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‘Plate’ Winner Has Big Tie To S-Breds

Published: July 8, 2014 2:31 pm ET

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When Lexie Lou romped to victory in the 155th Queen’s Plate on Sunday, Dr. Moira Gunn couldn’t hold back the tears.

The filly’s triumph over the boys in Canada’s premier Thoroughbred race was the culmination of a lifetime of work for her late husband, breeder, vet and pedigree fanatic Dr. Mike Colterjohn, who died in March of 2012 of brain cancer at the age of 55.

“It just seemed such a paradox that he wasn’t there to enjoy it with his family,” Gunn said.

Colterjohn and Gunn’s Paradox Farm Inc. of Caledon East, Ont. bred Lexie Lou and sold her for just $5,500 in the open session of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society’s (CTHS) 2012 Canadian-Bred Yearling Sale.

Gunn is the former president of famed Armstrong Bros. Farm, which ceased operations in 2004 after some 50 years as the biggest and most successful Standardbred nursery in Canada. She is renowned as a breeding and reproductive expert who is particularly proficient with pedigrees, nutrition, artificial insemination and embryo transfers. In short, she is as high profile as they come in the harness racing game. But she has enjoyed relative anonymity in the Thoroughbred world, choosing to remain in the background of Paradox Farm and let her husband be the front person.

“I have a ton of wonderful friends in the Thoroughbred industry that were Mike’s friends and are incredibly supportive, but a lot of people in the Thoroughbred industry would not know me to see me. Which, when you think about my Standardbred career, is kind of entertaining, really,” she said. “I kind of enjoyed the quiet anonymity and just let Mike deal with it all. I say that because I didn’t want it any other way. I really enjoyed Mike being the front man and me being the shadow.”

Colterjohn, a marathon runner and Ironman Triathlete, died a little over five months before Gunn sold Lexie Lou in September of 2012. Lexie Lou was the second ‘Plate’ starter produced by Paradox. In 2009, Colterjohn sold a horse named Pender Harbour for $15,000 at the CTHS Canadian-bred sale that became a winner of more than $1.5 million lifetime. Pender Harbour was third in the 2011 Queen’s Plate and finished second in a $74,500 allowance race on this year’s Queen’s Plate card.

Though Lexie Lou was an inexpensive Sligo Bay yearling out of Oneexcessivenite that had yet to produce much of note, Gunn said she is not surprised Lexie Lou became a stakes winner.

“We have been in this business long enough that we know you just keep putting the pedigree together and you raise a good yearling and a certain number of those are going to hit and hit big. You just don’t know where they’re coming from. We’ve always believed in those principles,” Gunn said. “Both Mike and I are pedigree freaks. We are so into pedigrees that it’s kind of beyond what most people do.”

She said Mike bought Oneexcessivenite with Sligo Bay in mind. “From the moment Mike honed in on a mare at the sales, he would already know where he was going to be breeding that mare.”

Gunn said she and Colterjohn started Paradox nearly 20 years ago. In the beginning the farm produced Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds, but in later years, the couple decided to focus just on Thoroughbreds despite her success in harness racing.

“We made a conscious business decision to hone in on the Thoroughbred Ontario-sired, Ontario-raised market,” Gunn said.

Sunday afternoon, Colterjohn and Gunn’s vision became reality with a victory in the premier race for Canadian-breds.

“The success is really about Mike, though Mike is the first to say he’s only as good as his team. Certainly Sherry MacLean, who was his farm manager, is one of the team…But I could name a dozen other people without which that place wouldn’t have been what it was. Mike had the most amazing staff that anyone could have asked for. He picked them and he trained them and he was loyal to them and they were loyal to him,” Gunn said.

Gunn said she was too emotional to come to Woodbine and, instead, watched the Queen’s Plate at home. “But there’s a great picture on Facebook of a whole bunch of our staff at Woodbine all dressed up out celebrating the day,” she said. “They were there in force, dressed to the hilt.”

She believes Dr. Mike Colterjohn was there, too.

“He would have been extremely, extremely pleased,” she said.

(Woodbine Entertainment Group)

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