When the regal-looking chestnut took his first steps onto the racetrack just over 20 years ago, the thousands who had packed the Woodbine grandstand roared in approval, hopeful that they would see history made.
Bred and owned by Gus Schickedanz and trained by Mike Keogh, Wando was on the cusp of Thoroughbred immortality.
The striking son of Langfuhr, in rein to jockey Patrick Husbands, seemed to take the moment in stride on that August 9 late afternoon, unruffled by the sights and sounds that surrounded them as they prepared to tackle seven rivals and 1 ½ miles of E.P. Taylor turf in their quest for Canadian Triple Crown glory.
The journey to this moment began with a spectacular performance in The Queen’s Plate, a nine-length romp over stablemate Mobil, followed by a four-length score over a muddy Fort Erie main track in the second jewel, the Prince of Wales Stakes.
Now all that stood in his way of a clean sweep was a marathon race and rivals intent on denying him a chance to join an elite group of Triple Crown champions.
In the Breeders’ Stakes, Husbands and Wando faced a formidable Sam-Son Farm entry in the form of Shoal Water, Colorful Judgement and Parasail.
As soon as the gates opened, the crowd came to life, the crescendo rising when Wando got away sharply, but Parasail quickly engaged the 1-2 choice, striking front, then guiding the field through opening splits of :23.94 and :48.83.
Wando, tucked in second, was shadowed by Parasail’s stablemate Shoal Water, the new leader, by a length, after a mile and a quarter, as Wando sat third.
The tension in the stands was palpable as the field navigated the turn for home.
After dropping back slightly in early stretch, Wando was roused three-wide, and the colt responded with a strong turn of foot to hold a 1 ½-length lead at track announcer Dan Loiselle’s stretch call.
With the crowd in near delirium, Wando crossed the wire by 1 ½ lengths, stopping the clock in 2:28.69 and immediately stamping himself as one of Canadian racing’s most beloved figures.
“He kind of got ganged up on pretty good,” Keogh said in the aftermath of the victory. “But that’s horse racing. I probably would have done the same thing if I’d been in anyone else’s shoes.”
Added Husbands, “He’s a great champion. Right from the start, I knew Wando wanted to be a champion. I don’t think this feeling will ever leave me.”
It certainly hasn’t for Keogh.
“It was a great day, and he was a great horse. There are so many great memories from that race and the races leading up to it.”
It was also deeply gratifying for Keogh to have the support of the Canadian horse racing world tracking Wando’s every move throughout the three races.
He had gained a good measure of his horse’s popularity seconds before the race started.
“It was kind of neat when they loaded him into the gate for the race and (Hall of Fame track announcer) Dan Loiselle said something like, ‘Here’s the favorite and the crowd loves him,’ and everyone started cheering. I thought it was really good for horse racing. A lot of people came out to watch it.”
In 23 starts, Wando won 11 races, along with two seconds and a pair of thirds, and $2,563,038 in purse earnings. After his racing career, he first stood at stud at Lane’s End Farm in Versailles, Kentucky, along with his sire, Langfuhr, but was relocated to Schickedanz’s Schonberg Farm in Nobleton, Ont.
Wando died at Schonberg on January 22, 2014, at the age of 14. That same year, he was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
It’s an honor he shares with his breeder /owner, and trainer. Schickedanz entered the Hall in 2009, and Keogh in 2020.
A most fitting trifecta of the group behind one of Canadian racing’s most iconic performances.
“Every time I watch a replay of the race, I have a big smile,” said Keogh. “It was something I will always cherish.”