Trainer Phil Coleman, who sends out Illusionist in Saturday's $331,500 Breeders Crown Mare Pace, doesn't use any magic tricks to keep his charge happy, fat and sassy, he simply lets the Camluck lass her have her way - most of the time.
"She's really a pretty nice mare to be around, and so I kind of let her do her own thing," Coleman, 58, explained. "When we go out for a jog in the morning, I let her take her time getting to the track. Sometimes it takes her 30 minutes to get there. She wants to just walk, take her time, and look around, so I let her do that."
A winner of $864,191 lifetime, this rugged mare has posted 43 victories over her five years of racing.
"This mare doesn't train hard in between races," offered Coleman, father of top WEG circuit conditioner Casie. "At one time we had a problem getting her to keep weight on, but in the last few years she's gotten a bit better at adding weight, so we just work at keeping her relaxed and happy. That seems to help her appetite more than anything else."
Coleman has been conditioning the mare for the last three years, and said that soundness has never been an issue, but that the mare often has to fight off allergy troubles.
"She can have some real issues with allergies," he noted. "Sometimes they get really bad, and usually that's when we ship in between here and the States. So we have to keep an eye on that, but otherwise, she stays pretty healthy."
The 7-year-old daughter ofposted a respectable fifth-place finish in her Breeders Crown elimination on Aug. 22 at Mohawk, in rein to driver Mark MacDonald.
"She was too far back in her elimination and an outside post (nine in the final) isn't really where anyone wants to be, but she can hold her own against those other mares," Coleman said. "
If somehow we can be within five lengths of the leaders at the ¾'s, then she'll have a good shot at catching them."
Coleman acquired Illusionist when owner Dave Lumsden bought out three other partners on the mare and gave her to Coleman to train. The mare is stabled at Coleman's Ontario base of Victory Lane Farm, located five minutes from Flamboro Downs.
Coleman grew up watching trotters train at Patterson Park from his bedroom window in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"My parents were farmers and I knew that I didn't want to do that, but I really never thought I'd end up as a horse trainer, it just kind of happened," he said. "I just sort of fell into it, then I worked for some great people, like Ray Remmen and others like him. Good, common sense people."
This will be Coleman's first entrant in a Breeders Crown. To date he's trained 428 winners to the tune of $2,901,901 in career earnings, and also has driven 648 winners to $1,441,375. In 2006 and 2007 Coleman posted his best years ever, conditioning his charges to earn $600,000 or more each of those seasons.
Illusionist's regular driver, Mark McDonald, will be behind the mare in the Crown final.
"I'm very excited to be part of the Breeders Crown," Coleman said "These mares are all terrific athletes, and any one of them could win on any given day. It just depends upon the day."
By Kim Rinker for the Breeders Crown