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This 'Photo' was definitely a surprise
Thursday, January 23, 2014 - by Kimberly French, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

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Kimberly French
Louisville, KY --- When he purchased Gloria Wyoming, Jerry Graham was told the Wilson Wyoming mare was in foal to his stallion, but can you imagine his outright astonishment (and that’s putting it lightly) when the little fellow actually had another daddy?

And when the dust settled, the colt named Photo Surprise would eventually be crowned as the 2013 Illinois 2-year-old trotting champion.

They do say things always work out the way they are supposed to and can be quite mysterious. This scenario, however, certainly has to be a once in a lifetime experience.

Balmoral Park photo
Photo Surprise won four times in nine freshman starts, while banking $96,825.

“When they offered the mare for purchase, I bought her because I had raced against her when she was a 2-year-old and she was a nice horse,” said Graham. “Also, I was told she was carrying a Powerful Emotion, who I happen to own with Walker Standardbreds.

When the colt was born he was good looking right away, but when we sent the paperwork in to register and name him we found out he was not by Powerful Emotion. Then we had to go through all the DNA work to discover who he was really by and it turned out he was a Photo Color. Since we already had him named Powerful something, I don’t remember exactly what the second part was, we changed his name to Photo, obviously for the sire, and Surprise, because he was definitely that.”

Once Graham straightened out the origins of the colt’s family tree, Photo Surprise’s life was much like any other young racehorse preparing for his career. After decades in the business as an owner and trainer, Graham is no longer active in the sport in these capacities and selected his brother-in-law and Illinois Hall of Fame member Nelson ‘Spider’ Willis to condition his homebred.

Shortly after Willis began putting the now altered horse through his paces, he proclaimed to Graham that he was a good one and had all the tools to be a very nice individual. This was something Graham had already suspected due to his stout frame, sharp looks and gait, but it took some time to get Photo Surprise to the races.

“He had an OCD and it was not anything major, so we had it removed,” Graham said. “Nelson and I both thought we should give him all the time he needed. Also there really wasn’t anything for him except for the fairs, so that is what we did.”

Photo Surprise made his debut on August 13 at Springfield in a $5,000 Illinois 2-year-old contest and finished second as the favorite. He was then seventh in the $33,000 Darn Safe Stake at Du Quoin on August 25 after a very early break.

Then it was time to travel to Balmoral Park where he raced in two $5,000 2-year-old competitions on Sept. 4 and 11, where he finished fourth and sixth, respectively.

“Mike Oosting (his regular pilot) put the blame all on him for that break in the last Balmoral race (sixth place finish on Sept. 11),” Graham said. “He was right there at the top of the stretch getting ready to go by them (second by a head) when Mike said he gave him a little bit too much of his head and he ran off with him. In his next start, Mike didn’t do that with him again.”

That is when Photo Surprise broke his maiden in another $5,000 2-year-old race on Sept. 18.

Since then he was fourth in his $15,000 Land of Lincoln elimination on Sept. 29, captured the $105,000 final on Oct. 6, annexed the $46,700 Hanover Stake on Oct. 13 and capped off his season with another victory in the $42,200 Cardinal Stake on Oct. 30.

He completed his first year on the job with a resume of 9-4-1-0, just shy of $100,000 in purse money, a record of 1:57.4 and Illinois’ top honor for his age, gender and gait.

“Nelson always said he was a really nice trotter so we should just get him ready for the big ones later in the year,” Graham said. “And he won them all, so it really did all work out.”

Since the gelding was a little thin after his late season surge, Graham and Willis decided to turn him out the first week of November and he will be brought back in and sent to his trainer to prepare for his 3-year-old season around February 1 or very soon after.

Once again, however, Photo Surprise’s heritage became another obstacle when Graham had intended on putting him through the ring at the most recent Meadowlands Sale.

“I called Preferred Equine, but there were still some issues with him being listed as being a Powerful Emotion rather than a Photo Color,” he said. “I decided to withdraw him because there really was not much of a demand for that stallion like there was for the Powerful Emotions and I knew once someone bought him I would probably have to go pick him up so I decided to keep him for myself. He’s definitely my horse.”

Graham is looking forward to Powerful Surprise’s 3-year-old season as the horse who was already big and strong has filled out with his time in the field. He intends to campaign the gelding on a similar schedule to last year.

“We will probably have him ready around the middle of April and will keep him in Illinois and Indiana,” he said. “Last year he was a standout just in the harness on the racetrack and he has everything you like to see in a nice horse. I am tickled to death with how things turned out, especially after what happened after he was born, but I always liked him.

Nelson deserves all the credit though. He did a terrific job with him and has always said how much he liked this horse as well as how good he thought he could be.”

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