Good Life/Tough Life,
Good Luck/ Tough Luck,
Good People/Tough People.
These three statements describe the people in this month’s SBOA feature: Carolyn and Merlyn Rae.
Who would have guessed forty-eight years ago when this young couple tied the knot what life would bring their way. Merlyn, a handsome young cattle farmer proposed to his sweetheart Carolyn and their journey began.
“I guess I forced Merlyn into the horse business.” Carolyn confesses. “My family had always owned and bred race horses as a hobby, as far back as my great grandfather.” Pictures of Dan Patch, that hung over the bar in the Mansion House Hotel in Sutton, owned by Carolyn’s great grandfather, now hang on the office wall in their home.
It may have been something new to Merlyn, but it wasn’t long before he was hooked. Merlyn would leave for his job in Toronto as a Machinist at 5:30 every morning, and head for the stable at the Sutton fairgrounds as soon as he got home each afternoon, to look after their horses.
In 1970, three years after they were married, they purchased Maple Ridge Farm in Sunderland, or “the middle of nowhere” as Carolyn describes her location. “We are forty five miles west of Peterborough and thirty miles north of Oshawa. “
One month after purchasing the farm, Merlyn’s Company was sold to the USA, and Merlyn found he un-employed. The next 3 years found him working in the Construction Industry, operating a back-hoe and bulldozer through the spring, summer and fall months, and working for the Department of Highways through the winter months. This eventually led to a full time position.
He would train horses each morning before heading off to his job with the Department of Highways for his afternoon or midnight shift.
Carolyn worked for Ontario Hydro from February 1970 until February 2009, only taking a five year hiatus while their two children, Brad and Lisa, were very young.
Life had to be tough while this young couple held down two fulltime jobs, raised two kids, looked after their 100 acre home farm, plus 120 acres rented land, raised cattle and horses and raced across Ontario in the OSS program.
Their first year on the farm, in 1970, they had 32 head of cattle, and two horses. The numbers soon started to reverse. In the mid 1970’s, a partnership, and lasting friendship was formed between Merlyn and Nelson White.
Nelson found them their first broodmare, Frances Bye Bye. Merlyn & Carolyn would concentrate on breeding the mares and raise the foals then, send them to Nelson to train. This partnership produced Merlyn and Nelson’s favourite horse, a mare called Tete a Tete. In 1980, she raced across Ontario in the OSS with moderate success, and a lifetime of great memories and friendships.
Another of Frances Bye Bye’s offspring was Three N The Morn. This one, Carolyn’s favourite, “Dallas” as she was affectionately called, was sold by Nelson and Merlyn, then purchased back by Carolyn, at the end of her racing career, due to injury. She was 100% producer
Dream Ridge Baron, P, 1:57.1; $42,760
M R Braddock p, 1:54 $71,161
Buynowpaylater p, 1:58 $64,003
Age of Innocence p, 1:57.1h $23,258
Kamilla Seelster, p, 2:00.1; $68,574
Freedom’s Fancy p, 2:01.2h $13,627; Produced
Kotcha Peekin p, 1:59h $132,735. Won OSS @ 2 & 3
Fancy’s Mystique, p, 1:58.3h $42,559.
Lady Anns Sister (purchased from Armstrong Bros dispersal)
Produced: Lord Fantasy p, 1:53.1 $138,125.
Sports First Lady, 2 yr old Sportswriter filly,
(only living filly out of the mare, untrained, due
To Merlyn’s accident in the Spring of 2014)
Broodmares currently owned:
Produced Mattcheever p, 1:50.3 $294,547.
Mattonthbreezyroad p, 1:54.2 $ 91,242.
Mattsarollin p, 1:53.2 $309,370.
Four Starzzz Scoot p, 1:52.2 $202,640.
Coolo Breezo p, 1:54.4 $ 60,867.
Lady Machbeth, 2 yr old Mach Three filly,
(untrained due to Merlyn’s accident)
Keystone Wendy: p, 1:53.4 $89,882
only mare bred in recent years.
(1st foal) Plagiarism, 2 yr Sportswriter filly,
(untrained due to Merlyn’s accident)
(2nd foal) Seascape, weanling filly by Artiscape
Dragon Queen: p, 1:58.1 $32,356.
