Stakes winning trainer Justin Nixon was among the faces that could be found on the Aiken Training Track clocker’s stand on Saturday.
The horseman who saddled stakes placed Coltimus Prime in last weekend’s Tampa Bay Derby, brought two unraced 3-year-old geldings to compete in the Iselin Hall of Fame Trophy, the day’s sixth race in the Aiken Trials. The entry of Colleen Beaumier would produce positive results. Johnny Whitebird held off Dogwood Stable’s Shipwreck Kelly to score a narrow victory, and Freddieboy would place third in the same race.
“I’ve been hearing about this place for about 15 years,” said Nixon, who’s from Windsor, Ont., Canada. “A good friend of mine, Campbell Wilson, used to come down here, and told me about the trials, and another good friend of mine, Robbie Martin, who worked for Mike Keogh, also told me about the trials. I had always wanted to come to it. We had a couple of unraced 3-year-olds. I called, and asked if there would be a race for them, and there was. So, we thought, let’s make a day of it.”
The Aiken Trials served as an educational tool for the pair of 3-year-olds, and was a productive way for the two Ontario-breds to start their sophomore campaign.
“Mrs. Beaumier, who owns both of these young guys, was gracious enough to say let’s do it,” said Nixon. “It’s just a fun day. We work so hard all the time that sometimes we forget to have an enjoyable day.”
Coltimus Prime will have some time off before his next start. The Tampa Bay Derby was his sophomore campaign debut and the dark bay son of Milwaukee Brew placed second in his juvenile finale in the Display Stakes at Woodbine on Dec. 8.
“We were a little bit disappointed with the Tampa Bay Derby,” said Nixon. “That’s a tricky surface. We’ll take a step back and see what we want to do. We’ll probably run him back on the synthetic next time. That’s where his career best races have been. We decided we’d give it a whirl. It didn’t work out. No harm done. He seemed to come out of the race in good order.”
Nixon conditioned a number of stakes winners for Eclipse Award winning owner and breeder Frank Stronach. Among those winners was Jungle Fighter, who as a 6-year-old won the Kitten’s Joy Stakes and the Old Nelson Handicap on the turf, and as a 7-year-old, the gelding won the Independence Day Handicap also on the turf.
“The last I had heard, he was a pony up at Adena Springs,” said Nixon. “He was just a fantastic horse.”
Royal Regalia, a gelded son of champion Cozzene, was another stakes winner Nixon trained for Stronach that transitioned to another career. Royal Regalia won the Conifer-General-Buffet-Turf Stakes at Lone Star Park during his 6-year-old campaign.
“He was dynamite,” said Nixon. “He was retired in 2005, and he’s now a hunter.”
Multiple Stakes winner High Blitz was another horse Nixon trained for Stronach Stables. A winner of the Mr. Prospector Stakes, Wolf Hill Stakes and Christmas Stakes, the son of Lucky Lionel was ridden to victory in his last lifetime start by jockey Melanie Pinto, who rode Freddieboy on Saturday in the Iselin Hall of Fame Trophy.
“He’s up in Meaford, Ont.,” said Nixon. “He’s my son’s horse. We kind of retired him. He’s fat and happy and has a beautiful place next to the Bighead River.”
The Thoroughbreds transitioned to other vocations, and Nixon was impressed with the way the Stronachs took care of their horses after their careers were over at the racetrack.
“They really cared about their horses,” said Nixon. “They set up a retirement program. Mrs. Stronach cared just as much about a $5,000 maiden as she did Jungle Fighter, Royal Regalia or High Blitz. If they needed a little extra time, they got it, and every horse was just as important as the next. You know, there was no hierarchy with them. They were great. It was a lot of fun. They were a class outfit.”