02/18/2016 5:35PM

Harness: Big heart helps Celtic Merchant to keep on winning

Geri Schwarz
Celtic Merchant

Age is but a number to Celtic Merchant. The 13-year-old trotter is always ready to go. And he wants to go fast.

Celtic Merchant, who has overcome three ligament injuries during his career, has won three of six races this year, all at Pompano Park in Florida. His most recent victory was Tuesday (Feb. 16) in an “Over the Hill Gang” event for trotters ages 9 and up. He triumphed by a head in 1:56 4/5.

For owner Steve Oldford, watching and driving the old-timer never gets old. Oldford, who is training Celtic Merchant while the horse is in Florida, is best known for his amateur driving exploits --- and Celtic Merchant has been at the forefront of Oldford’s success.

In 2010, Oldford won the C.K.G. Billings Amateur Driving Series championship, the Delvin Miller Memorial Gold Cup, with Celtic Merchant at The Meadows. Three years later, Oldford was named the U.S. Harness Writers Association’s Amateur Driver of the Year, and five of his victories that season came with Celtic Merchant. Among those wins was a division of the Hambletonian Amateur Drivers event at the Meadowlands.

“He’s been quite an asset,” said Oldford, who also has captured five Billings points titles and multiple Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame Amateur Driver of the Year awards. “He’s a great big horse with a big heart. He’s great to drive. You can put him on any track. There have been lots of highlights with him. He’s been a great anchor for my amateur horse stable.”

Oldford acquired Celtic Merchant in July 2009, when his trainer, Allen Sisco, spotted the trotter in a claiming race at Georgian Downs. After making one start for his new connections, Celtic Merchant was sidelined by a ligament injury, which was the second of his career. But he returned to action seven months later and produced 28 wins until being sidelined again last spring. Once again, Celtic Merchant bounced back and resumed adding victories to his total.

“We thought the most recent injury was it and he was going to live on the farm,” Oldford said. “We turned him out. After a while, we’d take a horse out on the track and he was just running the field with them so we decided to try to bring him back.

“He’s not sore, he’s healed. To trot as fast as he’s trotting, he’s as good as he’s been in a long time. I say that knocking on wood. He’s just a tremendous horse. If he stays at it and stays healthy he’s going to be right back in the Billings races this summer. That’s what I’m hoping for.”

Celtic Merchant is a son of stallion Angus Hall out of the mare Jewelry Store. He has won 45 of 213 career races and earned $354,606. He is a half-brother to stakes-winning lady Jewels Galore, who is the dam of last year’s New York Sire Stakes 3-year-old filly champion Jewels In Hock.

Oldford has driven Celtic Merchant to 14 wins during his career. Rick Plano has guided the gelding to his most recent victories at Pompano Park.

“He’s not the easiest horse to manage in the post parade,” said Oldford, who has 112 wins as a driver. “He gets fired up and he’ll drag you all over the place. He just loves to go. But you put him in a race and he’ll sit a hole real nice. I wouldn’t say he’s two fingers to drive, but he’s pretty darn easy to drive compared to the post parade.

“He just wants to go right now. If you jog him more than three miles, your arms are going to be a couple inches longer by the time you’re done. That’s just the way he is. He always wants to be turned loose and go faster. He just loves to race and he loves to win.”

And that never gets old, either.

-Courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, please visit www.ustrotting.com

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