Outside Looking In
Southwind Amazon keeps on winning despite outside posts
story by D’Arcy Egan
Southwind Amazon is a happy pacer these days, dancing for his dinner, prancing around the pasture at the Sahbra Farms Training Center, and winning just about wherever he goes.
The 9-year-old gelding, a son of Camluck out of the Artsplace mare Artoonist, was the winningest harness horse in North America in 2018, posting 22 wins in 38 starts and earning $231,170. His lifetime earnings have soared to $839,547 after he compiled a record of 11-8-3-0 to begin his 2019 campaign.
“Knock on wood,” said trainer Paul Holzman, 56, knuckling the arm of his chair while he kicked back in his barn, a few feet away from his pacing star. “He’s like my own ATM machine. That road will come to an end someday, I know. But we’ve enjoyed three years of consistently racing almost every week without a break or a major injury.
“In my mind, Southwind Amazon doesn’t need a break. Until he tells me he wants a little vacation, he gets to keep racing.”
Holzman admits he and owner Ameer Najor, who owns a banquet hall in Southfield, Mich., were extremely lucky when they purchased “Amazon” three years ago.
“We bought him from a friend of mine who was racing up in Canada, at Rideau Carleton Raceway in Ottawa, Ontario,” Holzman said. “The horse was too good, and my friend couldn’t get races for him at Rideau Carleton. With the lack of racing, and a worry that Southwind Amazon wasn’t getting the best of care, he decided to sell him to us for $32,000.”
A major part of Holzman’s program is to go over every new face in his stable with a fine-toothed comb, especially with gastric exams. Sure enough, Holzman discovered a badly ulcerated stomach when he examined Southwind Amazon.
“It’s so common with racehorses,” Holzman said. “Racing is stressful for a horse. They’re high-strung, and racing is a vigorous life for them. I’d say 95 percent of all horses have, to some degree, stomach ulcers.”
The horse was put on a special diet and given medication to treat his gut and digestive tract.
“As Amazon’s stomach got better, he really blossomed, racing better and better each week,” Holzman said with a smile. “He became healthier and more comfortable in the barn and on the training oval. With help from grooms Alex Smith and JoAnne Lavery, he’s been encouraged to try harder while training, and race harder on the track.”
Southwind Amazon had to race harder than all of his foes, according to Dave Bianconi, executive vice president of racing and simulcasting at Northfield Park.
“He was so good, I had to assign him the outside post in the Open races every darn week,” said Bianconi. “That included 32 starts in 2018 and all (but one) of his outings so far this year. Early last January, I had to tell Holzman to get lost for a few weeks. I didn’t have horses that could compete with Southwind Amazon.”
Bianconi said Southwind Amazon headed to The Meadows Racetrack and Casino, where he won his first three starts of 2019.
Bianconi may have a way to reward Holzman and Southwind Amazon.
Two years ago, when Northfield Park’s $200,000 Battle of Lake Erie was a stakes race, Holzman really wanted to enter Southwind Amazon, but drew also eligible status and didn’t make the field.
“This year, the Battle of Lake Erie is an invitational,” Bianconi said. “If Southwind Amazon is still racing well, we’d want to consider him for ‘The Battle’ against the likes of Little Brown Jug winner Courtly Choice and Horse of the Year McWicked.”
Southwind Amazon paced a career-best mile of 1:49.2 on Pompano Park’s five-eighths-mile track in March 2016. Amazingly, last Aug. 11, while racing on the undercard of the $400,000 Carl Milstein Memorial at Northfield Park, the speedster notched a 1:49.3 mile on the half-mile oval.
Holzman appreciates having dynamic young reinsman Ronnie Wrenn Jr. in the sulky. Wrenn has been the primary driver the last two years, and has been able to handle the constant outside post positions while keeping Southwind Amazon on track.
That has been ironic for Holzman. When he got into racing as a 17-year-old in Michigan, noted driver Ron Wrenn Sr. took Holzman under his wing. Holzman was a lonely kid with few friends, and the late Wrenn made a major difference in his continuing a racing career.
“It’s a crazy coincidence that Ronnie and I are great friends and working so well together today,” Holzman said.
Does it bother a horse to be stuck on the outside of the starting gate every race? “More than anyone knows,” Holzman said.
“We hate to have to brutalize Southwind Amazon every week, but he’s just that good,” Bianconi said.
And the sleek pacer is a very happy camper.
“He’s got a great personality in the barn, and he’s always energetic,” Holzman said. “His stall is opposite the grain barrels, and when I start getting ready to feed the horses, Amazon demands to be fed first. He dances around in his stall, and bobs his head. He won’t quit until the food arrives. He’s the king of the castle in the paddock, but doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.
“I put him and another pacer, Prairie Jaguar, out to pasture together all week long, and they frolic with one another. Even though Jaguar is a much bigger pacer, Amazon likes to push him around a bit.”
Holzman likes to have a small group of horses to train and race, usually about 15 or 16. While his wife, Liz, a bank manager when the couple met, works for Big Dee’s Tack & Vet Supplies near Sahbra Farms, she leaves the racing to her husband.
The only difficult part of Ohio horse racing is the winter weather.
“I raced in Florida for five winters, and my blood’s too thin anymore for the northern winters,” Holzman said. “We plan a month of vacation down south each winter, now that I’m getting older.”
To have Southwind Amazon racing at Northfield Park, said owner Najor, is a bonus for him. Najor has been scaling down his horse ownership, but enjoys watching his star knock off Northfield open class contenders whenever he can make the trip.
“Southwind Amazon has been a most special horse, and so much fun to watch,” said Najor. “The outside post all the time doesn’t seem fair, but he’s managed to win despite it.” HB
D’Arcy Egan is a freelance writer living in Ohio. To comment on this story, email us at email@example.com.