Racing brings Wingfield brothers together
by Gordon Waterstone
Nowadays, Charlie Wingfield is living the life many 75-year-old retirees live, spending half the year in Florida and the other half up north—in his case, at his longtime residence in Kenton, Ohio, where he was born and raised. He’s also living a life that a decade ago was in serious jeopardy. Diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2005, Wingfield had kidney transplant surgery on March 27, 2012. A kidney was donated by his younger brother Bob, who stepped in when the hopes of receiving a kidney from another brother, Tom, were dashed.
“The doctors told me it was crunch time; I had to go on dialysis or have a transplant,” remembered Charlie. “Tom tested first and he didn’t check out, and then Bob got checked out, which took some time. Bob gave me a kidney and it’s still working.”
Having his siblings step up when needed was no surprise to the Wingfield family, as brothers Charlie, Bob and Tom, as well as their late brother Bill, who passed away five years ago, have always been close. Growing up in Kenton, all four boys graduated from Ridgemont High School, with the siblings all playing basketball.
“We never won a championship, but we had pretty good teams for a small school,” remembered Tom. “Back in 1974, we lost one game in the regular season and then we got knocked out in the district finals.”
Tom now owns Wingfield Realty, a real estate company that also manages several properties; Bob sells crop insurance with his son, Brad. The brothers share office space in Kenton. Charlie is retired from his longtime job working at Rockwell International’s local factory that produced axles for semi-trucks and other vehicles.
The Wingfield name has also become a prominent one in harness racing over the past decade, as the brothers have shared ownership in several stars, including Limelight Beach, Workin Ona Mystery, Manhattan Beach, Done Well, Dorsoduro Hanover, Literl Lad Hanover and Gulf Shores.
The Wingfield brothers have actually been involved in harness racing for more than 50 years, dating back to when their late parents, Billie and Maryann, owned horses.
“We all got started in the business when my uncle used to race and my dad and us would go to the races,” said Bob. “Charlie got the bug from that and right out of high school he went to work at the factory, and then it wasn’t too long after that he owned part of a horse and started training himself some.
“We raced some horses, then had mares and then started racing colts. Our dad passed in 1994 and then my mom had the horses with Charlie, and when she passed (in 1997), that’s how Tom and I got involved; we inherited Mom’s share. We had a few that way, but I hardly ever went and watched them.”
While the family had been involved in harness racing for many years, it was Charlie’s transplant surgery that led the brothers to become bigger players in harness racing.
“The turning point for us was in 2012 when Charlie needed the kidney transplant,” said Bob. “He had cancer seven years before and lost all of one kidney and half of the other. Brother Tom went through all the tests first as he’s the youngest, but he had a medical condition so they weren’t super hyped in him giving a kidney at the time. I went through the testing and mine was fine, so Charlie ended up getting my kidney.”
It was while Charlie was recovering in the hospital that he received a phone call that would change the trajectory of their paths in the sport they all loved.
“Charlie got a call from Brad Crates, who was a second trainer for Brian Brown at the time, that they had a Pennsylvania-bred, a Somebeachsomewhere, and one of the owners needed to sell his part,” said Bob. “Charlie said he’d only go in ‘if my brothers go in with me,’ so Tom and I said sure, we’d go in. We bought a quarter share of him.
“That horse was Storm The Beach. He did all right and we made a little money and we had a good time with him.”
That success led to the Wingfield brothers purchasing an interest in another horse: Limelight Beach, who went on to win the 2014 Little Brown Jug.
“The next year at Harrisburg, James Stambaugh and Milt Leeman, who we’re in with as partners on Storm The Beach, wanted to know if we wanted to buy part of another one,” said Bob. “We thought, sure, why not, so we bought Marblehead Johnson, changed the name to Limelight Beach, and we made some money with him.
“The first year with Storm The Beach, Charlie had only his name on it. Then we got licensed and put our names on it. After Limelight’s 2-year-old year, we were really excited about him so we put Bill’s name on him. We owned 25 percent of the horse, each of us 33⅓, so we each gave Bill a third.”
“When we got Limelight, (my brothers) wanted to be in on the ownership, and I don’t blame them,” said Charlie. “We’ve been Wingfield Brothers ever since.”
While the Little Brown Jug was a race the Ohio brothers coveted, they almost missed the opportunity with Limelight Beach when their partners wanted to sell the pacer.
“We all went as a family to Las Vegas in July 2014, and Limelight hadn’t won yet that year,” said Bob. “It was the Meadowlands Pace (elims) and he had a nice trip, he was pulled out and didn’t do anything and backed up. The other two owners said he was just quitting on us and we should sell him while we could still get some money out of him. We were out in Vegas and we really didn’t want to sell.
