BY JIM WELLS
A simple question posed to Al Ulwelling on Friday opened up a whole new line of discussion. He and his dad, Bill, were the champion owners in 2014, their third title overall. Only a single win separates them from Midwest Thoroughbreds at this juncture of the current meet.
Thus, Al was asked if the Ulwellings were prepared to go all out once more in the quest for a fourth title. “Actually, I would prefer to have the money over the wins,’’ Al said.
The Ulwellings, for anyone not familiar with them or their stable, are shifting their focus, trying to improve their stock to exclusively allowance and stakes horses. They are stressing quality instead of quantity as they move more heavily into breeding their own horses.
Many of them, it turns out, will be Louisiana-breds; as Al explained, the Louisiana breeding program has many attractive features. And, as it turns out, the late Cam Casby, a Canterbury Park Hall of Fame breeder, introduced them to the concept. “She pointed out all of its good points and bad points,’’ Ulwelling added.
An attractive feature, Al stated, was that breeders of a horse in Louisiana collect substantial percentages of earnings on in-state and out-of-state races long after a horse has been claimed. Minnesota breeders collect a much smaller percentage on in-state races and nothing at all on out-of-state races in such cases.
“Cam had been studying that for some time,’’ Al said. “She really was responsible for getting us into the Louisiana program.’’
There is more to that relationship. The Ulwellings invested in Casby’s Wind Chill Factor, a proven winner, weeks before the breeder’s death. “Cam had kept 10 percent of the horse that we had to purchase through her estate,’’ Al said.
The groundwork had been laid for a shift in stable plans, however.
“Cam had given us the ins and outs of the Louisiana program,’’ Al added. “All the plusses and minuses.’’
At the same time, the Ulwellings will continue to breed horses in Minnesota and enjoy nothing more than watching their horses run at Canterbury.
Take the $60,000 Frances Genter Stakes on July 4, for instance. Al watched enthusiastically as the Ulwellings’ Silver Magna, the first homebred from their stable to make it to the track, ignited at the head of the stretch and overtook 1-5 favorite Shaboom. Adding to the story was an additional factor. Magna’s mother, Silver Spree, was the first horse claimed by the Ulwellings, from a race at Remington Park. Her daughter’s win has a special place in whatever legacy the stable produces in the years to come.
“Having a homebred win a race like that was the most exciting thing I’ve experienced,’’ Al said at the time.
There was a story within a story in this instance.
Silver Magna’s mother died a couple of months after Silver’s birth. Silver Magna was then bottle-fed and nursed by Ulwelling’s wife, Gabriella, and daughter Hunter at their farm near Elk River.
The family figured that without a mother, Silver Magna could use some companionship, so they bought another baby “to hang out with here while they were weanlings.’’
Silver Magna needed additional care after picking up a virus, and the Ulwelling women went to work. A bond, theretofore unparalleled, was established between the family and their filly.
It is a lasting bond, according to Al, best illustrated whenever they pay a visit to trainer Mike Biehler. “Whenever we walk into Mike’s barn and she hears my wife and daughter’s voices, she immediately stops whatever it is she is doing.’’
Clearly, the shift to “economic racing’’ for the Ulwellings has not eliminated the emotional connection altogether.