By Katie Merritt
For racehorse owner Corey Wilmes, horse racing has been a big part of his life since he was a young teenager. Wilmes grew up on a farm in Le Sueur, Minnesota, just south of Shakopee, and when Canterbury Downs first opened in the mid-80’s he was quick to secure a hotwalking job on the backside.
“I started out as a hotwalker for Vic Padilla,” he explained, “After that, I was grooming horses for Doug Oliver through my junior year of high school.” When he graduated, Wilmes’ involvement in the industry took a temporary backseat to college and pursuing a career, but he always loved the Sport of Kings.
Wilmes started his own company in 2002, and when that became successful, he found himself in a position to get involved in the racing industry once more. The rest of his family had a bit of a head start; his parents already owned some racehorses and his sister, Kari, married one of Canterbury’s all-time winningest Quarter Horse trainers, Ed Hardy. Wilmes decided that owning, and more specifically breeding, was the direction that he wanted to go.
“When Mystic Lake did the purse enhancement fund, I decided I needed to get some broodmares,” said Wilmes. “I had the property to do it on, so I got the barn set up and I bought a mare in foal in the January sale down at Heritage Place [in Oklahoma], then brought her up here, and foaled her as a Minnesota-bred.”
The resulting foal was Moon Me Chick, a Quarter Horse who won two races at Canterbury Park last summer.
“Moon Me Chick has probably been my favorite,” Wilmes said with a smile, adding, “I fall for all of them, but he was the first one I raised, and he gave it everything he had when he ran.”
The second addition to Wilmes’ small band of broodmares was the one to inspire the name of his Equine business, EOS Equine. “That’s not Elite Oilfield Services,” he laughed, “It stands for Eye Opening Special.”
Eye Opening Special was a stakes-winning filly that was trained by Ed and Kari Hardy, and owned by Corey’s parents before they eventually sold her. “When I told Kari I wanted to get into this and get some broodmares, she was down at the Heritage Place sale and she told me she found one for me. And then she told me what page to look at and I looked to see what horse it was and I couldn’t believe it!” Wilmes recalled. Of course, Eye Opening Special returned to the Wilmes family, and all of her babies have been runners. Corey even puts an EOS at the beginning of almost all of his horses’ names. “It’s a family deal.” Wilmes grinned. Though he didn’t start out with a lot of knowledge about breeding, his plan of learning as he goes seems to be working. “I absolutely knew nothing about this,” Wilmes said, “I’m learning by doing, reading and watching, and I absolutely love it!”
On his farm, Corey foals out his own mares with the help of his son and raises the foals for the first year of their lives. “The trick is to work with them,” he explained. “A lot of people don’t handle them until they’re pushing a yearling and then you’ve got your hands full. So with my son’s help, we try to handle them as much as possible at home.” Once they are yearlings, the young horses are sent down to Ed and Kari’s ranch in Oklahoma to officially begin their training. Wilmes likes to send his horses to the Hardy’s early so that he can have a better idea of what kind of horse he may have, and which ones should be nominated for the big races. “Kari and Ed, they know what they’re doing,” Wilmes said assuredly. “They’re hands on trainers, they’re in there with every horse. And numbers don’t lie. Look at the win percentages,” he added. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that the trainer is a part of the family. “We do talk strictly horses, sometimes!” laughed Wilmes, “We probably talk four times a week about how the horses are doing, what’s going on.”
Fortunately for the whole family, Wilmes says that he’s been pretty lucky as far as owning horses go. In 2017 alone, he’s had 14 runners, 4 winners, 3 seconds and a third. “It’s not all about winning,” explained Wilmes, “It’s about seeing the whole progression, it’s working with the babies from start to finish, it’s about having fun. But winning is fun!” As luck would have it, there doesn’t seem to be much of a shortage of winning OR fun for Wilmes and family.