You get a good horse and see it win: nothing beats it

Cleverly, he decided to join a syndicate with five or six people at first, all people that he knew or had built associations with “just for my education and to understand what was going on,” he said. “I knew it was an expensive business, so I wanted to understand how it works and what you look for in horses.”

By Beverley Smith

William Scott considers himself a small-potatoes owner of thoroughbred racehorses. Every year, there are just a few in his stable. Yet over the years he has owned two horses of a lifetime: Le Cinquieme Essai and Summer Sunday.

Le Cinquieme Essai was a feisty chestnut that stunned everybody by winning the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes – second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown – at Fort Erie Racetrack in 2002. A bit of an underdog and locally raced at Fort Erie, Le Cinquieme Essai got a standing ovation all the way back to the barn. The next day, the local newspapers tooted headlines that called him “The Prince of Fort Erie.” There is nothing that warms the cockles of an owner’s heart more than that.

And Summer Sunday? She was a sales topper at the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society’s Premier Yearling sale three years ago, and now – 17 years after Le Cinquieme Essai’s exploits at The Fort – remains undefeated at Woodbine in seven starts, six of them stakes races against competition that just keeps getting more formidable.

Summer Sunday winning the G2 Royal North Stakes July 21, 2019 at Woodbine

Scott was born with horse racing in his blood in Northern Ireland. “His mother was so horsey,” said Scott’s wife, Anne. “We wouldn’t dare go to the races without her. She was always so excited.”

His family came to Western Canada when he was only two years old. A petroleum engineer by trade, Scott owned his own oil and gas company with three of his offspring, although he sold it a few years ago. But as his working life began to gain speed in the early 1970s, he was ready to start owning horses in Alberta. But where to start?

Cleverly, he decided to join a syndicate with five or six people at first, all people that he knew or had built associations with “just for my education and to understand what was going on,” he said. “I knew it was an expensive business, so I wanted to understand how it works and what you look for in horses.”

At the time, the purses weren’t that big in Alberta, and the quality of horses not quite Secretariat. Scott can’t even remember the first horse he had, but the little group did well and had some stakes winners.  Over a decade, the syndicate owned about seven or eight horses. “I’ve always been a small owner,” Scott said. “I own just a few horses and fiddle around with them.”

That didn’t change when he went out on his own. The first horse he owned that put the colour in his cheeks was Postell Man, who raced for several years and won some stakes races for Scott during the late-1980s. Scott scouted him out at a yearling sale in British Columbia, looked him over himself and bought him for $7,000 to $8,000. The horse ended up winning 12 races in 40 starts and $247,686 on the Calgary-Edmonton circuit, at a time when the maximum stakes race was worth $50,000.

Scott said he was enamoured of Bull Page mares and thought Postell Man was out of a Bull Page mare. The Bull Page blood gave Scott 95 per cent of the reason to buy the horse. Scott had become a student of bloodlines.

Postell Man didn’t understand his job in his first start, and gawked around the whole trip.  But he won his second start. He became a horse that didn’t like to be defeated. “He’d get a horse in front of him and he’d do anything to get ahead of it,” Scott said. “Off the track, he was calm and cool. You could pet him. On the track, he’d eat you alive.”

The day that Postell Man won his first stakes race – in Edmonton – Scott’s son got married and Scott had priorities of going to this wedding. And that day, Postell Man won the $30,000 event at odds of 55 to 1. At that time, Scott couldn’t bet on his horse remotely. He hasn’t let his son forget it.

All in all, Postell Man gave the Scotts huge enjoyment, winning half a dozen stakes races, and finishing second in the 1986 Alberta Derby, fifth in the Canadian Derby and second in the Manitoba Derby. He held the track record for 1 mile 5/16ths at Stampede Park in Calgary, set in 1986, and for his efforts, was chosen top 3-year-old colt in Alberta that year.

“He was a great horse,” Scott said. “He was a tremendous amount of fun.” Postell Man raced until he was seven. Along the way, Scott became involved with the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association in Alberta, and served as president for a year or two.

Scott became a breeder, as many do: he owned a stakes-winning mare but what to do with her when she was finished racing? Still, he was lucky enough to breed a Sovereign Award winner: Le Cinquieme Essai. He was a homebred, which made the Prince of Wales victory all the sweeter. Le Cinquieme Essai ended up winning $1,340,908 in his career with 12 wins and eight seconds in 33 starts. He won the Play the King Stakes twice, and finished third to the magnificent Leroidesanimeaux in the 2005 Atto Mile.

Le Cinquieme Essai was descended from a mare, Time for Words that Scott claimed from a race in Edmonton during the 1980s. Time for Words had talent, so he bred her to a regally-bred Regal Classic, Canada’s champion 2-year-old colt that raced in two of the U.S. Triple Crown races. The result? A filly called Word of Royalty, who won three or four races.

When the time came, Scott looked for a mate for Word of Royalty. And he loved the Irish-bred Fastness, which raced in California. “I always wanted to breed to him,” Scott said. “I watched him run three or four times on television. I liked the way he ran, his determination. He was a very good race horse, but he wasn’t much of a stallion. I only bred to him once.” Le Cinquieme Essai was his best offspring.

Before Stampede Park ceased its operations after 120 years in June of 2008, Scott was already focusing his attention on Ontario, where he bought and raced his horses. Le Cinquieme Essai, Words of Royalty’s third foal, was born at the Hillsburgh farm of Gail Wood, who told Scott that the chestnut colt scrambled to his feet almost instantaneously after birth. “When they do that, it’s a sign of a great horse,” she told Scott.

