Five weeks after surgery he stops the clock in 1:48
by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
When you watch sports, you want drama, you want competitiveness. If you don’t get that, you want to see something special, perhaps extraordinary. Well, for those in attendance at the Adios Run for the Orchids at The Meadows in Western Pennsylvania, the latter was served.
Southwind Ozzi came into the race as the 4/5 favorite and his winning surprised no one. But it was the way he performed that turned heads as he blazed home by 8 lengths to win in 1:48, just 1/5 off the track record. And that time was run on a 5/8 mile track which makes it more impressive.
Bill MacKenzie trains Oz and this was the first time he raced in the Adios. Not a bad debut, huh? MacKenzie is a true grinder; he spends most of his time training and racing overnighters at Freehold Raceway, where, prior to this year, the open paces and trots were running for $8,000 purses. With the win in this $400,000 race, Mackenzie’s cut will be $20,000.
The story doesn’t stop there. Just five weeks ago, Southwind Ozzi underwent hernia surgery, putting things in doubt. That seemed to calm when he won his elimination last week in 1:49.3. The surgery did change things for the horse as he had a testicle removed, thus, he became the first ridgling to win the Adios.
The race set up beautifully for Ozzi who was driven by Brian Sears. Prince of Tides blasted an opening quarter of 25.3 while Sears kept Oz back in fourth. Right before the three-quarter mark, Oz took the lead and the race was over.
Before the race MacKenzie wasn’t sure if he had a great horse. Afterwards, he was starting to believe.
“That’s what great horses do, and after the way he raced today, I’m beginning to think he’s a great horse,” he said. “He’s never raced badly for us. I told Brian that if he had to come first over, I didn’t think it would matter.”
Next week is Hambletonian Day with plenty of stakes races, and Southwind Ozzi will be heading to New Jersey, but it won’t be to The Meadowlands. Instead, he will return to MacKenzie’s training facility in Cranbury, NJ. From there, they will ponder their next move.
It’s never great to speculate, but could the Carl Milstein Memorial Pace at Northfield Park be in their thinking? Like the Adios, a $400,000 purse is offered and the half-mile track has always produced fast times in their big races.
For now, the connections can take delight on what happened at The Meadows. Five weeks ago, it was an emergency surgery; today, it was an eye popping performance in front of an adoring crowd. That’s nice to see of course, because The Meadows, like trainer MacKenzie is one of harness racing’s grinders. It’s open 12 months a year with 195 days of racing. The Adios, despite being one week prior to the Hambletonian always has a competitive field. This year, 26 horses entered with three eliminations contested last Saturday to whittle the field to nine.
The field was competitive, but the race was not as Southwind Ozzi left no doubt as to who was best.