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A Family Tradition, Many Years In The Making

Trot Feature - Boadicea

When you sit and talk horses with Chuck Lawrence, part breeder/owner of superstar pacing filly Boadicea, you quickly realize that at age 86, the longtime horseman has a mind like a steel trap.

And although he can tell you about almost every family line of every horse he’s ever bred, it’s also abundantly clear that it’s his human family that easily means the most to him. By Dan Fisher.

In harness racing we often talk about the family aspect of our game. Grandfathers and fathers teaching their children and grandchildren the art of standardbred racing. You can’t learn this sport in school, that’s for sure.

People talk about our deep history and will say that we have to always remember those who came before us because if it weren’t for them we’d have nothing.

As true as all that is, how many of us really take that seriously? Do we actually think about what that really means or is it just in one ear and out the other for most?

Sit down and talk with a man like Chuck Lawrence sometime (part owner/breeder of superstar pacing fil-ly Boadicea) and I promise you that the true meaning of family and history in our sport will come flying through to you loud and clear.

“My Dad used to babysit me and he’d take me on the jog cart while my mother had my baby brother at home… I’ve been in it basically for all my life,” Chuck Lawrence shares. “My Dad farmed and trained, like many others did at that time. The farm was the main source of income but he always had a horse or two around, and he had a broodmare around for as long as I can remember. I’d go to the races with him back in the ‘40s and I’d be the groom, and that’s how I cut my teeth in it really. We had a little single-horse trailer and pulled it with a 1928 DeSoto car, in the ‘40s after the War. Our first start would always have been May 24th in Rodney, and then we’d go on from there. Dominion Day [July 1st] was always a big day at Strathroy, in fact that’s where I was the first time I saw Keith Waples… sometime in the ‘50s… he was coming on then. The Waples and the Campbells… Dunc and Jack and Ray, I knew them all… and Margie. They were al-ways there as a family. It was a real family thing. There would be the big Civic Holiday Pace in Stratford and then of course Derby Day in Hamburg. We’d race in all those places.”

At 86-years-young Chuck Lawrence is as sharp as a tack. The names of horses and horsemen, and even specific races and dates roll off of his tongue as if he were looking at a version of TrackIT that had race lines from 70 years ago.

“My brother Bill got involved with training and driving horses for Dad in the 50s. I was warming horses up for Dad and my Uncle Verne Evans, who had some good horses, wanted me to go on the road with him. Will Fraser was his train-er, and he was a damn good horseman… he trained Blue Again, and he and the owner trucked that horse all the way to Santa Anita [Southern California] and won the first $50,000 Free For All Pace after World War Two. I was a good stu-dent however, and my Mom said, ‘You’re going to get an education.’ My Mother laid the law down so I went on and be-came a Chartered Accountant. I went on and had a good career… I didn’t stay in accounting, I ran a very successful road-building company, and I was as much in love with that as I was with the horses.”

Chuck Lawrence is a man that you’d just love to sit in the barn with on a rainy day, maybe with a little bottle of whis-key, and talk horses with. From the name of the first horse he bought into with his own money, in 1968, to the names of his partners and his dad’s old owners, to the names of their trainers, the races they competed in, the marks the horses took and the money they made, the man doesn’t forget a thing. And a sharp equine-mind like that obviously comes in handy when it comes to bloodlines and pedigrees as well.

As Mr. Lawrence recounts certain mares he’s owned, and their progeny, one can follow along on TrackIT and quickly realize that he’s one of the few out there that probably doesn’t even need a computer - he just remembers. He speaks of foals from the 70s and 80s, in the order that they were born, and how they turned out, like they were foaled only five years ago. The man who, according to Standardbred Canada statistics, is the breeder of 45 live foals since 1976, that have earned well over $2 million, seems to remember specific details about all 45.

In the 70s, as Chuck’s son Donald got older, and after a year at the University of Guelph, he followed along in the fami-ly footsteps and left school to train and drive some of his grandfather Gordon’s, horses. With Donald now doing a lot of the hands-on work, Chuck’s brother Bill became an ORC Judge. The family was definitely immersed in the industry, three generations deep at this point.

So what about the story of Boadicea? Where does she come along? How does she fit in? The answer to that has more to do with family of course.

“I had a mare that I bred, by the name of Black Glass… she was out of a half-sister to my Dad’s best horse, Mr Bohana, so she was a family mare to me,” Chuck states proudly.

And there’s that word ‘family’ again.

“Black Glass produced the winners of about $1.2 million,” the breeder shares. And in an absolute shocker, with a quick look at TrackIT, the figure stated proves to be accurate. “She produced horses like Judge Cam [p,1:49.3; $652,760]. I had Judge Cam as a two and three-year-old and then sold him. He was eventually sold to two brothers from Ireland by the name of Flanagan.

“She was a great broodmare for us, but she died in 2011 foaling a Camluck. We lost them both. Around that same time my grandson Gordon [enter a 4th generation of Lawrences] and a friend of his were thinking of buying a yearling, and they were going around to the sales, and I know what can happen in this race horse business. I told him that if he wanted to own something, that I needed a little help now anyway because I’m getting a little long in the tooth. So he climbed on-board with me and we bought Rose Seelster [dam of Boadicea] for $10,000 at one of the Standardbred Canada mixed sales at Flamboro Downs. She was a $100,000 yearling originally but I was advised by some people not to buy her be-cause she wasn’t much as a racehorse. One guy told me that she wasn’t more than a $7,500 claimer but that never really… a mare can be an average racehorse and if the DNA is right she can be a hell of a broodmare… I loved her bloodlines. And she had a front end on her like a freight train… I just liked what I saw and I bought her.”