The story of how Scott’s steed got his elegant name is legendary. At a time before computers, when nobody could quickly find out which Jockey Club names had been taken, the Scotts tried four times without success at submitting monikers for the horse. “How do you say “fifth try” in French?” suggested Scott’s wife, Anne. With this, they had no problems. It was accepted. (Ironically enough, he won the Prince of Wales in his fifth career start.) 

Le Cinquieme Essai had been based at Fort Erie with trainer Paul Nielsen, and the day of the Prince of Wales, he was ridden by Fort Erie regular Brian Bochinski. So Le Cinquieme Essai became the local favourite, despite his limited racing experience. “The place went nuts that particular day,” Scott said. “Absolutely nuts. It was just amazing. You get a good horse and see it win: nothing beats it.

“To get one or two in a lifetime like that, it makes it worth it,” he said.

Le Cinquieme Essai is now 20 years old, and enjoying life on Scott’s Alberta ranch with his best friend, Casual Dude, a winner of $197,290 while racing at Woodbine. Casual Dude (a grandson of Fastness) had run in a few stakes races, his best finish a fourth in the With Approval Stakes. Kids can ride him, but not Le Cinquieme Essai. “He’s still too much horse,” Scott said. 

Breeding is a risky business, but Scott has had some good fortunes in that part of the business, too. Remember Words of Royalty? He bred her to the magnificent Medaglio d’Oro, winner of $5.7-million in his career. He started his stallion career with a stud fee of $35,000, but Scott took advantage of an offer to attract top mares: a mare that had produced a stakes winner could have his services for free. Words of Royalty had Le Cinquieme Essai, so was eligible.

“I got to him [Medaglio d’Oro] for nothing,” Scott said. “Now Medaglio d’Oro is a big deal.”

After siring offspring such as 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra (in his first crop), he now commands a $250,000 stud fee.

Scott thought the resulting colt was a little too fine-boned for his taste so he entered him in the Toronto yearling sale, just to see what would happen. The colt brought $155,000, the sale topper. He was the only yearling Scott had ever sold at the sale.

Eventually, Nielsen retired from training horses, so Scott chose Woodbine trainer Stuart Simon, who had worked on the Calgary-Edmonton circuit for years. With the closure of Stampede Park, Simon moved to Woodbine, too.

“Stuart is a good trainer,” Scott said. “And he knows his horses and if he gets good horses, he knows how to handle them.” The Scotts have been with Simon for about a decade.

Anne and William Scott with trainer Stuart Simon at Woodbine

Scott is no longer in the breeding business and owns only four racehorses, all at Woodbine. Scott, his wife Anne and Simon pick out yearlings together. The Scotts will buy only one or two every year. Scott looks at the bloodlines, and Simon goes over the horses at the sale with a fine-toothed comb.

Scott couldn’t make it to the 2016 yearling sale in which Summer Sunday was sold, but he focused on that filly, a daughter of Silent Name (Scott loved his bloodlines, tracing to Halo) and Dancing Allstar, a filly that had won many stakes in Vancouver and Calgary, but also won several at Woodbine, along with $517,217. She was a filly that liked to win.

Simon found nothing wrong with the filly that Scott later named Summer Sunday. They were in touch by phone while the filly went into the ring. Scott was in his car. Simon would report how high the bidding had climbed. Scott kept saying: “Keep going.”

“I egged him on the whole way,” Scott said.

When the dust settled, Scott had just paid $95,000 for a sales topper.

When Summer Sunday began to train, Simon told Scott that she was special. “She’s got all the tools,” he said. “She’s going to be very good.”

She raced sparingly as a 2-year-old, winning a stakes race for sale graduates. Then she won the Fury Stakes as a 3-year-old, but suffered a small fracture in her knee. She got the rest of the year off.

It could have been a blessing in disguise. “She’s a pretty big filly and it gave her time to grow and fill out,” said Scott, who doesn’t like to overrace young horses. He prefers patience. “You can hurt a lot of young horses by racing them hard,” he said.

The patience has paid off. The ride with this filly this season has been “amazing,” Scott said. “She’s creeping up in class, but she still seems to handle it. Somewhere, she’s going to meet some tough opposition. But you enjoy it when it happens.”

Although he’s going to be 85 years old in December, Scott still plans to buy one yearling next month in Toronto to carry his red and white silks with the S7 in a white half circle. The S7 is actually his cattle brand for his Mountain Meadow Ranch in Alberta. On his ranch, he keeps 45 Aubrac cattle, fawn-coloured, rather rare but hardy bovines that originate in France. He sells breeding stock.

He still fiddles about in the oil patch a bit, too, juggling enough balls in the air to stay busy. “I do it because I want to, not because I have to,” he said.

The Scotts also own a 3-year-old, Seguimi, a half-brother to stakes winner Flameaway that they bought for $85,000 at the Toronto sale two years ago, one of three yearlings that sold for the top price. Seguimi, which means “Follow Me” in Italian, was second in his most recent race at Woodbine, just caught at the wire in the last stride.

And make no mistake: the Scotts don’t miss Summer Sunday when she runs in a stakes race, hopping a plane from Calgary each time. Summer Sunday has been the cherry on top at the end of a long road. It’s all been so entertaining for this long-time owner.