When he's not falling out of trees, Woodlands' Ed Pawluk can be found hard at work on his 40-acre farm with his partner-for-life, Joyce.
Some 40 odd years ago, Ed and Joyce sold the trailer park they owned and operated, moved to Woodlands, and built a house complete with barn and fences. The resulting homestead became the home base for their modest breeding operation. Oh yeah, and they raised four energetic sons in the process, Bob, Ken, Jim and Don.
Ed's a bit of a contradiction. At first blush, he comes across as a little scary, sort of crusty and curmudgeonly. Once you get to know him however, you realize that it's a bit of an act. He's a pussy cat! But don't tell any one, he wouldn't want it to get around. His wife Joyce, on the other hand, is as sweet as they come!
I've really come to appreciate just how knowledgeable Ed is about horses and racing in general. At this point in his life he doesn't have to breed horses and get up at the crack of dawn to do his chores. He retired from Hydro a few years back, but quite simply he enjoys what he's doing and loves his horses.
I could fill this entire blog with tales Ed's adventures into the world of breeding thoroughbreds, but I won't.
Rather, I want to reflect on the events in his life that resulted in him being closely affiliated with not one, but two Canadian Derbies. Most horsemen will never get near a Canadian Derby title, but with Ed we have a Manitoba horseman whose been to the dance and walked away with all the marbles. Twice!
And that my friends, just has to be a record. Things like that don't happen in these parts, at least not that I am aware of.
First up is Ed's Smoky Cinder, whom he owned in partnership with son, Jim. Ed and Jim purchased Smoky as a weanling for $2,500 USD at the Kentucky Sales. As it turns out, Smoky, a grandson of the great Northern Dancer, had a half brother that sold the following year for $225,000. So any way you put it, Smoky Cinder was a bargain.
In return, the graded stakes placed and multiple stakes winner rewarded the Pawluks with 18 victories and earnings of just under $400,000.
Smoky won the Speers (1999 & 2001), the Free Press (1999 & 2001) and the Wheat City (1998 & 1999) each twice, and the G. Sydney Halter in 2000, but the jewel in his crown was his 1997 win in the Canadian Derby.
What makes Smoky special? Well he had the genes to be sure, but pedigree guarantees you nothing. He had ability in spades, but the asset that defined Smoky was that rare mix of heart and character. No one said it better than Federico Tesio:
"A horse gallops with his lungs, perseveres with his heart and wins with his character."
For a Manitoba horse owner to reach a pinnacle like the Canadian Derby at all is rare, and to do it off a $2,500 investment is unheard of.
In 1998 Ed laid the foundation for his most significant accomplishment as a breeder. And yes, we are talking about a Manitoba-bred. Fancy As!
Fancy As' stats speak for themselves: 16 wins, two seconds and three thirds from 27 starts and $670,000 in earnings. Sadly, Fancy As wasn't one of the horses that Ed kept. As a breeder you can't keep them all, and Fancy As was sold at the CTHS sale at the Downs for $3,200 to Hall of Fame trainer Ron "Red" Smith from Alberta.
Fancy As did it all for Smith, who described him as the best horse he ever owned. In 2001 Fancy As was a finalist for a Sovereign Award as champion 3-year-old in Canada after winning the Canadian, Alberta and B. C. Derbies, as well as Premiers Championship in Vancouver. Smith and his wife Linda owned Fancy As for his entire career, and late in his 3-year-old season turned down a $500,000 US offer from Bob Baffert, trainer of 2015 Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah.
And there you have it! Ed Pawluk's ties to two Canadian Derbies, one as the owner of Smoky Cinder, and the other as the breeder of Fancy As. Now that's an accomplishment that most only get to dream about.
Ed Pawluk Horse Facts:
- Ev's Angel -- Gave Ed his first ever win on May 25, 1985.
- Burntwood -- A nice Kentucky-bred that was the same age as Fancy As. Ed kept him and put Fancy As in the sale. Don't we wish that horses came with an owner's manual that foretold their future!
- Tigger Bay -- Champion 2-year-old Colt in Alberta in 2003. Another fine Kentucky-bred that Ed thinks could have been better than all of them, but his career was cut short as a result of injury. Tigger's stats: three wins and a third from five starts.
Recently, "Red" Smith confirmed that 17-year-old Fancy As is alive and well, living out his retirement on a farm outside of Edmonton.
And Smoky Cinder?
Well he's 21 now and still chugging along in Woodlands where he is enjoying his retirement at home with Ed and Joyce.
These days Ed's talking about going into full-retirement from breeding. Is he serious? With Ed it's hard to tell, but you get the sense that if the right opportunity came along, he'd be in there like the proverbial "dirty shirt."
All signs are that a fire for the game still burns inside him, and if he can refrain from his tree-climbing exploits, we can expect to see a few more young ones who will call Woodlands home and Ed Pawluk, "Dad."
Fancy As, Smoky Cinder and the Woodlands' Wizard are all doing fine living on dreams of past Canadian Derby triumphs. Memories can take you a long way in the horse business.
We have living proof.