John Fielding on a lifetime of being lucky

John Fielding on a lifetime of being lucky

May 31, 2020

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by Murray Brown

I cannot say unequivocally that John Fielding is the finest person I’ve know in my over 60-year involvement in harness racing. On the other hand, I cannot think of a single person that I’d rank ahead of him.

If ever there was a person I’ve known who’s glass was always, at least figuratively half-full, my friend John would be that person.

John Fielding is the modern day incarnation of Will Rogers. He has probably never met a person that he doesn’t like. Perhaps more importantly, there is likely not a person that knows John who doesn’t like him.

He is that unique a person.

John’s roots trace to Toronto.

His initial goal, as that of so many young Canadian boys, was to become a professional hockey player and play in the National Hockey League.

He succeeded in the first, but unfortunately wasn’t quite good enough to make it to the NHL. He was good enough to play in Germany in the European circuit for a couple of years.

When he returned to Canada, he realized that he had to make a “real living.”

That’s when, as John phrases it, “luck stepped in.”

I prefer to consider it the ability to recognize opportunity and to seize upon it.

He and his brother Bill had the opportunity to enter a field of which neither had much knowledge — the cosmetics industry.

Not the manufacture of cosmetics themselves, but the means to better display them at a very competitive price.

Previously, most cosmetics were displayed using equipment which was put together piece by piece.

John and Bill’s opportunity involved producing these products by injection molding. These serve as display counters at cosmetics stores everywhere.

The business has grown to the point where it now has 2,500 people working all over the world.

As is John’s norm, he doesn’t take credit for the success of the company. He praises Leonard and Evelyn Lauder, the son and daughter in law of the renowned Estee Lauder for giving him his first break.

Array Marketing is still John’s primary business and the one from which all others grew.

John Fielding personifies the term entrepreneur.

From the cosmetics business he branched out to Ethoca (a fraud detection business recently sold to MasterCard), real estate development, assisted living residences, Amsterdam Brewery, a couple of restaurants and of course racing — both standardbred and thoroughbred.

John first started going to the racetrack at Greenwood Raceway. He was entrusted as the babysitter for his younger brother Jimmy. After their parents left the house, John and Jimmy would take the streetcars for the approximately 25-minute trip from their Scarborough residence to Greenwood. Both John and Jim were entranced by everything about it. They both knew that if they ever were in a financial position to do so, they would become involved with these wonderful equine athletes.

Last week, I had a long conversation with John Fielding, who was at his winter home in the Bahamas.

You are involved heavily with both standardbreds and thoroughbreds. Tell us about your experiences in both.

“People often ask me which I like the most. My experience with both is vastly different. I am much more hands on with my standardbreds and like your first love, they hold a special place in my heart. My investment with the thoroughbreds has been more passive. I’ve been partners with Fred Hertrich since 1999. I’ve been very privileged to have had the knowledge and experience of Fred, his right hand man Rob Tribbett, and my long-time accountant and dear friend Ray Johnston to guide me. Fred has been my guiding force. We own over a hundred thoroughbred mares together. We raise, sell or buy mares, yearlings and weanlings. Fred likes to joke that he brings the wisdom to the table and I bring the luck. That’s perfectly fine with me.

“Fred tells me how much to make the check out for and I comply. He has been a wonderful partner and a close friend and we have done extremely well.

“Recently, we have become involved in the racing end of thoroughbreds, as well. Freddie came to me a couple of years ago and said, ‘I’ve got the riskiest investment imaginable for us, but I think we should do it anyway.’

“There was a syndicate being put together with SF Bloodstock, Tom Ryan and Gavin Murphy to buy a group of the best thoroughbred yearlings available. They were raising $10 million dollars. Fred and I got in. The group ended up buying 23 yearling colts.

“To say that we have been successful would be a mild understatement. We have at least two that we think are classics winners. Charlatan has already won the Arkansas Derby; Authentic is a graded stakes winner and Eight Rings is another Grade 1 winner. We have a few others which look promising.

“It’s been a great experience, but like with most things, the terrific people who we are involved with make it so much better.

“I guess with the standardbreds I do have more involvement, but nevertheless I still leave it up to the experts.

“I’ve been blessed to have arguably the best horse trainer of all time and certainly of this generation, Jimmy Takter, to be my primary trainer and great friend. Of course, Jimmy is now retired, but I still look upon him as being the guiding force behind his two greatest pupils, his daughter Nancy and second in command Per Engblom.

“Based on the results thus far, I’m not missing all that much in terms of horsemanship.

“For many, many years, my good friend Bryan Montgomery and his lovely wife Lella have been instrumental in the selection of the vast majority of standardbreds we have purchased. I attribute a lot of our good fortune to Bryan and Lella.

“I also have horses with Casie Coleman and with Lindy Farms where I am partners with one of the greatest people in this business, Frank Antonacci, and his wonderful family.”

Tell us about some of your favorite horses in both breeds.

“With the standardbreds, I’ve been so fortunate and there have been so many that I am sure to leave some out. My first Breeders Crown winner was Eager Seelster who I had with Teddy Jacobs. Then I had Allamerican Nadia with John Burns. Adding pleasure to that one was her ownership was shared with both my father and my father in law and that she was bred and raised by Fred Hertrich. The ones I’ve had with Jimmy Takter include, but are far from limited to Father Patrick, Uncle Peter (probably my favorite because he was named for my late brother), Solveig, who was both a great race filly and has proven to be even a greater producer and In Focus.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have been involved in the ownership of 22 Breeders Crown winners.

