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From Gaspé to the top

Trot Feature - Dr. John Bradbury

When Dr. John Bradbury purchased his first broodmare, like most new breeders, he had high hopes.

But nothing could have prepared the Quebec native for the ride of a lifetime that he has experienced in record time. By Paul Delean

You`d have to say that John Bradbury is off to an enviable start as a standardbred breeder.

The first horse he ever bred, a Sportswriter colt from his only broodmare, won the richest race for Quebec-bred pacers at 2 and 3, and added the Ontario Sires Stakes Grassroots Championship this year as a three-year-old. Bradbury also still owns the horse, winner of more than $120,000 so far.

His name is Wildriverbumblebee, and he`s taken Bradbury, a 37-year-old veterinarian from the hamlet of Cookshire-Eaton in Quebec`s Eastern Townships, on a two-year joyride.

The horse has become something of a celebrity in the Gaspe region, where Bradbury is originally from, and where most of his many relatives still live, and there’s usually a large cheering section wherever he races.

“My sister Jane, a school principal, drove 17 hours from the Gaspe with her husband to see him in the Grassroots final,” Bradbury said. “If you look at his winner’s circle photos, it`s usually pretty crowded. There were 30 of us at Hippodrome 3R for the Coupe de L`Avenir. Things like that mean as much to me as the purse. It`s like a family reunion.`”

A fluently bilingual native of the Gaspe town of Pabos, Bradbury got his introduction to harness racing on the fair circuit as a teenager.

His father, Denis, worked at the pulp and paper mill and had no involvement in horses, but an uncle, Harold Duguay, owned standardbreds and raced them as a hobby at fairs all over eastern Quebec.

“I mucked stalls for him, jogged horses, owned a few with him, even drove a bit. I won with my first drive, a horse called Lchanel. Harold`s father had draught horses, so he`s been around them a long time. I learned everything from scratch with him,” said Bradbury.

Prior to his summers with Duguay, Bradbury had no burning career ambition, but the more time he spent with horses, the more he liked it. So after completing his high school and college studies, he enroled in the veterinary school in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, with horses as his specialization. “In the summers, I’d come home and start back with Harold.”

Upon graduation in 2006, Bradbury applied for and got a position at a veterinary clinic serving Sherbrooke and other Eastern Townships communities.

Shortly after, he and Harold purchased a Yankee Cam two-year-old, Orion Semalu (p,1:55f; $27,750), in a private deal with prominent Quebec breeder Dr. Lucien Paiement (who died in 2013). The price was $3,500.

“We raced mostly at Quebec City and Rideau Carleton. We thought we`d be racing in Montreal, but that`s when the track was struggling and abruptly closed.”

In 2012, with the non-profit Quebec Jockey Club endeavoring to revive the sport and re-establish a provincial breeding program, Bradbury decided to get his feet wet on the breeding side. He contacted Paiement, then reducing his stock (most of which carried the Semalu name), and asked about broodmare possibilities.

That led to the purchase of his first broodmare, Alcor Semalu, for $10,000. The Mach Three mare had produced three offspring already, with one racing, and was in foal to Sportswriter at the time.

Bradbury delivered the resulting filly and named her Wild River Swan (p,3,1:57.2f; $21,108), with Paiement`s Semalu farm credited as the breeder along with Zoom And Fish Stable, which was owned by Paiement`s son Luc.

Why Wild River?

“Wild River is the name of my dog, a purebred I got in 2009. She`s a German wirehaired pointer, a hunting dog. I wanted a name that suited the outdoors, and came up with River, but the name had to start with W because of the year the dog was born, so we added Wild.”

Wild River is more than a pet for Bradbury. She`s a constant companion.

“She`s always with me. She goes on the road with me, on my calls, to the races. Even when I get a night call… she`s the first one at the door. It`s just better to take her because she`s terrible at home when I don`t bring her.”

Bradbury broke Wild River Swan himself and handled her training at the Eastern Townships farm of Yves Raymond.

She showed promise at two, winning her second start by eight-lengths at Hippodrome 3R, then fractured a sesamoid bone. She returned to competition at three and is still racing, with modest success.

Not so her brother, Wildriverbumblee (p,3,1:51.2s; $123,115), who`s been tearing up the track in both Quebec and Ontario. Born in 2014, he`s also by Sportswriter, but this time Bradbury was credited as the breeder.

“I decided to breed back to Sportswriter after I saw the filly,” he explained. “She had a good head and she looked good.”

Bradbury is a little more hands-on than the average breeder. He did his broodmare`s ultrasound and inseminated her, as well as overseeing the foaling at his small farm in Cookshire-Eaton.

The colt got his name when Bradbury was stung by a bee one day on his way to feed them. As with Wild River Swan, he handled the developmental training himself. The colt`s talent wasn’t obvious early on, but his work ethic and joie de vivre were.

