TORONTO, March 4 - Coltimus Prime will make his three-year-old debut in Saturday's Grade 2 $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, a key prep race on the Kentucky Derby trail.
Nominated to both the Canadian and U.S. Triple Crown, Coltimus Prime, a dark bay son of Milwaukee Brew, has raised his profile over the offseason with a foray into social media where the colt is featured on Twitter as @ColtimusPrime
Coltimus Prime breezes at Palm Beach Downs (Photo courtesy of @Coltimus Prime)
Regardless of the result on Saturday, Horner, a 55-year-old businessman based in Toronto, is enjoying a return to the world of horse racing and a game he enjoyed in his youth while attending races with his late father Russell Horner.
“My dad used to own horses and I tagged along to the track with him back in the 60s and 70s,” said Horner. “His claim to fame, and we’re going back to the late 1940s, is a horse called Wool Chopper who was a Queen’s Plate favourite but took a bad step during training and didn’t make it to the Plate.”
After his father passed, Horner lost touch with the racing world but a chance encounter at his son Colton’s hockey game rekindled the flame.
“My son plays hockey in Aurora and the mother of one of the kids on his team is John Sikura’s sister,” said Horner, referring to the proprietor of Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms. “I was standing in the rink one day and Caroline showed up wearing a Hill ‘n’ Dale jacket with a patch on the sleeve that said ‘Theatrical’. We started talking and that’s what got me intrigued about racing again.”
“We spotted a mare that had been racing at Gulfstream and it was a time in the economy when trainers were dropping horses in for a tag not thinking anyone was going to claim them,” recalled Horner. “Bill Mott was training this filly (Certainly Special) and we bought her fully with the attention of breeding her.”
Certainly Special has produced a trio of runners, all winners, including Kurhah, stakes winner Crysta’s Court and Coltimus Prime.
Crysta’s Court, a mash up moniker honouring Horner’s daughters Crysta and Courtney, has proven to be a talented filly with a record of 3-3-3 from 10 starts and just shy of $200,000 in purse earnings.
“Crysta’s Court broke her maiden in the Victorian Queen…she didn’t break and she’s normally a rocket out of the gate, but Luis sat patiently on her and she started picking off horses one by one,” recalled Horner. “If you watch the replay and hear the screaming, that’s us! It was definitely a highlight.”
Horner’s three children, Crysta, Courtney and Colton, Coltimus Prime’s namesake, are the impetus behind the social media campaign for the Queen’s Plate and possible Kentucky Derby contender.
“We need to see the next generation coming to the track with us and putting together a social media platform came naturally to them. I think it’s a great idea,” said Horner.
Since the Display run, Coltimus Prime has been enjoying a warm winter in Florida with trainer Justin Nixon, a 45-year-old native of Windsor.
Nixon notes that Coltimus Prime enjoyed some time off at Ed Seltzer's Solera Farm in Ocala, Florida before starting up his winter training at Palm Beach Downs
“It’s +20 here and -20 back home, so I’m happy to be in Florida right now,” laughed Nixon over the phone from Tampa Bay Downs. “We’re excited to get him started up again and we’re going to give the Tampa Bay Derby a whirl.”
Coltimus Prime returned to training in early January at Palm Beach Downs, located in Del Ray Beach, Florida and posted his first timed workout, a three furlong breeze in :37.60, on Jan. 25.
“It’s a real nice little facility, very quiet,” said Nixon of Palm Beach Downs. “Its south of Palm Meadows and just beyond our track is the everglades. There are 200 stalls, six barns…it’s a small contingent of people but the track surface is dynamite.”
Nixon has been wintering at Palm Beach Downs for the past four years with a measure of success.
“I had a Chiefswood filly named Niigon’s Touch (trained by Paul Attard) get ready down here before going home and she made about $250,000,” noted Nixon. “So, I’ve had a lot of success training horses here in the winter and having them be very productive during the summer.”
While most of the high profile Florida-based Kentucky Derby hopefuls are training at Palm Meadows or Payson Park, Nixon believes the Palm Beach Downs surface offers a quality training experience.
Justin Nixon leads Coltimus Prime with Melanie Pinto up (Photo courtesy of @ColtimusPrime)
“The surface isn’t as deep as a Payson Park. It’s a little bit like Laurel Park. It’s fair and very kind to them. If you breeze fast, you’ve accomplished something,” said Nixon. “If they breeze in a minute there, that’s a pretty good move and at the same time, if you go 1:02 they’re getting something out of it and they’ll stay healthy. You can breeze them pretty solid and be confident that the track is fairly kind to them.”
Nixon has continued to school the young and improving colt as he prepares for big races, and even bigger purses, down the road with strong breezes as well as a recent training move from behind horses with Fort Erie based rider Melanie Pinto in the irons.
“It was a schooling work and he handled it just fine. We breezed him behind horses for three-eighths of a mile from the half-mile pole and when they straightened up for the stretch, swung him out to the outside and let him run the other guys down and he did exactly what was asked of him,” said Nixon.
It’s the type of move Nixon uses regularly to prepare a horse for race conditions.
“I generally do that before they run, at Woodbine, on the training track just to get them used to being in company and being able to run behind horses,” explained Nixon. “We wanted to make sure we renewed that experience of getting dirt in his face because running on the dirt will be a little different from the Polytrack where he’s made his three lifetime starts. We didn’t want him to be taken by surprise or spend the first quarter of a mile climbing through the dirt.”
Fortunately, Coltimus Prime has proven to be a professional horse at this early stage in his career.
“He’s a very easy colt that way. He waits for the rider to give him the signal. You can put him wherever you want in a race, both Jesse (Campbell) and Gary (Boulanger) have said that about him, and it makes the job that much easier,” said Nixon.
With five breezes at Palm Beach Downs under his belt, Coltimus Prime traveled to Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday and posted a five-panel breeze in 1:01.40 with Boulanger aboard.
“I flew down to watch him work at Tampa and he looked great on the track,” said Horner. “He’s muscled up a bit more since the last time I saw him. Gary said ‘I was just along for the ride today’. He galloped out real well and he was tugging Gary along for the better part of a mile and I know Justin wanted to see a strong gallop out.
On Saturday, Coltimus Prime will make his three-year-old debut in a quality field filled with familiar names for Woodbine racing fans including Mark Casse trainees Conquest Titan and Matador as well as the Reade Baker conditioned Asserting Bear.
Both Matador and Asserting Bear are Canadian Triple Crown nominated.
“We just couldn’t find a race we liked at Gulfstream,” said Nixon. “We didn’t want to go seven-eighths and shorten him back up. I didn’t think that would be beneficial for the colt. He ran the best race of his life around two turns.”
Nixon, who posts regularly on Twitter as @JJNixonian
, believes the dark bay is ready for his first start following a three-month layoff and is looking forward to a bigger, stronger colt.
“He’s filled out a little bit over the winter, grown a wee bit and he’s just doing everything right,” said Nixon. “He breezed with a horse two weeks ago named Camille Claudel and she ran a bang-up second in a very tough allowance race at Gulfstream (Feb. 27, Race 9) behind an undefeated Todd Pletcher horse named In Tune.”
Should all go well on Saturday, Nixon and the Cabernet Racing ownership will be presented with the unique opportunity of preparing a horse for a Triple Crown run in two countries.
“A very good result on Saturday would, because the Derby is first, put the Kentucky Derby front and centre,” admitted the cautiously optimistic conditioner. “But, the Queen’s Plate is the obvious long term goal.”