Shirley and Tony Camilleri made a life-changing decision a few years ago to retire from their trucking business and enter the thoroughbred industry. In that short time, the couple are on the cusp of being major players in the horse racing industry in Ontario.

The Camilleris recently opened their lavish new Camhaven Training and Wellness Centre in Caledon, ON, offering the latest state-of-the-art equipment to heal, repair and comfort racehorses. From aqua treadmills and a cold saltwater spa to vibration and magnetic therapy as well as immaculate training facilities, Camhaven is a “one stop shop” for horse owners in the province.

“There is nothing like what we offer here in Ontario,” said Shirley, 48. “I truly believe the horse industry needs a place like this, a place where horsepeople can feel confident that their horse is getting what he needs.”

The Camilleris, both of Maltese descent, have been together for 32 years, since they met at a wedding. Shirley’s parents Roy and Phyllis Salerno had horses, and there were uncles and cousins with great interest in racing, but the couple were busy running their RNT Trailer Repair business.

But in 2013, Tony came to the decision that the long hours of managing the business was not what he wanted to do the rest of his life.

“He just said he didn’t want to do it it anymore,” said Shirley. “He wasn’t happy. So we retired.” It wasn’t long, however, before the enterprising couple were looking for something to do.

It was a series of tragic events for Shirley and Tony in 2018 that brought them into the world of horse ownership.

Shirley’s uncle, Anthony Joseph Spiteri, suffered a fatal injury falling from a tree at his home in the Dominican Republic in the spring of 2018, just days before he was heading back to Canada to join his son Anthony, who was working at Fort Erie racetrack.

The younger Spiteri was getting set to claim his first racehorse with his dad and that summer became the owner of Big Black Storm with trainer Steven Chircop. He asked Shirley and Tony if they wanted to share in the ownership of Big Black Storm and they jumped at the chance. In August of 2018, the black son of Silent Name (Jpn) won at Woodbine at 22-to-1. Spiteri dedicated the horse’s win to his late father in a Facebook post.

Sadly, Spiteri died just three days later in a car accident near Fort Erie. The family was devastated.

The Camilleris were left with Big Black Storm and had fallen in love with the horse and racing through Anthony. Shirley named their stable Malta Manors – her uncle was known as ‘Malta Man’ – and soon one horse became four.

“We started looking for a place to board our horses,” said Shirley. “We had a horse that had to have minor surgery and we left him at the track, but it was not the place to get the proper rehab. Tony and I decided if we were going to do this, getting into racing, we were going to do it right.”

Shirley sought out properties near their home on Horseshoe Hill Road and found 50 acres down the road. It was located in the heart of horse country, just to the east of famed Windhaven, the late Bill Graham’s successful breeding farm. The property had just a barn and a garage, but Shirley had a vision and they got to work.

“I wanted a Kentucky theme,” said Shirley. “I can’t live there, so I wanted the contractors to bring it to me.”

“We want to bring that sparkle back in the horse’s eyes, horses who are injured or unhappy, whether they are Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, english or western.” (Cara Grimshaw Photography)

A 55-stall barn was first to be built, with adjoining 100′ x 200′ arena and a six-horse EquiCizer. At one end of the barn is the wellness area. Outside is a seven-furlong track.

Rubber floors in the barn are heated and steam cleaned at the end of each work day with a special ‘zamboni’. Stalls are spacious and wash bays have solariums fitted overhead. Overlooking the arena is a staff kitchen and viewing room decorated with racing memorabilia, and the farm office.

The barn is bright with fresh red paint, the colour taken from Camhaven’s red and grey logo designed by Shirley. Coming soon is another barn for Shirley and Tony’s growing horse population, now up to 26, and a house for the Camilleris.

Shelley Chadwick, who worked for Lynne Hindmarsh for more than a decade, is the barn manager and will soon focus her attention on the wellness and rehabilitation activities. The special room with all the amenities was built from the ground up on level ground which means there are no ramps for horses to walk up.

The water treadmill. (Cara Grimshaw Photography)

The Aquatread hydrotherapy machine is a treadmill in water that will go up to 18 inches deep. There is a dry treadmill that has an automatic incline and two large EquiVibe standing plates with solariums above. The gem of the wellness centre is the salt water spa in which a horse stands inside and cold water mixed with epsom salts fills it up. Spa jets come on from either side.

“For 12 minutes the horse will stand in the salt water spa,” said Shirley. “The water is just above their knees and massages legs, reduces inflammation and can sooth feet and tendons.”

Clients can board their horses at Camhaven or ship in for treatments for the day. “This is what we want Camhaven to be know for, as a truly complete rehabilitation and wellness centre.”

The Camilleris are also putting together their own formidable racing stable and building a broodmare band. They purchased a few mares at the CTHS Mixed Sale in 2019 and then went on a shopping spree this year, buying seven two-year-olds in training from sales in Ocala, Florida, and four yearlings from the CTHS September sale.

“We are really focusing on the two-year-olds,” said Shirley. “We want to have great horses, but we are in no rush. We want to race in the Queen’s Plate, all the big races. We are in this for the long haul.”

The roster of two-year-olds bought by the couple this year include Under Surveillance, an Ontario-bred Nyquist gelding out of the Giant’s Causeway mare Prodicious Facts purchased for $52,000 (US) in Ocala. Trained by William Armata, Under Surveillance finished second in his career debut on October 2nd in a turf sprint at Woodbine. There are also colts by top sires Tiznow and Honor Code that cost $90,000 each and are both Canadian-bred.

The racing stable may be a work in progress, but Camhaven has quickly become popular with Ontario horsepeople. Camilleri welcomed successful trainers Dan Vella and Darwin Banach this past winter for lay-ups and is close to being full for the coming winter. Add the lure of the impressive wellness centre and Camhaven will be a very busy place.

“When you build something you believe in, people will believe in you,” said Shirley. “We want to be big players in the industry and we have put our money where our mouth is. It is about a love for the horses and loving what we do.”

(Cara Grimshaw Photography)