“Because of my rounds, I`d usually jog him at five o’clock in the afternoon, and if I got there late, he`d be standing by the fence waiting for me. This is a big farm. He could have gone anywhere. He waited. He likes his work. People at the (Raymond) farm said they’d never seen anything like it,” Bradbury said.

In his first qualifier as a two-year-old, Wildriverbumblebee was timed in 2:07.1 at Hippodrome 3R. Next time out, he improved to 2:04.4 with Louis-Philippe Roy driving both times.

“Louis-Philippe told me he was pretty neat. I told him `you`ve got the drive, show him how to race. Prepare him for the Coupe (de L`Avenir) like he was yours,” Bradbury said.

Wildriverbumblee finished second in his first official start in Trois-Rivieres, then delivered an eye-catching four-length win in 1:57.4. “That was amazing to me. I was just happy to be part of it. Harold sent me a text while I was making my way to the winner’s circle. He said `that was a hell of a mile`,” Bradbury recalled.

After finishing second and third in his next two starts, Wildriverbumblebee exploded in the $55,000 Coupe de L`Avenir final, richest stake of the year for Quebec-breds, storming to a six-length triumph in a track-record time of 1:54.3 with Roy in the sulky. That bumped his earnings to $35,990.

“He absolutely shocked me with that mile,” said Bradbury, who decided the colt had done enough at two and put him to pasture for the rest of the year.

“I had a couple of calls about buying him, but I declined. He`s special to me.”

For the 2017 campaign, Bradbury did a couple of things differently. Because the colt had shown so much promise, and he could not train him full-time, Bradbury entrusted the horse to trainer and friend Francis Richard for his three-year-old season. And because Roy had moved to Ontario, veteran driver Stephane Brosseau would get the call for the Hippodrome 3R races.

Upon his return to the track in June, Wildriverbumblebee picked up where he left off with back-to-back wins at H3R. Then came a shocking sixth-place finish, beaten 15 lengths, as the 4/5 favourite. “He wasn`t right... possibly due to stomach ulcers,” Bradbury said.

The colt bounced back two weeks later with a second-place finish, then really began to spread his wings. After winning an overnight race at Rideau Carleton Raceway, he shipped to Georgian Downs for a Grassroots stake in August and captured it easily, by 4 ¼ lengths, in 1:53 with Sylvain Filion driving. Next came the $65,000 Coupe de L`Avenir final at H3R, where he overcame sloppy conditions and post seven to repeat as provincial champion. From there, he headed to Mohawk for another Grassroots score, this time in a career-best 1:51.2. On Sept. 30, he extended the win-streak to five in the $50,000 OSS Grassroots Championship at Mohawk, which he won by 3 3/4 lengths in 1:52.1 with Filion driving once again.

“People asked us why we didn’t try the (OSS) Golds with him. It was in our original plans, but the race we were looking at first was around the time he didn’t race good, so we passed. The next one was the night before the Coupe, which is a highlight on our calendar, so that didn’t work for us either. The Grassroots fit us better and it ended up working out well. You don’t want to be too greedy; that’s when things tend to fall apart. Our Ontario experience was really positive, and we have thank Marcel Barrieau, who hosted us there,” Bradbury said.

Wildriverbumblee may still have one further stakes appearance this season. He was nominated for the Matron at Dover Downs in November, but would need to make the cut on earnings to start.

Bradbury has no plans for the horse beyond that, other than to keep enjoying him. He trucks the colt himself, does the pre-race warm-ups, drives two hours from Sherbrooke to H3R on weekends just to jog him and obviously is having the time of his life.

“He just seems to get sharper and sharper with every race, but I try not to get too pumped up or look too far ahead. You can fall so fast in the horse business. I’m just grateful for what we’ve already had. Francis did an amazing job keeping him fresh and ready. For me, this is what I do to relax, to forget about my work day, and it`s been so much fun. Every race he wins makes us proud. To boot, he’s just such a happy horse. We put balls with handles in his stall and he plays with them all day long,” he said.

The family ties also make the story particularly sweet for Bradbury. In the Gaspe, a 16-year-old cousin, Dylan Rehel, has started working the fair circuit with uncle Harold, just as Bradbury did 20 years ago. He sent them a horse last summer.

Other family members provide long-distance vigilance for Alcor Semalu. Bradbury fitted her stall with a camera, and relatives can check in from afar for a live look at how she and the miniature horse keeping her company are doing at his farm.

“During foaling season, I got a call from an uncle at five o’clock in the morning telling me he thought she was acting funny. There was nothing amiss, but I’d rather get that call than lose a foal,” Bradbury said.

“My one regret is that my dad never got to see Wildriverbumblebee. He was so supportive. He`d drive up from the Gaspe to help out at my farm. The last time I saw him, I said ‘Dad, I think I have a good one.’ He died last year, of cancer, at 66, before Bumblebee qualified. Every time that horse wins, I feel there are two drivers on the bike.”

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