06/12/2002 11:00PM

Nixon may be headed to personal-best year

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - Trainer Justin Nixon has been hotter than the weather this June.

Starting with Border Call ($21.90) on June 3, Nixon is going into Saturday's program here having won with five of the last six runners he has sent to the post. None was a race favorite, and Essie D'or, the nonwinner, finished third.

Nixon, 33, who began training Thoroughbreds in 1996, finished 11th in the trainers standings with 18 wins in 2001. With a winning percentage of 19 and purse earnings of $261,897, it was his best year to date.

In 2000, his record read seven wins from 59 starts and earnings of $89,326.

The year 1997, however, might hold fonder memories for Nixon, who grew up on a farm near Windsor, Ontario, It was his second year at his vocation and he had claimed a horse named Emotionally for $20,000.

"It was a good year," he said. "We almost cracked the top 10, and we finished second in a stakes with Emotionally. She equaled the track record in a stakes prep - 1:03.60 for 5 1/2 furlongs. She finished second in the Center Stage Anne and then third in the Birmingham in Detroit."

Nixon was first licensed as a trainer of Standardbreds. He was attending University of Guelph at the time, and it would be five years before he changed breeds.

"My dad always had four or five trotters kicking around and my brother, Dean, is a trainer," he explained. "While I was in school I was messing around with one or two in training but they never made it to the races. So I never actually started a Standardbred."

Nixon graduated with a Bachelor of Science in agriculture and considered a veterinary college. Instead, he headed to the racetrack.

"I loved the horses so much I decided to pursue this as a career," he said. "And Thoroughbreds seemed to be more lucrative than Standardbreds."

American in Paris wins first turf stakes

The turf season finally got under way here Tuesday with the running of the third edition of the Adena Springs Matchmaker Stakes. On four earlier programs, scheduled grass races were switched to the main track.

The winner was American in Paris, who may have found a new home on the grass after leading every step of the five-furlong affair.

"It was her very first start on the grass," said the 5-year-old's owner and trainer, Audre Cappuccitti. "She wasn't on it even to train."

Besides picking up more than $50,000 for the victory, Cappuccitti gets to pick a breeding season to one of three stallions standing at Frank Stronach's Adena Springs Farm in Kentucky. They are Alphabet Soup, Gold Case, and Foxtail.

"The stud services are really a nice incentive," said Cappuccitti, who won the inaugural Matchmaker in 2000. She shipped in three heavy hitters for last year's edition - Danzig's Silver, El Prado Essence, and Bucquista - but they didn't take to the grass and all finished off the board.

High Wire Dancing looks good winning

The matchmaker's sponsor, Frank Stronach, had something else to smile about besides the stakes. His High Wire Dancing was impressive in scoring an allowance victory in the preceding race on the card. The 3-year-old had won his debut on May 4 at the same five-furlong distance.

Kevin Attard had expressed surprise after the initial victory.

"I didn't think he was a five-eighths-of-a-mile horse," he said. "Definitely, he'll want to go further."