By Bernard Tobin
When Cairo Prince breaks from the starting gate at the Florida Derby on March 29, the colt will be racing to the finish line with a little help from certified seed.
Bettors will likely send the undefeated three-year-old colt off as the favourite in the race at Florida’s Gulfstream Park, which is one of the final preps for the May 3rd running of the Kentucky Derby. The horse will also have boosters from across eastern Canada where its daily ration of Semican’s Equavena Turcotte oats is grown and processed.
To have his company’s product playing a key supporting role in Cairo Prince’s quest is pretty exciting, says Jacques Beauchesne, president of Semican, which processes and sells Equavena Turcotte oats with help from contact growers in Quebec and the Maritimes.
Beauchesne notes that his product is not just your average oat. The hull-free feed is produced from identity preserved (IP) Turcotte variety oats that delivers nine percent fat, well above the average six percent found in regular oat feeds. Racehorses also thrive on the higher protein and amino acid levels in Turcotte oats.
Semican stipulates in production contracts that growers must use certified seed when growing Turcotte oats for the Equavena feed. “It has to be 100 percent certified seed or we’re not interested in buying the crop back,” says Beauchesne.
“To deliver the consistent level of fat we need to know the source of the seed and where it is coming from,” says Beauchesne who notes that growers and elevator operators must also follow strict IP protocols to ensure the product meets the needs of horses like Cairo Prince.
“It’s a niche market and we have to deliver what the customer expects,” adds Beauchesne. “The product can’t be made up of four or five different varieties. You need to deliver specific characteristics that are going to be an advantage to the end user. It does not work without certified seed.”
So why do racehorses need a high fat feed? Ron Turcotte should know. The Hall of Fame jockey, who rode the legendary Secretariat to the Triple Crown in 1973, knows what it takes to get a horse to the winner’s circle.
A picture of Turcotte and Secretariat winning the Belmont Stakes is prominently featured on the Equavena Turcotte oat bag. He’s a strong believer in high-fat diets to meet the physical demands of racing. “Fat really helps keep weight on and maintains a horse’s condition,” says Turcotte. “If you can maintain that flesh on their ribs it makes them tougher horses.”
Secretariat used to eat an astounding 18 quarts of oats a day while in training. “He used to train hard and race hard and I had to work him fast before a race because he was such a big eater.”
Turcotte says he liked Equavena Turcotte the first time he saw it and notes that Cairo Prince’s trainer, Kiaran McKaughlin, is also a big fan. “It’s like the meaty oats we used to feed Secretariat, without the hulls.” He’s been promoting the product for several years. For his efforts, Semican makes a regular contribution to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund charity run by the Jockey’s Guild. Turcotte was paralyzed from the waist down after a racing accident in 1978.
Turcotte, who lives on his farm near Drummond, New Brunswick, notes that one of his farm neighbours contract grows Turcotte oats. Along with Beauchesne, they’ll all be rooting for Cairo Prince to win the ‘run for the roses’ come the first Saturday in May.