Thursday, January 17, 2019

By Perry Lefko for the TDN

The Canadian Thoroughbred horse racing community is mourning the passing of Bill Graham, a larger than life figure in the industry as a prominent owner, breeder and builder in various capacities. He passed away Tuesday at 81-years-old following a battle with lung cancer.

Graham, a burly individual who played three seasons as an offensive lineman in the Canadian Football League, had been involved in the business for almost 50 years. He was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2014 and was scheduled to receive the E.P. Taylor Award of Merit at this year's Sovereign Awards along with fellow breeder/owner Gus Schickedanz for their lifelong dedication and commitment to Thoroughbred racing and breeding in Canada.

Graham was a successful businessman in Graham Brothers Construction, which built highways, roads, bridges and industrial developments, including three race courses at Woodbine Racetrack and the surrounding area.

In addition to breeding and racing, Graham contributed his time as a Vice-President of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association of Ontario, Director of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society, Commissioner of the Ontario Racing Commission, a Steward of the Jockey Club of Canada and a member of Woodbine's Board of Directors.

"I think we've lost one of the major, current founders of the breed (in Canada)," said Dermot Carty, Director of Sales at Adena Springs and Director of Sales of International Bloodstock Agency. "It's a huge loss."

Trainer Mike Doyle, who had a long association with Graham and conditioned several horses for him for some 40 years, added, "He really, really enjoyed every aspect of the horse business because it was different than his other business. He worked hard on a regular basis. He did his own matings. He listened to his farm manager, he might have even talked to [others] about it at the races, maybe get a little input. He was a big, tough guy. He did what he was he going to do anyway."

Among Graham's many accomplishments was breeding 2012 Canadian Horse of the Year Uncaptured (Lion Heart), who won six of seven races as a 2-year-old and more than $500,000. A multiple graded stakes winner for owner John C. Oxley, who bought him as a yearling for $290,000, Uncaptured won more than $1 million in lifetime earnings. His many victories included the 2013 Princes of Wales S., one of Canada's Triple Crown races.

Graham, who could be tough on the outside, but was considered a gentle soul by those who knew him, operated under the name Windhaven Farms in prominent pink and blue silks and had properties in Ontario and Kentucky.

Carty said that whatever Graham did, he put his mind into it, including horse racing. "He surrounded himself with some pretty sharp individuals," Carty said, noting Bob Hancock, who managed his farm in Ontario for about 35 years, and Tim Beeson, who managed his Kentucky operation for almost 25 years.  "Between those two and himself he managed to develop not only an eye for great broodmares, but also to breed horses that could run," Carty said. "He was a great guy, and once you got through the gruff [exterior], he was a lot of fun and he was decent. He turned out to be a great breeder and was always looking out to improve on whatever he had. He had another 150 acres added to his farm in Kentucky to make it better. He always did things top class."

He continued,  "He put his heart and soul into it and got results. He didn't do things halfway. He was always looking for value in his mares. He bought a mare off of us in foal to Ghostzapper (Awesome Again) for $85,000 and sold the baby as a weanling for about $500,000." 

Peter Berringer, President of the Ontario Division of the CTHS, said, "Bill Graham's participation and enthusiasm for the horse racing industry was inspiration for everyone. He will be remembered as one of the most influential builders, breeders and owners and will be sorely missed. Our condolences to his family and friends."

Graham bred and raced a top 2-year-old filly, Tiz Breathtaking (Tiznow), a winner last year of three of five races, including the GIII Mazarine S., before suffering a leg injury. 

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