TORONTO — Gus Schickedanz was much more than just a boss to trainer Mike Keogh.
Gustav (Gus) Schickedanz — who owned Wando, Canada’s last Triple Crown winner — died Monday night at the age of 90 at his farm in Schomberg, Ont. Keogh, a 62-year-old native of Epsom, England, took over Schickedanz’s string from George Bankuti in the summer of 1993 and 10 years later the two were celebrating Wando’s historic Triple Crown run.
The striking chestnut, who was also bred by Schickedanz, is the last horse to accomplish the feat.
“It’s been a wonderful time,” an emotional Keogh said Wednesday of his longtime association with Schickedanz. “We had a lot of success and he fulfilled a lot of my dreams and goals.
“The thing I love the most is how we became best friends. He was a true gentleman and a man of his word and I’d say those are rare qualities.”
In April, Schickedanz received the E.P. Taylor Award of merit from the Jockey Club of Canada at the Sovereign Awards ceremony. But he had suffered two strokes over the past month.
Schickedanz was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame as a builder in 2009.
Wando, an 11-time winner from 23 career starts who earned over $2.5 million, died in January, 2014 at the age of 14.
“Gus was a dedicated, passionate horse owner and breeder who through the level of excellence his team achieved, helped to promote and elevate Canadian thoroughbred horse racing,” said Jim Lawson, the CEO of Woodbine Entertainment. “His legacy will remain, and his presence will be felt for years to come.
“On behalf of Woodbine Entertainment, we send our condolences to Gus’s many friends and family.”
Despite his success on and off the track, Schickedanz was an amiable figure. A down-to-earth person, Schickedanz had the ability to put total strangers at ease within minutes of starting a conversation, often with a well-placed joke.
“Yeah, that’s Gus,” Keogh said with a chuckle.
Schickedanz, a construction magnate, was born in Memel, Lithuania, but was just 15 when his family was forced to flee to escape the advancing Nazi regime late in the Second World War. He arrived in Canada in 1950 at age 21 and became involved with thoroughbreds in the early 1970s.
Schickedanz was first exposed to horses growing up on his family’s farm and would later capture two Queen’s Plate titles with Woodcarver (1999, Mickey Walls aboard) and Wando (2003, Patrick Husbands aboard).
Schickedanz also bred and raced Grade 1 winner Langfuhr, the ‘96 Sovereign Award winner as champion sprinter. As a sire, Langfuhr produced six champions, including Woodcarver and Wando, Canada’s ‘03 Horse of the Year.
In addition, Schickedanz bred multiple stakes winners including Gal In A Ruckus, the only Canadian-bred to win the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, and Jambalaya, the only Canadian-bred to capture the Grade 1 Arlington Million Handicap.
Jambalaya was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2012.
“Ontario’s horsepeople offer condolences to the family of Gus Schickedanz, a pioneer in Canadian racing, who passed away Monday at the age of 90,” the Horsemen’s Benevolent Protective Association Of Ontario tweeted. “The man who brought us Langfuhr, Wando, Marlang, Woodcarver and so many more will be dearly missed.”
Schickedanz also partnered with Charles Armstrong, a fellow Canadian Racing Hall of Famer, to breed one of Canada’s richest home-bred trotters, Goodtimes.
Keogh said Schickedanz had a keen eye when it came to horses.
“He’d go to the sale and pick them out and he bred them too, which is much tougher,” Keogh said. “He loved the horse that had a short back.
“He always said, ‘Just enough room for the saddle.’ He didn’t like a long back.”
Keogh said 2003 will always remain special, and not just because of Wando’s Triple Crown victory. That year, Mobil — another Schickedanz homebred — was second in the Queen’s Plate. In 2004, Mobil was named champion older male.
“Mobil and Wando were both three-year-olds the same year and just came at a perfect time because Gus had suffered a stroke,” Keogh said. “Then they came along and did these tremendous things and I truly believe it turned his health around.”
Keogh said Schickedanz was easy to work for.
“When it came to training the horses, it was all up to me,” Keogh said. “Sometimes we had differences of opinion at certain races.
“Gus always reached for the stars and I’d try to be more conservative. But a lot of times he was right.”
Schickedanz is survived by his wife Ann, daughters Lisa, Susi, Tina and Heidi, 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be Thursday at the Egan Funeral Home in Bolton, Ont., followed by a service. A private family burial will take place in Unionville, Ont.
“Typical Gus,” Keogh lamented softly. “He didn’t want any fuss or fanfare.”