Since Richard Heysek and his wife Cathy both grew up around horses, it’s no surprise they eventually got the itch to race.

“After going to a few sales at [Ocala Breeders’ Sales], we tried to learn everything we could about the racing business and decided we would buy a horse and hopefully have a little fun racing it. We bought a Congaree yearling filly for $7,000, loaded her onto our bumper pull trailer, and brought her home to our farm in Morriston,” Heysek said.

However, after showing the filly’s page to a friend who is in the racing business, he realized he might just be luckier than he originally realized.

“My friend said, ‘oh, she’s out of a Distorted Humor mare?’ I nervously replied, ‘that’s good, right?’ Luckily, he said ‘yes, that’s very good.’ Well, sure enough we ended up not having a little fun racing her – we ended up having a lot of fun racing her. We then hired Seattle Slew’s trainer Bill Turner and raced her at Belmont Park, Saratoga, and Aqueduct. We won a maiden special weight at Belmont with Bill, and we felt like we had won a Grade 1 – we were so excited!” said Heysek.

After Bill Turner retired, Congarette won an allowance race at Belmont Park with Nick Esler as her new trainer. Shortly after that win, an injury sent her to the Cornell Ruffian Equine Specialists hospital for two months. It is the only full-service equine hospital on Long Island.

“Dr. John Pigott was our veterinarian there and we asked him to do everything he could to save her and that we didn’t care about the cost. Thanks to Dr. Pigott’s efforts, she did survive,” recalled Heysek.

Several years later Congarette colicked and they almost lost her again.

“Thankfully, she survived emergency colic surgery. We really love the horse that we paid $7,000 for and she will always be a part of our family,” added Heysek.

Congarette’s first foal to race was Federal Judge, a 2020 Army Mule colt that ran in the Grade 1 Woody Stephens at Belmont in just his third start last year.

“Even though he finished fourth, we’re excited to see what he accomplishes in 2024. We also have a two-year-old Lord Nelson filly out of Congarette that Nick Esler is getting ready for us, and we hope to race her later this year or early next year. Congarette just foaled an Army Mule filly on March 20, and she looks a lot like her full brother Federal Judge,” said Heysek.

Heysek’s growing broodmare band of three have produced an especially exciting Florida-bred.

“I reluctantly agreed to buy a young Pioneerof the Nile mare named Sophia Mia at the 2018 Keeneland November Sale for $4,000. We were there to buy a different mare, but my wife saw Sophia Mia in the back ring and fell in love with her. She was listed as a racing or broodmare prospect but was coming off knee surgery and everyone that looked at her as a racing prospect saw her knee and just walked away. I told my wife we already bought one mare at the sale and that was it.

But when she was in the sales ring, bids were creeping along at $500 increments and my wife started elbowing me at $2,500. When the bids got to $3,500, the elbow jabs started to become body blows, so I raised my hand at $4,000 and we got her,” Heysek said.

The consignor, James Keogh of Grovendale Sales, told them afterwards that they just bought a $100,000 pedigree for $4,000.

“Well, turns out my wife and James Keogh were both smarter than me because Sophia Mia’s first foal ended up being a colt by Bayern named Speed Boat Beach. We sold him as a yearling, and in his very first start he broke the track record at Del Mar.

Literally an hour after the race, our phone started ringing from people inquiring about buying our mare. We were flattered but we chose to keep her and enjoy the ride,” said Heysek.

Speed Boat Beach ended up running in the Breeders Cup in 2022 and 2023 and won the Grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita this past December.

“After the 2022 Breeders Cup, we supplemented Sophia Mia in the Fasig Tipton Night of the Stars Sale, but she was at the very end of the sale so she RNA’d,” added Heysek.

Speed Boat Beach won the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Del Mar the following month, and after that race, they received a number of offers that were higher than her RNA amount.

“We ended up selling her privately. We also had a very nice Distorted Humor out of Sophia Mia that we sold, and we sold her Volatile filly in Book 1 at the Keeneland Yearling Sale this past September. So obviously Sophia Mia has been very good to us. We have also really enjoyed watching Speed Boat Beach’s success and still can’t believe the baby that ate out of our hands on the golf cart (and occasionally from my scooter) at our farm has turned out to be such a fierce competitor!” 

After Speed Boat Beach’s win in the Malibu, Bob Baffert mentioned on television that he is a very special horse but difficult to train because he’s so aggressive.

“When I heard him say that, I thought if I knew then what I know now, I probably would have realized that having him chase me around on my scooter wasn’t such a good idea. But we’re just so incredibly proud of him anyway,” Heysek added.

Heysek will be honored at the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association annual Florida Thoroughbred Gala in Ocala on April 15 as breeder of Speed Boat Beach, named 2023’s champion three-year-old colt and champion male sprinter. His dam, Sophia Mia, is nominated for champion broodmare of the year also, with the honoree being unveiled that night.

Heysek and his wife are big believers in the work that Thoroughbred aftercare organizations do. 

“We are supporters of New Vocations and have placed several of our horses with them to start their new careers – they do a great job! The work that Thoroughbred aftercare organizations do is something that we feel everyone in the racing business needs to support. As breeders, we think it’s important that the horses that we bring into the world have every opportunity to live a full and healthy life, be it in racing, other disciplines, or just being horses at the farm.”

Dales pony Envoy De Kingmaker at Downeast Farm – Gina Soul Photo

In addition to their small broodmare operation, the Heysek’s have become owners and breeders of Dales ponies.

“They are a fascinating breed that originated in the United Kingdom and are known for their hardiness, stamina, intelligence, good disposition, and beautiful feathers on their legs. We think of them as large Labrador Retrievers standing at about 14.2 hands,” explained Heysek.

Dales ponies were originally used in lead mining and later used for carrying munitions during World War II. Unfortunately, by the end of the war, they had almost become extinct.

“Today, there are only approximately 600 left in the world. However, because of their wonderful personality and beautiful conformation, they are making a comeback including here in the U.S. We have two mares and three babies at the farm. Everyone that visits us to see them wants to take one home with them.”

Prior to the horse business, Heysek founded Veterinary Care Foundation to help veterinary practices fund discounted and no-charge cases. He has helped hundreds of veterinary practices improve their bottom lines by developing charitable sources of support. The idea for the foundation came from a very personal experience years prior.

“Our family had benefited from our dog successfully receiving lifesaving surgery at an emergency clinic in Naples, Florida, in 2006 after being hit by a car,” explained Heysek. “It made me wonder, what do people do if they can’t afford that type of surgery?”

He mentioned the story of his dog years later to Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s, who served on the board at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“Dave gave me the idea to start a charitable foundation to help sick and injured animals. So, with funding and other support from Mr. Thomas, I started the Veterinary Care Foundation (VCF) in 2007. We’ve grown from establishing a single charitable fund for the emergency practices in Naples to over 900 practices across the Unites States, Canada, and even Guam,” said Heysek.

Since 2007, VCF has provided over $15 million dollars in grants.

“We’re very proud of the money we’ve raised and the fact that 100% of every dollar donated goes directly to pets – VCF doesn’t use any contributions to fund its operations,” added Heysek.

Heysek also wanted to offer praise as a member of FTBOA and the industry.

“I also want to congratulate the FTBOA for their diligent work in helping to get purses raised for Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs. I’ve spoken with a number of people who have indicated they are going to keep horses at Gulfstream year-round rather than ship them out of state after the Championship Meet ends, which is a great thing for the Florida Thoroughbred industry,” added Heysek.

Return to the April 2 issue of Wire to Wire