The mare already had a Stonebridge Regal colt on the ground and was in-foal to Santanna Blue Chip when her new owners acquired her. That foal would be a filly that they named Nurse Molly [p,3,1:55.2s; $34,922].

“We had her - she was named after Gordon’s fiance, who was a nurse. When the foal came out [2012], Gord was so elated about it, but I knew that she was blind in her right eye immediately. I didn’t say anything, and he wanted to keep her. She was actually meant to be a good horse. There was something weak about her right side though. The eye, and she’d get separations in her right hoof. She always had something going on in the right side of her mouth too, and eventually, I was training her, I had the vet lay her down and we found a bastard tooth buried in her mouth, on the right side again, right where the driving bit sat. We pulled that out and she went right off and trained a mile in 2:04, with a back-half in a minute… perfectly. She had a ton of speed but the way she was put together she just wouldn’t hold together. But it did make me think that maybe we had a real producer here.

“But after 2011 and in the spring of 2012 you know what happened? After they cancelled the Slots At Racetracks Pro-gram I didn’t know what the hell you were going to get for horses so I just backed off for a couple of years. I didn’t breed her at all a few years in a row… maybe McGuinty would like to send me a cheque,” Lawrence remarks sharply.

“I liked Big Jim’s breeding so we bred both our mares to him in 2015. Cammies Luck didn’t catch, but Rose did, and she had her foal exactly a year-to-the-day later. Gordon was there to help deliver her. She was so big though she was tough to foal. He started to run out of steam a bit and I got a hold of my son Andrew… he was there in no time flat and between the two of them they eventually got her out. I’m no longer in a position to help with things like that,” Chuck shares.

Just another example of how the Lawrence family always seems to be there for each other.

“When she [Boadicea] came of age I would clean her out and get her used to the cross-ties. Gordon’s job keeps him pretty busy but I would get her harnessed every day and by the time she went to Billy [Budd] she was used to the harness and the cross-ties and getting checked-up.

“Billy had a Sportswriter colt for us once, that I bred and raised, named Sports Image. He wasn’t too sound but he won in :52 and Billy did a good job with him.”

At age two, racing under the care of Budd, Boadicea would only make five starts, winning three of them, but she didn’t compete in any OSS events. She took a mark at Mohawk in 1:53 in mid-August, but was shut down by her trainer less than a month later.

“I don’t know whether it was lameness or if she was just off a bit, but Billy just called me one day and said, ‘We pulled the shoes off her, and we quit with her for this year.’ He didn’t even give me a chance to argue,” laughed the personable horseman. “Dr. McMaster told him not to do anything more with her, but that she had a great future so just take her home. So we took her back to our farm and wintered her and sent her back to Billy when she was ready.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Over the summer of 2019 Boadicea became the fastest filly in the history of the OSS program, winning in 1:49 on three separate occasions. She’d race in all six OSS Gold events, winning four, including the $225,000 Super Final, and finishing second in the other two. She also finished a hard-closing second to Tall Drink Hanover in the Simcoe Stakes, and with $417,652 in the bank for 2019 alone, the owners then made the decision to supplement their star homebred into the Breeders Crown, which was taking place locally at Woodbine Mohawk Park. The cost of paying her in was a staunch $52,000 (USD).

“It wasn’t a really hard decision for us to supplement her. It was that race in the Simcoe that did it. [Andrew] McCarthy, who drives Tall Drink Hanover, when he mentioned after that she was coming hard… he knew god damn well that we would have beaten him if we had gotten out sooner. And we would have but Sunny Dee was outside of us and we couldn’t get clear in time.

“We figured if she could go with Tall Drink that she deserved to be in… so we paid her in, and it didn’t work out worth a damn, but you just have to put those things behind you. Doug McNair said to me that ‘She sucks the guts out of the other fillies by the time they get to the three-quarters… and that’s a really nice compliment, a bit roughly put, but it’s true. She didn’t really get a chance to do that in there but that’s racing.”

This past February 1st at the O’Brien Awards it was two Ontario-sired homebred rivals against each other for the Three-Year-Old Pacing Filly Award - Boadicea vs. Sunny Dee. Team Boadicea, to no one’s surprise, had a huge group of family and friends attend the black-tie event. “Racing runs in our family. Just like I sat in the jog cart with my Dad, my kids and grandkids have all sat in it beside their dad or their grandpa too. Gordon and I rented a bus and brought 26 peo-ple with us,” Lawrence chuckles. “My five married children and their families came down… a lot of people have followed us around all summer. Family is so very important in our lives, but in this industry, if you can get that much family fol-lowing you, you’d better keep them interested.”

And throughout 2019, Boadicea did that in spades.

In the end the O’Brien went to rival Sunny Dee, and there was obvious disappointment from the event’s biggest group. “She’s meant so much to us and I said to people, ‘You can’t be bitter about this. You can be disappointed, that’s allowed, but you can’t be bitter. Don’t carry this.’”

Truer words were never spoken. Chuck Lawrence is a very wise man.

“Old [Winston] Churchill said, ‘Never give in,’” Lawrence recalls. “And I kept cussing him out for that. But now, thanks to Boadie, I see what he meant.”

This feature originally appeared in the March issue of TROT Magazine. Subscribe to TROT today by clicking the banner below.

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