02/04/2013 11:17AM

Jay Bergman: Casimir Camotion still going strong at 13

Casimir Camotion, 13, has earned more than $1.75 million.

The aging athlete has a place in all sports. Just look at the likes of Jason Kidd, a premier point guard in his day, who modified his game just enough to fit in and play despite his advancing age.

Ray Lewis, of the world champion Ravens was by no means the same linebacker he was in his prime on Sunday, yet when it came time to anchor a defense in a dramatic last stand, Lewis was a force.

In harness racing young legs still rule the day, but there too is room for an old timer now and again. Casimir Camotion, a 13-year-old, has been racing competitively for the last 11 years. His age in human years would suggest he’s much older than either Kidd or Lewis, but like those two the old fella has figured out a way to keep motivated and performing at a high level.

“He can’t sprint out of the gate with the same quick speed as some of the other horses,” said Bruce Saunders, who has trained the horse since 2006. “Most of the drivers know what he’s like and they’re very careful not to put him in difficult spots.”

This past Saturday Casimir Camotion finished third in a B-2 event at the Meadowlands, this despite being parked the entire mile.

The career winner of more than $1.75 million was in his heyday back in 2004-05 when he emerged in the Patrick Lachance stable.

“We went to Harrisburg that year (November 2003) and Bill Matz asked me which of the top racehorses I was interested in buying,” said Patrick Lachance. “I told him that the one I like the best was Casimir Camotion. I knew Stew Firlotte (Casimir Camotion’s late trainer) and he told me about the horse before the sale. He told me that the horse had broken a knee as a two-year-old and that’s why he didn’t race.”

Matz and co-owner Cary Potkin were impressed with the then three-year-old, enough to pay $150,000 and give the horse to Lachance.

Casimir Camotion had emerged as a solid horse in Ontario as a three-year-old in 2003. He captured an Ontario Sire Stakes Gold final in impressive fashion and then was entered in a $250,000 Super Final.

“They had to scratch him from the final in order to have him in the Harrisburg sale,” said Lachance, who recalled that Robin Schadt had been the under-bidder.

While it may have been love at first sight before the sale, Lachance had to deal with a horse that initially suffered with an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation). Lachance would race the horse through the winter and it wasn’t until the weather got a bit warmer that Casimir Camotion started to show the promise one would expect of a horse with that kind of price tag.

“You had to be careful with him. He wasn’t the kind of horse that liked to be roughed up,” said Lachance. “I tried to race him from off cover whenever I could. You could trick him every now and then to race on the front end but I knew what worked best for him.”

By midway through his four-year-old campaign in 2004, Casimir Camotion emerged as one of the best aged horses in training. As the weather warmed the altered son of Camluck rose to the top of the ladder and routinely started pacing miles in 1:50 or better. As the meet drew to an end in late July, Patrick guided him to a 1:48 4/5 record effort at the Meadowlands and then sent him north to campaign at Woodbine.

“He was really sharp but he wasn’t eligible to the Canadian Pacing Derby,” recalled Lachance. He won his first start at Woodbine pacing a wicked :25 and change final quarter and then followed that up with a solid second place finish behind top pacer Life Source.

“I was very confident the horse was really, really good at the time,” said Lachance. “I called the owners and told them I think they should supplement the horse to the Canadian Pacing Derby. They had to put up $80,000 I believe and they were willing to.”

For Lachance, the confidence the owners showed in him is something he’ll never forget. Nor will he forget the experience of guiding Casimir Camotion to victory in the $700,000-plus Pacing Derby.

“To this date it’s the richest race I’ve ever won as a driver,” Lachance said.

Casimir Camotion would go on to win 13 races and earn $705,420 in his first full season under Patrick Lachance’s driving and training. He would come back a year later and earn $258,731 while winning just four times. His biggest victory in 2005 would come in the $201,000 Allerage Stakes at the Red Mile and he didn’t get a check in either the Canadian Pacing Derby or William Haughton Memorial in 2005.

In January of 2006 the owners moved the horse to Bruce Saunders barn. Saunders had campaigned many successful horses for owner Cary Potkin and was an experienced hand with aged pacers.

Despite putting top drivers like George Brennan, Yannick Gingras and Brian Sears in the bike behind Casimir Camotion, it took nearly the entire racing season before the horse reached the top rung. In the fall of 2006 he captured consecutive legs of the Classic series, first winning at Woodbine in an eye-catching 1:49 2/5 and then returning the following week with a career best 1:48 3/5 mile at Dover Downs.

Casimir Camotion parked all-age world record holder Holborn Hanover (1:46 4/5) in that mile and forced him to pace an opening half in an astounding :52 4/5 seconds in that race.

“He broke a knee in his next start,” Saunders said.

The year ended for Casimir Camotion with $271,447 banked.

Saunders recalled that the surgery needed to be done twice because the screws fused the bones too tightly the first time the operation was performed.

The operation sidelined the horse for nearly a year and it wasn’t until early 2008 that Casimir Camotion was again competing at a high level. Despite being unable to go with the very best in the sport, Casimir Camotion paced multiple sub-1:50 miles during that season and earned a healthy $215,815 for his ownership.

In 2010 Casimir Camotion would once again win a race in 1:50 at the Meadowlands. He would win at the Meadowlands in 2011 but only won once in 2012 and that was at Harrah’s Chester.

“It’s hard to figure out why he only won once last year,” said Saunders. “I really think there were just a lot of bad luck situations where he either drew outside and couldn’t get into the race or found himself following cover that didn’t move forward,” said Saunders.

Casimir Camotion has come back healthy and happy this year already winning at the Meadowlands this January.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he moved up to the B-1 class. I’m not sure he could go much higher than that,” said Saunders.

The remarkable ride could not have happened without a horse that Saunders confirmed is blessed with “natural ability,” nor could it have happened if not for the care he received.

“I think this horse received great care between Stew Firlotte and Patrick Lachance and the caretakers he’s had since he’s been with us,” said Saunders.

Patrick Lachance is not surprised to see Casimir Camotion racing this well today. “He’s a Camluck and although they’ve had some knee troubles the horses tend to last a long time,” said Lachance.

Just like those famed stars from other sports, Casimir Camotion has figured out a way to compete on the biggest stage and still perform at his peak when the lights are on.

He’s a great horse that’s been fortunate to play for some great teams during an impressive career.