Corey Wilmes – Racehorse Owner and Breeder


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.

Record Crowd of 17,053 Enjoys 2012 Festival

The Festival of Champions began 20 years ago as a rebuke to track management at the time, as a demonstration by horsemen that the Ladbroke Corp.’s marketing strategies and ideas about live racing were wrong.

They’ve been proving that nearly every year of live racing since, often most notably on Festival day, but never quite like Sunday.

A crowd of 17,053 fans, nearly 6,000 more than ever previously recorded on Festival Day and the fourth largest overall in Canterbury Park history, took in a sun-soaked afternoon of racing featuring Minnesota quarter horses and thoroughbreds only. The record crowd wagered $432,978 on track, contributing to a total handle of $845,309

More than $400,000 in purses attracted the best from the barns in Shakopee with the notable exceptions of Heliskier, the likely Horse of the Meet, and the redoubtable Tubby Time.

It was a throwback to the days when large crowds were commonplace at Canterbury. Lines at mutual windows, concession stands and elsewhere were long, the escalators were packed and busy throughout the afternoon, the paddock full before races and the winner’s enclosure packed after races.

The card comprised 11 races. The final one of the card – an indication of a slower pace throughout the afternoon – went off at 6:50, nearly 20 minutes later than scheduled.

$50,000 Minnesota Distaff Classic

There are several ways to describe what took place in this race, but one that cannot go unrecognized is the role the rider played. It was indeed Tanner Time for the third time on the card, as Canterbury’s champion jockey for the season, Tanner Riggs, kept his filly’s head in the race from gate to wire for a convincing victory. That filly was Congrats and Roses, who had run a total of four times this season without a win.

All eyes (or was it ayes) were on Keewatin Ice in this one, at least until it became apparent that the Mac Robertson-trained horse with Riggs in the irons was not going to be denied. Sasha’s Fierce was second and Sam’s Grindstone finished third.

As she broke from the gate, Riggs gave his horse a reminder with a crack to the belly to assure she was cognizant of the race under way.

In a bit of banter possible only with Canterbury’s champion trainer, Mac Robertson, involved, the following comic exchange took place:

“Boy, I didn’t see this coming,” said Canterbury president and CEO Randy Sampson.

“Hey,” countered Robertson,” this filly ran great in this race last year. Ever since you started hanging with the commissioner, you’ve lost faith in me and it’s cost you money.”

Just then the subject of the moment, Minnesota Racing Commission chairman Jesse Overton appeared, camera in hand.

“Speaking of the devil,” Robertson intoned, as Overton prepared to snap a picture. “You should take those of me before the race,” Robertson added.

You can say those kind of things after winning eight consecutive training titles.

$50,000 Minnesota Classic Championship

They couldn’t touch Coconino Slim.

He broke to the lead and stay right there despite pressure throughout the mile and 1-16 events, finishing 2 ¼ lengths in front of Samendra and 8 ¼ ahead of Jaival.

Owner Catherine DeCourcy had a simply response in the winner’s enclosure afterward. “I’m honored and I’m humbled,” she said.

Under Tanner Riggs, the winner ran just the race needed for his first win in six starts. With a clear lead out of the gate, Coconino shook off a challenge on the backstretch and drew off in the stretch drive as the odds-on favorite.

It was a “chalky” kind of day and this race demonstrated it perfectly. Coconino won as the people’s choice. Samendra and Jaival were second and third as 3-1 choices. Eurasian was fourth as the next choice on the board.

 $65,000 Northern Lights Debutante

Badge of Glory needed only to win this race to get her own badge of honor after breaking her maiden on July 28. She gets it after Sunday’s effort. It always helps to have Scott Stevens in the irons when the mount is a two-year-old, as demonstrated once again, in this race.

By Badge of Silver from Dracken, Badge of Glory is considered by her breeders as one of the most talented horses they have raised. They recognized her precocity hours after her birth in the way she handled herself in the stall. “We knew when this filly was two hours old that she would be the best we’ve raised,” said Richard Bremer.

$50,000 Minnesota Distaff Sprint

One of Canterbury Park’s enshrinees in the Hall of Fame Saturday night was breeder/owner Cam Casby, whose first shot with a thoroughbred on Festival Day was Polar Plunge.

