Joe Thomson: tent collapse at Timonium could have been much worse

Joe Thomson: tent collapse at Timonium could have been much worse

November 3, 2020

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The owner of Winbak Farms was caught under the collapsing tent along with the farm’s publicity director Elizabeth Cheesman, who suffered minor injuries. Fortunately, thanks to the quick action of many, no other people or horses were reportedly hurt.

by Dave Briggs

Joe Thomson said the collapse of a huge tent in 30 mph winds Monday morning (Nov. 2) at Standardbred Horse Sales Company’s temporary home at the Maryland State Fairgrounds could have been much worse had not been for the quick action of a large number of people.

Thomson, the Hall of Fame owner of Winbak Farms, was unhurt when the tent collapsed on him and Winbak’s publicity director Elizabeth Cheesman, who wasn’t quite as lucky. Thomson said Cheesman was taken to hospital, but was expected to be okay.

“I think she was the only one that had to go to the hospital. She’s had some back problems, but I think she’s okay,” Thomson said. “Liz and I were the only ones left in our part of the tent. All the other guys escaped very quickly. I should’ve run out of the tent, but I ran sideways to get away from this pole that was coming down and then I went down with the tent.

“It was kind of scary. You’re standing in the middle of it and, all of a sudden, it’s coming at you, this big ball.”

The tent — which collapsed in wind speeds classified as a moderate gale — housed some 120 horses from consignments for Winbak, Bob Boni’s Northwood Bloodstock and Delaware Valley University.

Fortunately, no horses were injured.

“You wouldn’t believe how many people showed up to get those horses out of there. And it wasn’t waiting a half hour, either, it was really quick. They had to make sure that people weren’t going to get electrocuted or the horses weren’t going to get electrocuted, but after that you had people standing on chairs, on boxes to hold the tent up so the horses could come out from underneath it,” Thomson said. “It was dangerous because part of the tent hadn’t fallen down, so you had these big, giant poles. It’s kind of like a circus tent, how big they are. They had these big poles that had fallen over and half fallen into the stalls and so forth.

“The horses didn’t panic as badly as I thought they would.

“Delaware Valley, I think they only had a half dozen or so horses. We had 55 or 60 and I think Bob had 50 or so… 2020 has been one for challenges.”

Thomson said the quick action on the part of many is another indication of the character and resiliency of the industry.

“The people working, and certainly our workers, they were champs,” Thomson said. “They put it all together. In fact, they had a big pile of manure in the back of the barn and, where we went, there wasn’t any horses there, so they physically, by hand, moved that whole pile. They moved a mountain (to accommodate the horses).”

With that excitement over, Thomson said the sale will march on just as the industry has through the pandemic.

“I think we finally have come around to online bidding. It’s filled the void during COVID-19, which will keep more people away than anything else. In fact, that’s why this sale is at this venue because the (regular home, the Pennsylvania State Farm Show Complex), they were putting a lot of restrictions on it and I don’t even know if they would have allowed it to go in there at this time,” Thomson said.

As for Winbak’s consignment, Thomson said, “it’s a good cross-section, a little bit of everything, so hopefully we’ll do okay.

“This is the last sale of the year and we always consider Harrisburg one of our better sales and we bring a lot of good horses here. We’ve got some Bettors Delights here and they are going to be really good… We’ve got American Ideals that are really good and I like them all. We’ve got some Archangels from Canada, Cantab Halls. All of a sudden everyone’s onto the new stallions, but he just won some of the big races out there at the Breeders Crown.

“I’m a bit optimistic about it, but I’m always overly optimistic about things. It is the last sale and they have provided the online ability to purchase as well. Baltimore is a pretty easy place to get into and out of, so I think we’ll have a pretty decent crowd and the horses are going to be good.

“I think our horses are ready and the people are ready, even though we’ve had a few challenges. We’ll overcome that and we’ll be ready to show and sell horses.”

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