by Brett Sturman
Southwind Amazon (Camluck—Artoonist) will make a highly anticipated seasonal debut on Sunday (Feb. 27) at Northfield Park in the $19,500 open handicap. The 12-year-old gelding, who has become known in recent years for his guts and grit, will be racing for the first time in nearly four months.
Owned since early 2016 by Michigan-based Ameer Najor and trained by Paul Holzman, Southwind Amazon was last seen in a race on Oct. 31. On that frightful Halloween night at Northfield, he broke while on the lead approaching the half-mile and was eventually pulled up. Preliminary reports that night were that a rock had gotten wedged under the horse’s shoe, and that he had no swelling nor was showing any favoritism when walking.
Following a battery of tests to determine what happened, Holzman no longer believes those initial indications.
“We were never fully able to identify the exact problem,” said Holzman. “We went through him with a fine-toothed comb, we x-rayed him with attention to his left front, but those x-rays didn’t really show a hill of beans. We x-rayed him at three different intervals, three weeks apart, to make sure there wasn’t a hairline fracture coming through that we didn’t see yet. The only thing that the x-rays showed – and keep in mind he’s 12-years-old – was a little activity with his left front sesamoid. But there was no fracture, no lines, nothing that meets the eye and like I said, he’s a 12-year-old and that’s activity you could see on any racehorse that’s been around that long.”
Because Holzman and team was never able to put an exact finger on the injury, Holzman treated the horse as if he had a hidden hairline fracture that couldn’t be seen.
“I stall rested him six weeks like he had a fracture and through that six weeks he was absolutely raring because he doesn’t like to be cooped up. So, we treated him to speed up heal with the bone structure and one thing that did come to sight from that race, he had a little swelling in his high tendon on the left front, so I cryo’d that and shocked it a couple of times and he’s made a whole recovery.”
Though definitively pinpointing the cause of the incident remains nagging, the best Holzman can do is surmise.
“I still believe, in my head, what happened was he stepped in a hole. I scoured the replay about 100 times, and I did see some minor foots and steps into that first turn, which is out of character because he’s typically flawless. The track was kind of bad that night and I think that whatever he did, it got to him the next turn because of the left front pressure on the banked turn. I can’t prove it, I don’t know for sure, but it made sense to me after seeing the aftermath the next morning when he was completely sound and never really showed distinct lameness after that night.”
Having been managed carefully since that time, Southwind Amazon returned to the Northfield Park on Feb. 16, winning a qualifier in easy wire-to-wire fashion in 1:54 with a last quarter of :27.4.
“It was just what I wanted,” said Holzman. “Ronnie (Wrenn Jr.) of course came in to qualify him and he hadn’t been driving him too recently, but he’s won probably 80 or 90 per cent of the horse’s races and he knows him very well. Ronnie was very happy with him, and said he was raring to go and had plenty of pace. This was his first actual downtime from an injury and he seems to be handling it, he qualified as good as I could expect.”
To date, Southwind Amazon has amassed 114 career wins from 289 starts. He’s taken sub-1:50 marks each of the past six years, including four of which have been taken on Northfield Park’s half-mile track, most recently a 1:49.3 mark from Northfield as an 11-year-old. I’m certain that no other horse in harness racing history has established four separate 1:49-and-change seasonal marks on a half-mile track. For that matter, it’s probably not even happened three times, let alone four. And with as fast as he’s paced for as long as he’s raced, Southwind Amazon ranks seventh all-time in career wins. But despite being a single win away from sixth and within shouting distance to Rambling Willie in second, Holzman is going to let Southwind Amazon dictate his own course.
“Since (the injury) happened, we take every day he races as a bonus,” said Holzman. “If anything ever has to be where I have to retire him, obviously he owes us nothing and that’s always something in the back of our minds. With the miles he’s gone these years, with bad posts and outside draws, 45 starts a year with a lot of brutal trips in the middle and all that he’s done against top level competition in Ohio and elsewhere – we’re just taking this time as a bonus.”
One of those brutal trips was last year’s Battle of Lake Erie at Northfield when Southwind Amazon was terrorized from post 8 in a race won in 1:47.3 by This Is The Plan. But no matter, three weeks later Southwind Amazon was at it with another record.
“He came right back from it,” said Holzman, referencing the Battle of Lake Erie race. “I took him to my hometown track in Northville, they had a late closing series for Michigan-owned or bred horses. And he set the all-time track record of 1:52, which is unheard of there. He was pressured through fractions of :26 and :53 which is all unheard of, and it was special to me because I grew up at that track, and he’ll live with that record there forever. No horse is ever going to pace 1:52 there, unless he goes back and does it again.”
“What he has done and managed to do, he’s a freak of nature. He’s built like an athlete and up until this injury he’s taken care of himself and kept himself sound, which has been part of his success. He is a different species; he breathes different air than most horses and he’s an absolute pleasure. He almost has a personality of his own and we read each other’s minds; I’ll tell you that.”