THE WONDER OF WINBAK (VOLUME 9)
This is the NINTH weekly installment on Winbak Farms, one of the most successful breeding farms in the sport of harness racing.
By Mike Bozich for Post Time with Mike and Mike
WINBAK'S LADWIG IS APPRECIATING THE MOMENTS
Everyone in the industry is somewhat used to the highs and lows that harness racing can bring. Winbak Farm's Yearling Manager James Ladwig got to experience it first hand on a late summer afternoon in Delaware, Ohio. As the gates swung open in the second elimination of the Little Brown Jug, Winbak bred and 2018 Meadowlands Pace winner Courtly Choice made an uncharacteristic break at the start. After a few tense seconds, the horse recovered, and was able to finish 3rd (placed 2nd) to make the final, which he went on to win. "It was great," said Ladwig. "As you get older you realize those moments don't happen every day and you appreciate them more than you did when you were younger."
Ladwig grew up in Mystic, Connecticut, where he got his start working with quarter horses. He later worked for Billy Buckley, training mostly pleasure and halter horses. He also rode quarter horses, and was the CJQHA reining champion in 1983 and 1984.
After graduating from Johnson and Wales University with a degree in Hotel/Restaurant Management, Ladwig went out west and worked on guest ranches and for elk outfitters in Alaska, Colorado, California, and Wyoming. He also spent ten years in Lake Tahoe as a lift operator, snow maker, and ski patroller, while working with horses in the summer.
Ladwig and his family decided to move back east after the birth of their son (Quinn) to be near family. "I was selling roofs at the time and Joe Thomson (Winbak Owner) called," said Ladwig. "He was my parent's best friend's brother. He offered for me to come down and check out Winbak and it was amazing." Ladwig accepted the job.
That's when the 52-year-old got started in the industry. "It was April of 1999," Ladwig reflected. "I started working with the yearlings in the morning, and doing breeding runs to New York and working in the office learning about the breeding and business end of it. It was very intense the first few months."
As a Yearling Manager at one of the sport's top breeding farms, Ladwig's duties are numerous. "My crew (8 in the spring and up to 40 for yearling prep) are equine EMTs and day care providers," Ladwig explained. "We keep them up to date on vaccinations, trim their feet, and keep them well fed and safe. My job is also to make sure my crew has all the necessary tools and information to get the job done. I also, along with Dr. Deugwillo, do weanling confirmation evaluations, yearling confirmation evaluations, yearling sale placement, and assist with breeding picks."
Ladwig brings the yearlings to prep between six to seven weeks before a sale. They bring them into the barns to shoe them, and then hand walk them for a day or two. Then they start them on the equi-ciser slow and easy before building them up to about 25 minutes at a good clip with a cool down at the end. Then they are hosed off and cooled down. "They get rubbed on every day, taught to stand, load in a trailer, get a bath and stand in cross ties." Ladwig says it's all about getting them ready to be a race horse. "We ready them for the real world," Ladwig said. Winbak Farm will prep about 280 yearlings this year.
As with all yearling managers at breeding farms, Ladwig wants his customers to be happy. "The advice I would give to someone going to the sale and bidding for the first time would be to bring someone who knows what they're doing," Ladwig suggested. "Do your homework. Know what you want to look at, have a price range and stick to it." Ladwig also suggests to new participants to bring your trainer, as they will be the one working with the horse the most, and they know what they are looking at.
According to the USTA, Winbak Farm is currently second in North America in wins (1,846) and earnings ($18,807,213).