Racing for a Cause - by Eric Mitchell

The excitement of Thoroughbred racing energized a Nov. 15 Chicago fundraiser supporting international humanitarian outreach programs.

Enlivening the evening at theWit Hotel was the first-ever live auction at Concern Worldwide’s annual Thanks for Giving Gala. On the block was a 25% stake in Mount Joy Stable’s 2-year-old homebred filly Turbine, a daughter of multiple graded stakes winner and freshman sire Smooth Air, out of the winning mare Cubs Fan.

“It was very exciting,” said Brian Burns, owner of Mount Joy Stable, which also bred and raced Smooth Air. “They had a humongous photo of the filly, who is gorgeous. An auctioneer was taking bids and two people were bidding on the phone. It was for a great cause and a good way to introduce people to the sport.”

The winning $12,000 bid came from Molly McShane, who co-chaired the event with Burns’ daughter Brittany Siciliano. Despite the cozy connection between the winner and the event, there was real competition for the share, including bids from Pope McLean, the founder of Central Kentucky’s Crestwood Farm.

What made this auction item so attractive is that McShane and her husband, George Schaefer, will never see a bill for their share of Turbine and will reap a quarter of whatever the filly earns on the track.

“It’s about supporting the charity, so we didn’t want them to have risk,” Burns said. “We will handle everything. We’ll take care of their licenses and will also remind them that this is not how racehorse ownership normally is.” The partnership only runs the term of the filly’s racing career. If she becomes a broodmare, the couple will sell their share back to Mount Joy for $1.

The McShane/Schaefer family has known the Burnses, both Chicago families, for years and have accompanied them to the races. The new racehorse partners had been looking for an opportunity to dip a toe into Thoroughbred racing, so they jumped at this chance.

“They had been thinking about this for some time but just didn’t know exactly how to get in,” Burns said.

The winners won’t have to wait long for the action. Turbine is scheduled to make her debut at Delta Downs before the end of the month. The Louisiana-bred filly is being trained by Brett Brinkman, who suspects Turbine will eventually excel around two turns on the grass but wants to give her some racing experience at Delta Downs before he ships her to the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.

“We’ll probably get her started against Louisiana-breds and then bring her north,” said Burns, who has been involved with Thoroughbreds since 1991.

Burns got into the racing game through a friend, Chuck Calvin. Since 1992 Burns has raced stakes winners The Name’s Jimmy (named after his father), Twin Propeller, Link to Jimmy, Predawn Raid, Silver Lace, and Smooth Air. Besides being their most successful runner with more than $1.1 million in earnings, Smooth Air has the extra benefit of being a homebred. Mount Joy bought Twin Propeller, a daughter of Known Fact, for $18,000 at the 1994 Keeneland September yearling sale. The Burnses’ vet, Dr. Robert Copeland, saw the filly after the purchase and would later describe her as a horse “so crooked that Ray Charles wouldn’t have bought her.” Her name came from the extreme winging action she had in front when she ran. Twin Propeller also won her first three starts, became a stakes winner, and banked nearly $200,000. As a mare, Twin Propeller did not produce a stakes winner, but her winning daughter Air France (by French Deputy) would later produce two grade II stakes winners—Smooth Air (by Smooth Jazz) and Overdriven (by Tale of the Cat), who raced for Mike Repole.

Smooth Air is standing at Gulf Coast Equine in Louisiana, where Mount Joy has some of its broodmares. The farm also keeps mares in Kentucky with Crestwood and has horses in training, including a half sister to Smooth Air named French Passport (by Elusive Quality), who is with trainer Chad Brown.

The fundraiser was really an extension of the Burns family’s two greatest passions—racing and humanitarian causes. Brian Burns’ son Dan is involved in Next Steps, the country’s first non-profit exercise facility devoted to the rehabilitation of people living with paralysis. Meanwhile, Burns’ youngest daughter, Jamie, is involved with the Wounded Warrior Project.

Burns said his other children would like to support their organizations with programs similar to the one with Turbine, but the farm needs to have the 2-year-olds ready to offer first. Burns said he hopes to expand the offerings next year.

“I think it is a good way for horse racing to get out there and be a part of bigger issues,” he said. “Our plans are to do it.”  


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