“(Trainer) Brian Brown calls us and asks if we want to sell, and says, ‘Ronnie Burke will buy him and if you guys want to stay in, he’ll take you as partners.’ We thought we could do that, so we stayed in. Two-and-a-half months later, we won the Jug with him. And Charlie had figured it out and that was his 50th consecutive year going to the Jug.”
Charlie said Limelight Beach’s Jug win meant everything to him and his family.
“We wanted to be in the Jug, we wanted to win the Jug, and he was the first one we had in the Jug and we won it the first time,” he said.
There was a huge throng of Wingfields in the Delaware winner’s circle that day, including Charlie and his wife, Judy; Bob and his wife, Barb; Tom and his wife, Marj; and several of their children and grandchildren.
“That was just a great day for all of us,” said Bob. “We had a great crowd with us, and being only 35 miles from home, it’s a race you always wanted to win, especially for Ohio boys.”
Limelight Beach is now living out his retirement days on Charlie’s farm in Kenton. The Wingfield family continue to be mainstays during Jug Week at the Delaware, Ohio, fairgrounds, securing their place along the backstretch fence early with several lawn chairs.
“We have chairs chained to the fence at Delaware,” said Charlie. “They make you take them down every year, but you can put them back up the first of June, and we were there that day.”
The success of Limelight Beach led to the Wingfields purchasing an interest in Manhattan Beach.
“We mostly used Brian Brown as a trainer, but after Limelight, Ronnie (Burke) had Limelight’s full brother, Manhattan Beach, and we asked Ronnie and Mark (co-owner Mark Weaver of Weaver Bruscemi LLC) if we could be part,” said Bob. “They said sure, and since we were now having success with Ronnie too, we ended up using both as trainers.”
Wingfield Brothers has also branched out a bit the past couple years as they now also operate a second entity as Wingfield Five, which includes the three brothers as well as Bob’s son, Brad, and Bill’s daughter, Kimberly Simpson.
“Any success wouldn’t mean near as much if it wasn’t with the family,” said Bob.
A Wingfield starter usually means a family gathering at the racetrack, and an overflow crowd in the winner’s circle following a victory.
“It’s like a family reunion every time a horse races,” said Charlie. “And it’s so much neater winning with the family.”
Besides winner’s circles, the Wingfield family also gathers regularly at a house on Indian Lake, about a 30-minute drive from Kenton, that was purchased by Billie and Maryann in 1971.
“It was exactly 50 years ago when I sank the boat,” Tom said with a laugh. “When we bought the house we bought the boat the guy had there, but he didn’t give us any info and it was the first boat we owned. I was only 15 at the time and I took it out and it had a big hole on the bottom. It sank. We had to get a crane to go out and pull it up to the surface, and you could see a spot that they had doctored up and that they had been patching and trying to get by until it sold. The water was only chest high so I was fine. We traded the boat in and got another one.
“Yes, I heard about it for a while.”
What the brothers don’t hear often are reports from either Burke or Brown. The siblings decided long ago to not check in too often with their trainers about their horses, preferring to wait to hear from the conditioners themselves.
“No, we don’t bother the trainers a lot,” said Bob. “Ronnie Burke told us when we started with him that one of the owners of a horse wanted the horse to come to a fair, but Ronnie said he wasn’t doing that. Ronnie said, ‘I’ll tell you what—I’ll bring him, but you better have somebody else pick him up afterward because we’re leaving him for somebody else to train.’ The guy backed off, and Ronnie made sure he told that story right away.
“Ronnie is good talking to us about stuff, but we don’t bother him because he’s so busy. We’ll text Mark Weaver and ask a question and he’ll send an answer back to us.”
The Wingfield family continues to have success on the racetrack, notably the Brown-trained Workin Ona Mystery’s victory in the $100,000 #Senditin Invitational on Aug. 28 at Scioto Downs, and with the Brown-trained Gulf Shores, who won the $300,000 Ohio Sires Stakes championship for 2-year-old colt pacers on Sept. 5 at MGM Northfield Park.
Despite the success, Bob stressed the family’s participation isn’t about being financially lucrative.
“It’s not about the money, but I believe we have made money,” he said. “We still put money in, and we’ve taken money out. It’s never about the money, but we don’t want to be stupid about it. We don’t want to keep throwing money at it, but I think we’re positive on the horses.”
“Not really about the money, but it helps if you make a little,” he said with a laugh. “The best part is doing things with family. I’ve always loved the horses and loved to watch them race. And when I’m home in Ohio, I can look out my window and see Limelight Beach across the street.” HB
Gordon Waterstone is a USTA editorial specialist. To comment on this story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.