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Willis hopes for top 2012 campaign with GJ Photo Victory
Friday, January 06, 2012 - by Kimberly French, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

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Kimberly French
Louisville, KY --- Two weeks after he won the $113,000 American-National 3-year-old colt trot, GJ Photo Victory was merely being jogged up to his engagement in an $8,000 non-winners contest at Balmoral Park until something his trainer had not experienced during his four decades of training occurred.

“They couldn’t get a race for him, so there was an overnight race on that Sunday (September 11, 2011),” explained Nelson ‘Spider’ Willis. “That Tuesday I trained him in 2:03 with his last half in :58 and he was just oil in a can. He rested Wednesday, jogged Thursday and Friday and he was fine. Saturday I thought I would just go one trip with him, but when I got to the barn, he was broke down lame. I don’t know how he did it or when or if he kicked the wall.

“I was completely brainwashed and did everything humanly possible to try to find out what it was,” the Beecher, Ill., resident continued. “I had an MRI: I did everything and a deep flexor tendon in the right rear was the only thing they could come up with. In all the years I’ve been in this business I’ve never had one (of those tendon injuries.) He was really sore.”

Willis purchased the son of Photo Color-Victoria Coe for $8,700 at the 2009 Illini Classic Sale on behalf of his wife Kay, daughter Brandy Pinske and John Esposito. In his first year of racing, the gelding trotted nine race miles with a record of 4-2-1, a mark of 1:57.1 and earnings of $62,318. In his final start of the year he captured the $107,000 Lincoln Land, but he really found his stride in 2011.

Timothy M. Jones photo
GJ Photo Victory set his lifetime mark of 1:53 in the Illinois State Fair Final with Marcus Miller in the bike.

GJ Photo Victory left the gate on 12 occasions with five victories, four second place finishes and a third. He lowered his lifetime mark to 1:53, which is the fastest time a 3-year-old colt or gelding has ever trotted in Illinois, and collected $125,809 in purse money.

“He was a nice, big, racy-looking colt and just looked good as a yearling,” Willis said. “I watched his video and he looked like he would do, but it doesn’t always turn out that way.

“He’d sore up a little bit occasionally (as a 2-year-old), so I just took my time with him,” he continued. “I just kind of played along and played along until he felt like he could do what he was supposed to. Then I went on with him. The main thing was to try to keep him sound, which I did. We didn’t race him very hard as a 2-year-old and he still did well.”

When the gelding scored his lifetime mark and set the new standard on August 17, 2011, in the $45,000 Illinois State Fair Championship at Springfield for future generations to best, Willis was rather stunned at just how dominating GJ Photo Victory was.

“I thought he would trot in (1):54 down there, but it worked out perfectly for him that day,” the conditioner remembered. “The wind was right, the track was right. Everything was excellent and went like it was supposed to. I think he won by eight or 10 lengths. Whatever it was, it was enough.”

GJ Photo Victory’s attitude is another reason for his success.

“This is the perfect, nice horse around the barn, around everything,” Willis said. “He loves his work and it’s just kind of hard to explain when they are just a nice horse all-around. Everything fits him.”

Thought to be quite serious at first, the gelding’s tendon is now on the mend and after carefully monitoring him for the next several months, Willis hopes to place him back in training later this spring and if all goes well, GJ Photo Victory will take his act on the road.

“He was really sore,” he said. “I ultrasounded him last week and everything is healing back together. I’m not going to bring him back until late so he has all the time he needs and he is 100 percent healed up before he goes back on the track. I hand walk him every day and he walks good now. We will ultrasound him in another 60 days, see what it looks like and go from there.

“There is not much in Illinois for him,” Willis continued. “I think this horse could be a good free-for-all trotter and that he can trot over any kind of track. You can race him any way you want to. You can take him off the pace, or in the front. I’ve seen him on the outside the whole way and he still won. I think he’ll make a great horse and I can race him out East or in Indiana. They have a good program for open trotters.”


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