“With the thoroughbreds, thus far, my favorite has to be Catholic Boy who Fred and I bred and sold as a yearling. Catholic Boy is a multiple Grade 1 winner including last year’s Travers. I was extremely proud to be a part owner of Neshama who won the Canadian Oaks for my wonderful partner David Anderson and myself. Shamardal, who Fred and I bred, was a world champion at 2 and 3 and has become a very successful sire. Of course, the Grade 1 stakes winner Eight Rings, Charlatan, Authentic and hopefully others are in the wings and are looking to do great things.”

You’ve been involved with two of my passions in this life of ours — great art and great wine.

“My involvement in art is nowhere near what it used to be, but I still love it and do some trading. My main interest involves the impressionists. My all-time favorite is Marc Chagall, but I’m also a great admirer of Picasso, Degas (especially his horses), Raoul Dufy (also horses), Joan Miro and Jackson Pollock.

“With wine, I’m not the collector that you are. I like it most when drinking with friends. I recently had the 1996 Dominus that you gave me many years ago. I was saving it to drink with you. Unfortunately, my patience ran out and we had it last week. Other, mostly California wines that I’ve had and enjoyed recently were David Arthur and Cliff Lede.”

Author’s note: I’ve still got plenty of Dominus. A few bottles from even better vintages than 1996. We can still do it.

You have four residences that mostly coincide with the seasons of the year.

“I spend most of the winter at our place at the Albany Club in the Bahamas. I’ve become somewhat of a golf fanatic. I play nearly every day, providing the weather allows it.

“In late-spring we move to Muskoka in the lakes region north of Toronto. The fall is usually spent in Toronto. I also have an apartment in New York City. I used to spend a lot of time there, but I’ve slowed down my involvement in Array, so I go there much less often.”

Like me, you love good food. What are your favorite restaurants in New York and Toronto?

“In New York I love Smith & Wollensky, the food is great, but its secondary to the greatest waiter in the city, Danny Collins. To know Danny is to love him. I also like Scalinatella for what I think is the best Italian food in a city that has over a hundred great Italian restaurants. I also really like the Polo Bar, Ralph Lauren’s relatively new restaurant for good solid American food.

“In Toronto, Soto Soto would be number one, followed by the steakhouse Harbor 60. I also own parts of Dasha and Amsterdam Brewery, both, which in my humble opinion are quite good.”

I’ve been told that owners of racetracks smile when they hear that John Fielding is coming to the races. It seems you are well known at the windows. What’s the biggest wager you’ve ever made?

“I bet $15,000 on Catholic Boy in the Travers at Saratoga last Summer. He won. I also had him tied up in all sorts of gimmick bets.

“In Canada, I had In Focus and Holiday Credit in the Breeders Crown 3-year-old colt trot. Deweycheatumnhowe was the heavy favorite. I made a strong bet on In Focus to win it and a cold exacta of him and Holiday Credit. That’s the way they finished at a pretty good price.”

You are thought of as being a very lucky guy. Please expand on that.

“Yes, indeed I am. I suppose, though, that the luckiest thing in my life was being born to a wonderful mom and dad and being raised with a terrific group of siblings. The cherry on the cake was being born in the great country of Canada which has given me so many opportunities.”

You are on the board of WEG

“Being chosen to sit on that board has been one of my greatest honors since entering the sport. They are a great group of people led by Jim Lawson and Clay Horner. I wish that people would recognize the great work and dedication that these two put into what I believe is the best racetrack organization in North America. The furtherance of quality horse racing is the primary goal of every single member of that board.”

What’s the best thing You’ve ever done?

“They are numerous. Firstly, my children Katie and David; my marriage to my wonderful and beautiful wife Pat; her great children Andrea, Christopher, Gillian and Stephanie.

Then, there’s my decision at a very young age to become an entrepreneur like my dad, especially having my brothers along for the ride with me.”

You’ve been associated with a lot of outstanding people in the horse business, let’s talk about some of them.

Ray Johnston – “Ray and I have been together forever. He is my accountant in addition to being a very dear friend. Anything you would want to know about any of my businesses or horses, Ray has it right at his fingertips. I’d be lost without him.”

Frank Antonacci – “One of the wonderful people in the sport. I’m fortunate to have him and his great family as both my partners and my friends.”

Fred Hertrich – “You’ve read all about him above. He’s a terrific guy, a great friend and a brilliant business man. He does so many things — all of them well. He is the chairman of the Breeders’ Cup. He runs many successful automobile dealerships in addition to being an incredible breeder of both thoroughbreds and standardbreds.”

Jimmy Takter – “Undoubtedly the greatest horse trainer of this generation and included in any conversation of the best of all time. He, his wife Christina and his entire family are dear friends as well.”

David Anderson – “One of the sweetest people it’s been my pleasure to have known. A wonderful partner, a tremendous friend and an exceptional horseman.”

Clay Horner – “One of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known. Throughout my business career, Clay has advised me on several deals and critical business decisions.”

Jim Lawson – “He’s a force, a human dynamo. He never slows down and stops thinking and working. Most definitely the right man to be leading the number horse racing entity in North America.”

Bryan Montgomery – “A great friend and is always there to help us.”

Philip Nelson – “From London, UK, Phil has become a wonderful friend in business and in horses. I have owned many steeple chase horses — don’t ask me why — because of Phil.”

Herb Liverman – “A great friend and partner for many years. People say I am lucky and indeed I am, but so is Herbie.”

David Reid – “He’s somewhat like a younger Fred Hertrich. He has so many balls bouncing in the air and manages to keep them in motion without dropping any.

This list could go on and on and on. Included among them has been the opportunity to be involved with so many completely fantastic people in the horse business. That list definitely includes you, my very special friend M. Murray Brown.

Author’s Note – Nobody could have given me a greater compliment.

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