By Perry Lefko

After starting out at Woodbine Racetrack in the early ‘70s walking thoroughbred racehorses after their morning exercises, 40 years later, Joe Guerrieri has ramped up his interest and investment in the sport.

The 60-year-old Mississauga resident is the owner of Winview Farms, on a property in Caledon that was once the breeding ground for the historic Gardiner Farms. He is also the proprietor of Joey Gee Thoroughbreds, which won the Breeders’ Stakes, one of Canada’s three Triple Crown races, in August, with Channel Maker. Guerrieri sold a half interest in the horse in his two-year-old year to Hollywood movie mogul Gary Barber and Wachtel Stable. Channel Maker ran fourth in the Queen’s Plate, Canada’s most prestigious race, in July.

Guerrieri bought Gardiner Farms in 2016 for his growing investment in breeding and buying horses, something he has been developing and expanding in the last four years. Joey Gee Thoroughbreds is one of the major ownership outfits in Canada, racing primarily at Woodbine.

Guerrieri, an entrepreneur who has been involved in many businesses, retired a few years ago and used some of the money to develop his full-time hobby in the thoroughbred business. Along with a friend, Aldo Ventresca, they bought an active racehorse by claiming one from a race with a pre-designated purchase price. The following year Guerrieri decided to claim a horse on his own. He learned more about what goes into the training and care of horses from the horsemen who work with them on a daily basis.

Not long after that, Guerrieri and Ventresca decided to partner together on buying yearlings at the 2011 Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society sale. They partnered with trainer Pat Parente and bought four horses, including one that cost only $4,500, a nominal amount considering the average purchase price at this sale is almost 10 times that price. The horse was named Black Hornet and has earned almost $600,000 in his career. In the horse’s second year of racing, it won almost $260,000, which is to say the trio hit the jackpot from their original investment.

“It was a nice introduction to success,” Guerrieri said. “Never thought it would repeat itself, but kind of enjoyed it.”

So Guerrieri and Ventresca bought more yearlings. Guerrieri also claimed some more horses on his own and enjoyed more success.

That led Guerrieri to get into the horse business in a more “full-time hobby.” He sold the software business that was funding it and used some of the money to buy some broodmares, yearlings and racehorses and built a “full-rounded stable” and began Joey Gee Thoroughbreds.

“My background was more entrepreneurial and I wanted to take that experience and apply it to Ontario thoroughbred program,” he said.

He had 40-50 horses, which is a considerable amount, and was looking for a farm to board and care for them.

“I was having a hard time finding a place that I was confident in to take care of the horses,” he said. “Having proper care of a horse extends beyond the racetrack. It was obvious you couldn’t be successful without basically having your own place, so you could control the horses year round.”

He purchased the Gardiner Farms property in the summer of 2016 and assembled a staff to look after the horses, headed by Andrew Smith, a veteran of 30 years in the business, to manage the training of the operation. He didn’t know Smith, who was recommended to him, but liked his attention to detail. Guerrieri now has about 100 horses in all.

“It’s a little more than I probably want to have, but when I bought the farm I needed to have a seed account in order to hire the proper staff of the highest level of quality that I would want,” he said. “If I only had 40-50 horses it would be difficult to hire a manager and have the proper grooms and hot walkers. And on top of that there’s the breeding side. I didn’t want to rely on external horses on the startup of this new venture because I wouldn’t be able to guarantee it would work. I was the seed account.

“I’m down to about 70 horses now and I hope to get it down to about 50 and then just grow to maybe around 60 with higher quality broodmares and developing the talented horses beyond the three- and four-year-old years and move on from the lower-level claiming horses that don’t make it as profitable racehorses. That’s the plan for next year and most of my horses will come through my own breeding and pursuit program of yearlings. If I breed 12 horses, the goal is to keep four or five of them and sell the rest through Ontario or Kentucky sales programs.”

He sold about 20 yearlings last year at the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society Sales. He sold seven this year for about $220,000.

“It helps feed the machine,” he said.

He has another handful or so that were foaled in Ontario but sired by Kentucky stallions that he hopes to sell next year in two-year-old in-training sales in Florida.

“We’ll see how that works,” he said. “I’m just testing the waters in different areas to find out what the secret sauce is or the magic formula, if there is one. In all cases, I’m getting educated in how to manage a proper operation. The focus is to have a reputation as the best and most reputable operation for the care of the horses.”

He has three Ontario-based trainers and one in the U.S., Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who trains Channel Maker. The horse placed second in the recent Grade 1, $300,000 Hollywood Derby.

“He is improving every race,” Guerrieri said. “Has major star potential as a four-year-old and for many years. I’m hoping he can carry the Canadian flag to big U.S. tracks. He is the best horse I have ever had and the Breeders’ Stakes was the most prestigious race I have ever won.”

Guerrieri and Smith have also had success with a two-year-old filly, Line of Vision, who has won two stakes races.

Guerrieri has certainly come a long way since he began walking racehorses after their morning workouts in the early ‘70s.

“I went to college and couldn’t do that anymore, but I always followed racing and became a big fan of the sport,” he said.

From owning an operating a restaurant/nightclub in Mississauga, to moving into importing/exporting tractor-trailer tires, followed by operating a consulting company and then partnering in a startup software development company, Guerrieri has done a lot. Now he is taking all that he has learned in business and combining that with his horse racing passion to build and develop another venture.

“We’re trying to do it differently,” he said. “We’re trying to do it the right way and we’re trying to show it’s not all about grinding horses into races and then moving on when they can’t run anymore. We’re trying to make a difference in the industry for the horses and for the people that work with them.”

Photo: Joe Guerrieri, centre, leading Line of Vision into the stakes-winning enclosure at Woodbine Racetrack. Photo credit: Michael Burns photography.