07/26/2012 10:28AM

Gisser: A Rocknroll Dance has been a game changer for Mulinix

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Barbara D. Livingston
A Rocknroll Dance is one of the favorites in the Adios on July 28.

There has not been a lot to cheer for in Ohio racing over the past few years, but that seems to be changing. Big Bad John won last year’s Little Brown Jug. Scioto Downs opened its slot parlor to rave reviews and revenues, allowing them to increase purses substantially. But A Rocknroll Dance is giving Ohio racing fans even more to get excited about. As I mentioned, he is not the first Ohio-based pacer to have success on the national scene. Gene Reigle had horses like Artsplace and Life Sign. There was the Max Shaw-trained Cinder Lane Sam. And of course, 1988 Jug champ BJ Scoot, who was Ohio-bred and prepped in Ohio prior to being sold to Canadian interests before winning the Jug.

A Rocknroll Dance heads into Saturday’s Adios as one of the favorites, despite finishing second in his elimination. But there is a pattern there. The son of Rocknroll Hanover-Wichita Hanover won the $300,000 Hempt final after finishing third in his elim, and then finished second in his Meadowlands Pace elim, before winning the $600,000 final. With $1.39 million on his card, he has clearly been a game changer for trainer Jim Mulinix and long-time Ohio partner Denny Miller. J&T Silva Stables of New York and Diamond Creek Stables of Kentucky also own a piece of the colt.

Mulinix’s career trainer earnings are $4.8 million, including the $1.39 total from A Rocknroll Dance. Amazingly, the 60-year-old Mulinix has increased his lifetime earnings from his first 20 years of racing by 40 percent in just two seasons.

[ADIOS FINAL: Watch LIVE, get HarnessEye PPs, read latest analysis]

Jim Mulinix is as Ohio-based as you can get. He is also as good a story as this sport can find right now. After winning the Meadowlands Pace, Mulinix’s next stop was two days later, where four of his trainees competed at the Oak Harbor (Ottawa County, Ohio) Fair, about 60 miles from his home town of Wauseon, Ohio. After Our Precious Sis was sixth in a $2,918 Fair Stake, JC’s Band won a $525 overnight; Sir James took a $700 event, setting a divisional track record in the process; and Man Cave picked up $42 by finishing fourth in his $525 race. Total purses earned by Mulinix horses that day amounted to a whopping $654.

And it’s quite possible that Mulinix’s stable star has shared a paddock with those fair horses. He brings him home to Wauseon between stakes engagements (including the elims and Finals of the Hempt and Meadowlands Pace. Rumor has it that A Rocknroll Dance even goes for an occasional swim in the pond on Mulinix’s top-class training farm.

Mulinix’s wife, Ellie, is a major part of the success, as Northfield Park’s OHHA rep Amy Hollar, who began her career racing against Mulinix in Toledo, detailed on Facebook on the Monday after the Meadowlands Pace. “Just received a phone call from a STILL excited Ellie Mulinix . . . they shipped home last night and while they appreciated all the well wishes it was those from folks back home which meant the most to them . . .I thought it was very sweet for her to call me back . . . showing what good people her and Jim are . . . our conversation was brief . . . she said she had to run and get ready to race at Oak Harbor. LOL . . . Meadowlands Pace? Pfffttt.”

This year, Jim and Ellie also have a pretty good filly, Princess Cruiser. A 3-year-old, she has won three of nine this year, including a $25,000 Hanover filly stake at Balmoral Park. Most years, she would be the star of his stable, but as he told the Toldeo Blade’s Dave Hackenberg, a horse like A Rocknroll Dance changes the paradigm.

"A guy asked me last weekend if A Rocknroll Dance was the best horse I've ever had," Mulinix said. "I told him he was as good a horse as anybody's ever had."

But the story has a dark side for this Buckeye State stalwart, who spent most of his career at Toledo’s Raceway Park. He is at the forefront off a group of horsemen who believe the state and casino folks “did us horsemen dirty.” The Ohio racing Commission recently gave Raceway’s owner permission to relocate, leaving dozens of horsemen high and dry.

Mulinix is fortunate that A Rocknroll Dance and others gave him some breathing space, and now, a retirement fund. Others are not so lucky. It is one of the dark sides of the slots extravaganza sweeping into Ohio, which will be the only state which allows license-holders to play bait and switch with their racetracks in order to chase video lottery riches.

But Mulinix is a competitor, as befits an All-Mid America Conference football player from the University of Toledo, and he will survive. He doesn’t like to look too far ahead. There is a lot of racing between now and then but the ultimate goal for Mulinix, his partners and A Rocknroll Dance, is to race in and win the Little Brown Jug in Delaware, Ohio this September. Jim has watched most of them over the past thirty years, often racing on the undercard, and he knows it is the toughest challenge in harness racing these days. While other Ohio-connected horses have won the prestigious race, none were from Northwest Ohio. With the end of Raceway Park on the horizon, it seems almost fitting that the Jug trophy come to Northwest Ohio in 2012.