Produced: Maverick Queen p, 1:57.4 $ 36,672
“My most special and memorable win over the years was the night Brad got his first win on the OJC with Buynowpaylater, a Run The Table son of Three N The Morn. Frank Salive wrote a beautiful article about Brad’s “patient drive”, with his Mom’s horse, and congratulated him for being one of the youngest driver’s, at 18 yrs old, to win on the Jockey Club Circuit”says Carolyn.
“My second fondest memory is of our first OSS win in Dresden, with Dream Ridge Baron.”recalls Carolyn. “He was a 3rd generation homebred. The smiles and congratulations we received from all our fellow horsemen were heartwarming. I love the feeling of family within the horse business. Every week-end at the OSS was like a family picnic, with great people in our Industry. We were all there to win but we were also there to cheer the winners and encourage those that were not victorious. Dan Clements drove Dream Ridge Baron for us that summer, when he was just starting out as a driver, and this was his first OSS win also. This was before Brad got his license.”
Carolyn also worked at yearling sales time at the Lexington Select, The Tattersalls, and the Harrisburg Sales. Back before the advent of live streaming video, Carolyn and Joanne Firlotte were the go to people for sale information.
“On the back of the sale catalogues,” Carolyn says “you would find a 1-800 number for National Racelines. Anyone who wanted to know: how their horse sold, how much It sold for, what number was selling next, or any other question about the sale, would call the 1-800 number and we would have the information at our fingertips.” As well we recorded the sales results, “hip #, bay colt by (sire) out of (dam) was purchased by (purchaser’s name, address)
For the weeks of the sales Joanne and Carolyn would run between the sales offices and their phones to keep up with the calls.
A tough life of hard work started taking its toll on Merlyn’s body. In October 2005 Merlyn was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“When you get this kind of news you drop everything and concentrate on getting him healthy.” states Carolyn.”
Merlyn drove himself to Sunnybrook Hospital every day for six weeks. There he was put on a clinical study with Dr. Andrew Loblaw, where he was given daily 2 stage radiation treatments; maximum dose radiation directly into the prostate, as well as regular dose radiation aimed at the surrounding affected tissue. The radiation was followed by three years of hormone injections. At the end of three years he had another biopsy which concluded he was cured.”
Then tragedy struck again in April of 2014 when Merlyn tripped on a plastic baler twine in the mow, while feeding his replacement heifers, and fell head first out of the hay mow onto the cement floor a story below. He fractured all the bones on the left side of his face including skull and jaw bone. He was picked up on the farm by the ORNG Ambulance and flown to St Michael’s trauma/neurological unit where he spent six days, before being transferred by ambulance to the brain injury rehab hospital on University Avenue in Toronto. “By some miracle he survived,”sighs Carolyn,” with minimal brain haemorrhage and no lasting mobility issues.”
Nowadays Carolyn and Merlyn have their broodmare band cut back to four mares. They only bred one mare last year, because of the uncertainty in the business.
You might think these two might relax, sit back and take a long needed break, but that is not the case. It is hard to catch Carolyn and Merlyn at home. Instead you’ll see them at the hockey arena where they attend every hockey game played by grandsons: Devin and Colby and granddaughter Ryley as well as figure skating recitals granddaughter Taylor performs in.
When you spot Carolyn and Merlyn at the rink, Merlyn will be quietly sipping on his cup of coffee and have his eyes glued to the action on the ice, while Carolyn is sitting not too far away, cheering and complaining about missed calls by the ref. Anyone who knows Merlyn, knows him to be quiet and reserved, and Carolyn…. not so much! Merlyn may clap at the goal his grandson has just scored, while Carolyn would say, That’s our grandson Devin. He’s the captain of the team you know.”
If they spot a fellow horseman at the rink they will wave him over and strike up a conversation about the horses. You may overhear Carolyn saying,” You know I sent Jeff Gural an e-mail the other day with some suggestions for promotions. Well wouldn’t you know it he e-mailed me back to thank me, and said he was thinking about implementing them at the Meadowlands Racetrack.”
When not at the rink, Carolyn can be found at home, busy knitting up Sashay scarves in as many different team colours as you can imagine. She gives most of her handmade creations to the Minor Hockey Assoc. of Woodville to sell at their tournaments to earn revenue for the Club, or local charities for fund raising.
If you ask these two they will tell you it has been a good life and a tough life, we’ve had good luck and tough luck but we’ve lived the dream together, and after all, in this business, we are all the epitome of Eternal Optimism.