With speed galore, the race set up beautifully for this daughter of Successful Appeal and that’s pretty much the way it played out.

Polar Plunge, the odds-on favorite, took advantage of the swift pace in front of her and glided home under Bobby Walker, Jr., one-half length in front of Gypsy Melody and 2 ½ in front of Happy Hour Honey

Casby declines to watch her horses run, preferring to watch the replays after the drama is over, but she stays tuned in to a certain extent, as she did for this race.

“We wanted her to be behind,” Casby said, “especially with those fractions. They were way too fast.” Happy Hour Honey set the pace for the first quarter in 21 3/5. The half was done in 44 2/5.

Still, Casby did not head to the winner’s circle until all the Is were dotted and the Ts crossed.

“You never know until you are past the wire and the photo proves it,” she said.

$65,000 Northern Lights Futurity

This race produced a stunning effort from Sugar Business, a son of Stormy Business from Sugar Hills Miss. Under Derek Bell, the brown colt left his rivals far back, finishing in a stakes record 1:10 1/5.

The start was only the third for the Curt Sampson-owned colt, who hadn’t run since July 13. “We wanted to rest him,” said trainer Tony Rengstorf. “This race was what we were shooting for.”

And the record time?

“A pleasant surprise,” said Rengstorf.

Surprising,too, to the winner’s rivals. Bet Your Life was second, eight lengths behind the winner. Lil’ Apollo was 18 ¾ lengths behind in third.

$50,000 Minnesota Sprint Championship

Normorewineforeddie is entitled to a goblet of the very best after winning this race for the third consecutive year, again in convincing fashion. The Scrimshaw horse covered the six furlongs in a swift 1:09 2/5 with plenty of ground between him and Gold Country Cat and Freedom First.

He had 6 ½ lengths on the second place horse, who got the place by a neck.

Winning owner Tony Didier was wearing a tee-shirt in the winner’ s enclosure depicting a jockey holding a bottle of wine aloft in a salute to Eddie. The wine bottle has been uncorked so it seems possible the state’s open bottle law does not apply to thoroughbred racetracks.

Didier, as usual, gave credit to his trainer, fellow Nebraskan Bruce Riecken and to winning rider Dean Butler.

“Bruce did a great job getting him ready,” Riecken said. And Butler’s ride? “You don’t have worry about anything with Dean Butler.”

The race was only the third for Eddie this year. “He’s had a few problems,” said Didier. “Hopefully he’s over them.”

Hardys Continue Festival Dominance

Employee problems among other issues kept Kari Hardy in Iowa for qualifying races on Saturday night, so she was unable to attend the Hall of Fame festivities at Canterbury and had nothing to show for the trip when she arrived back in Shakopee. How did you do in Iowa, she was asked.

“Mediocre,” she said. Neither of her two horses qualified for the John Deere juvenile challenge.

There was some consolation upon her return, however.

Western Fun (above), ridden by Mark Luark and owned by Canterbury Park’s newest owners in the Hall of Fame , Bob and Julie Petersen, won the first race on Sunday’s card, the $22,400 Minnesota Quarter Horse Derby in 20.640 seconds. Western Fun had a neck on Flyin Coronas (who was later disqualified for interference), who was a half-length in front of Streak N Hot.

The Hardy barn had the winner of the $23,350 Quarter Horse Futurity, too. Tanner Riggs, the champion thoroughbred jockey of the meet, brought in Fly Eyeann (below) in 18.607 for owner Rodney Von Ohlen, whose V Os Red Hot Cole finished third in the race. In between those two was Tres My Tracks.

“That helps a bit,” Hardy said.

Could it have been any better? “Well, yes, it could have been first and second,” said Von Ohlen.

Nonetheless, it was the fifth time the Hardy barn has swept the two races as this team adds each summer to their local dominance. They have won 16 races in the Minnesota Festival, 12 more than anyone else. The Hardy barn has claimed 11 training titles at Canterbury since 2000. The victory for the Petersens was their eighth on Festival Day, three more than anyone else.

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

Photo Credit: Coady Photography

Tiny… the Big Horse

She wasn’t quite sure what kind of horse he was the first time he walked past the barn, and there are times yet today, 12 years later, when she must wonder, too.

