Lexington, KY — Although trainer Paul Holzman was born in Ohio he was raised in Michigan, graduating in 1980 from Oak Park High School in suburban Detroit. He used to frequent nearby Northville Downs as a fan those many years ago, and now he can boast he trains the all-age track-record holder at that half-mile racetrack with his 11-year-old gelding pacer Southwind Amazon.
On Saturday night (June 26), Southwind Amazon won the $24,000 final of a Mini-Series for horses bred or owned by Michiganders in 1:52, knocking one-fifth of a second off the previous mark of 1:52.1 set five years ago by Night Pro. The time also easily bested the previous mark for older gelding pacers of 1:53.1 set back in 2011 by Brave Call — who was also trained by Holzman.
When dawn broke on Saturday track records were on nobody’s mind as southern Michigan was deluged by several inches of rain on Friday night that led to significant flooding, including on major highways that left cars and trucks floating. Friday night’s (June 25) card at Northville was raced under “sloppy” conditions so some significant drying out of the track occurred throughout the day and by post time the surface was listed “fast.”
“The track record wasn’t too much of a concern to me, it was to win the race and have fun,” admitted Holzman, who was joined in the winner’s circle by some local family members as he celebrated at the track he grew up at.
While this was the 275th career start for Southwind Amazon, it was just the second time ever the son of Camluck had raced at Northville, the first being the week before when he won the Mini-Series prelim in 1:53.2, narrowly missing Brave Call’s divisional track record. Art McIlmurray, who easily captured his fifth dash title at Northville, got the call from Holzman for both races.
Leaving from post two in the final, McIlmurray had to wait until the :26.2 quarter to clear the lead, and then under pressure reached the half in :53.4 and three-quarters in 1:22.2. Pacing a final quarter in :29.3, Southwind Amazon fought off Catch Me Conrad to win by a half-length, with Top Notch third in the photo.
“Three-quarters in 1:22 at Northville Downs? Wow! That’s unheard of,” said McIlmurray, who also trains a 10-horse stable in tandem with his partner Staci Massey-Malady that took home leading trainer honors for the first time. “They were getting to me, but they were supposed to. But my horse did 100 percent of the work. He’s just an old warhorse. He is tough.”
McIlmurray said he didn’t believe the track surface was in tip-top shape on Saturday as a result of the previous night’s rain.
“The track still wasn’t 100 percent and we were lucky it didn’t rain Saturday night because it was supposed to,” said McIlmurray.
On behalf of Michigan-based owner Ameer Najor, Holzman purchased Southwind Amazon from Canadian interests in early February 2016 for $25,000. Since entering Holzman’s barn, Southwind Amazon has earned more than $100,000 in each of the past five years and with $92,035 in the bank in 2021, is poised to make it a sixth straight year.
Also over this period, Southwind Amazon has posted double-digit victories each year, including topping the North American list in 2018 with 22 winner’s circle trips. Overall, Southwind Amazon’s 11 wins this year bring his career total to 110, which places him tied for eighth (with Mannart Tornado) on the list of horses over the past 50 years. Sitting one-two on that list are Niffit (137 wins) and Rambling Willie (128), and Holzman said they are his target.
Holzman also added that since he began training Southwind Amazon, the pacer’s break from racing came only as a result of the pandemic shutdown last year.
“I bought him when I was in Florida in 2016 so he came down to Florida and from that point to now he has never had a break except for the covid,” said Holzman. “And I was scared to death when that happened because I didn’t know how he would return. But he was OK. People said why didn’t I give him a rest, but I’ve always believed you don’t give them a rest unless they tell you something is wrong. He’s never told me he’s needed a break and was tired. He is freaky phenomenal.”
Holzman added that Southwind Amazon won’t have any time to rest on his newfound laurels as he is entered back into the Open Pace at his home base of Northfield Park on Saturday (July 3) as he aims for career win 111 and increasing his career bankroll of $1,218,326.