Anyone with half an eye could see that this is racing’s finest hour: when two racing industries from opposite sides of the fence have come together in one Queen’s Plate horse: Lucas n’ Lori.
Lucas n’ Lori, a 3-year-old chestnut gelding that cost the princely sum of $9,000 at a yearling sale, is the tale of two cities, the crossing of a bridge, the meeting in the middle, hands across the water.
One owner, Kelly Waxman, has been steeped in standardbred racing since she married Aaron Waxman, a long-time harness owner and breeder.
The other owner Lori Cirillo, is a 15-year-old whose father is long-time thoroughbred trainer Frank Cirillo, whose best horse was Gentleman Jackson.
Frank Cirillo and Aaron Waxman met one wintry night at Woodbine five years ago when the harness horses raced there, and the thoroughbred guy was missing the thoroughbred action, shut down for the winter. They became friends.
They now also own a standardbred, Sintra, a top-quality pacer that they bought into after he had won the 2017 Canadian Pacing Derby. (He’s currently out of action with a foot injury.) With Waxman, Cirillo also owned a piece of Cracklin Rosie, a 3-year-old pacing filly that raced in Ontario Sires Stakes a few years ago.
About the time of the Pacing Derby, the Waxmans and Cirillos bought a colt at the Canadian thoroughbred yearling sales in Toronto, a son of Exhi. They stopped at only one. That was enough. They turned him over to top Woodbine thoroughbred trainer Kevin Attard.
They named Lucas n’ Lori after Waxman’s 2 ½-year-old son, Lucas, and of course, Lori, the co-owner.
Waxman remarks that if they buy a filly, they will call her Lori n’ Lucas. In this adopted family, there are always two sides of a coin.
In only six starts, Lucas n’ Lori has more than earned back his purchase price ($48,800), while winning one race. However, those stats still don’t put him into the stratosphere of Plate favourite Avie’s Flatter, winner of $422,800, while sweeping two of the most important 2-year-old races last season, the Coronation Futurity and the Cup and Saucer Stakes. This year, throw in a victory in the Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland and Avie’s Flatter has more than earned his favoritism status, despite his outside post.
Lucas n’ Lori is not in that category, but he’s a Queen’s Plate horse nonetheless. “He was fabulous last year,” Waxman said. “This year he’s not done as well as we had hoped. But he was so eligible.
“With the chance to go in the Queen’s Plate, we took it. It’s just more for the thrill of it.”
The families sparked up the draw for post positions on Wednesday when Lori carried little Lucas to the microphone and he shyly said “Six” – the post position they had chosen for the race.
“It was awesome and Saturday will be a lot of fun,” Waxman said. “But we’re not expecting to win it.”
Lucas n’ Lori hasn’t won or placed in two starts this year.
“He was really consistent for us last year at two,” said Attard, who has two horses in the Queen’s Plate, his first entries in 10 years. “He had a couple of starts this year, and a little traffic trouble the first time. The last time on the turf, he was maybe a little further back than he should have been.
“Obviously, him being a 3-year-old Canadian-bred, the owners are excited to be participating in this race and we’re hoping for a little bit of luck. Going a mile and a quarter, who knows?”
Attard said distance shouldn’t be an issue for Lucas n’ Lori. He relaxes well early in a race. He does have a good turn of foot. And he has Canada’s Sovereign Award-winning apprentice, Kazushi Kimura in the saddle. It will be Kimura’s first Plate ride. He watched from the sidelines last year, his first year in Canada after moving here from Japan.
“I’m feeling so exciting,” said Kimura.
After watching it last year, he said: “I am a hungry man. Next year, I want to try that. I’m thinking this year I’ll have a good chance, thanks to the trainer who gave me a good opportunity and I appreciate it.”
Kimura went to a Japanese jockey school to learn to ride and even though thoroughbred racing is hugely popular in Japan, he left. “I wanted to try in North America,” he said. “I like it here. I might stay here, forever, too, because this is a very comfortable spot for me.”
Attard likes Kimura because he has a good set of hands and looked really good on a horse when he first came to Canada, and Attard gave him some horses to exercise before he got his licence. “He’s a guy you could say: ‘Hey, you know what? This guy has what it takes to make it.’” Attard said. “And he sure has. I think it’s a big exciting day for him and a good opportunity.
“He’s off to a great start in his second year [second leading rider at Woodbine so far] so why not give him an opportunity?”
Waxman had little idea about standardbred racing before she started dating her future husband. One day he told her that he raced horses.
“Oh, the ones you can ride?” she asked.
“No,” Waxman confessed. “The ones with the carts behind them.”
“Oh,” Kelly said.
But now after years of seeing the harness industry first hand, Kelly is standardbred-educated, and it’s where Aaron’s heart is. His grandfather, Chester Waxman, was a harness racing enthusiast, but he also owned some thoroughbreds.
Lucas’s middle name is Chester.
The Waxmans have been to the Queen’s Plate before. Kelly doesn’t remember just when. But she’s all for the experience of the crowd, the sunshine spilling across the grass, the twinkling tea cups. She’ll have to buy a hat, now. It’s time to come together and party.