This much seems clear: The horse doesn’t know when to quit working, and he chows down as if he hasn’t had another meal in a month. Sounds like a Class A personality, and that sometimes concerns his primary rider, Kari Hardy, who runs the local barn at Canterbury Park for her husband, Ed Ross Hardy.

“I tell my mother that he might go into cardiac arrest sometime while we’re feeding him,” Kari said.

The animal in question here is a 19-year-old quarter horse called Tiny, who is anything but. That’s not his given name, of course, but imagine referring to him by his registered name – Hezamypress. Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it. But neither did “Midget,” the nickname Art Wilmes, Kari’s father, suggested for the horse after they purchased him outright at Manor Downs.

So what this horse is, in fact, is a retired racehorse who’s never left the race track. The Hardys ran him three times after buying him and he’s basically served as the barn’s pony horse since. Hezamypress is by The Sporting Press from Sheza My Choice. He was 3-0-4 from 24 career starts with earnings of $9,646.

Tiny is not that tall, maybe 15.3 hands, but he sort of resembles an equine version of a squat heavyweight wrestler. He has a massive chest on him. He’s big boned and goes about 1,300 pounds.

People have wondered if maybe there’s some draft horse in him he’s so massive.

Kari was befuddled the first time she saw the horse. The Hardys’ barn at Manor Downs was right by the gate so they got plenty of traffic near that spot. The first time Kari saw him prance past she thought maybe the horse was an Appaloosa. “He was higher than a kite. His tail was up over his back,” she recalled.

“I asked my dad, ‘what the heck is that thing,’ because they did run Appaloosas at Manor Downs.”

“He was just so big and powerful. He was impressive looking.”

Art Wilmes spotted the horse at the races a couple of days later. He told Kari that the horse had finished fourth, but ran a 95 speed index and might make a good barrel horse.

Kari competed in barrel racing while growing up in Le Sueur, and the idea of having a horse who might fit that discipline appealed to her. A couple of days later, her father bought the horse for $2,500, The Hardys raced him three times and Tiny got a first, a third and a fourth. That concluded his racing career, and when the Hardys came to Canterbury later that year Tiny was with them.

Tiny has been in the barn at Canterbury every meet the past 12 years but one, and Kari is on him every morning when he leaves the barn, prancing the entire distance to the track.

“He was a racehorse and then a pony horse,” Kari added. “He’s never left the racetrack and always thinks he’s supposed to work.”

Try taking him on a trail or a pleasure ride and Tiny acts as if he needs Prozac. “He gets very nervous when you try to ride him just for pleasure,” Kari added. “He just doesn’t understand.”

What Tiny does understand is the difference between an adult rider and a youngster. “He’s a pretty lively horse,” Kari added, “but when our kids, Jordan, 6, and Austin, 3, get on him, he turns really quiet.”

Not bad for a horse that spends most of the day on the muscle because he regards himself as simply a work horse, a workaholic if you like.

“He’s always on the muscle,” Kari said. “And if you want to go faster, he’ll go faster. He always wants to work.”

The Hardys at one time used Tiny as a work partner for green two-year-olds, although it’s been maybe three years since he’s filled that role.”

Although people sometimes wonder if Tiny has some draft horse in him, they seldom think he’s 17 years old. “He has a little sway in his back but it’s always been that way,” Kari explained. ”He’s rock solid with really good muscle tone.”

Tiny generally behaves himself and has taken to the Hardy children, but at feeding time he raises quite the fuss. “You can hear him a mile away,” she said. “And boy can he eat.”

Tiny, the erstwhile racehorse and now pony horse, is really the Hardy horse. “He is the family horse,” Kari added. “We (Kari and Ed Ross) both rode him a lot but now the kids are riding him, too.”

Occasionally, they’ll get on Tiny in the barn when the chores are done. Jordan rides him without assistance in the ring at home. Her little brother needs an adult hand on the reins when he’s in the saddle, but that could change in the next year or so.

During his racing days, Tiny won races at 330 yards, 550 and 870. “We ran him at 440 and 550,” Kari said. “He was pretty versatile.”

Still is, for that matter. Doesn’t seem to matter who’s in the saddle, Tiny knows how to respond.

“He knows what he’s supposed to do,” Kari said. “He’s a real professional.”

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.