key is, it’s really important we get back racing,” he admitted. “And whatever that looks like. If it’s no fans, unfortunately it’s going to be no fans. I just think we need to make sure it’s a safe environment, which I think we can accomplish. I think Jim Lawson is doing his best to try to navigate with the government to make sure that all of the safety checks are in line and that sort of thing. I’m optimistic.”


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