By Ken Weingartner — Twenty years ago, Todd Clements was working as a network administrator in Toronto when his father got sick and asked his son to return home to Newfoundland.
Clements resigned from his job and spent six weeks with his dad before Charlie passed from cancer at the age of 49. Their final days together changed the direction of Todd’s life forever.
“I’m a systems engineer by education,” Clements said. “My dad was very proud of the work I did, but he knew my passion for racehorses. One of the last things he said to me was that life can be short, do what you love. Here I was in a three-piece suit, working in an office running a company. I really didn’t like it.
“My dad gave me the green light. I came back to Ontario and I went to work (in a stable) for $400 a week, which I was making a day, and it’s all paid off.”
The 44-year-old Clements is in his first Breeders Crown, sending Fixed Idea to Saturday’s $600,000 final for 3-year-old male pacers.
Fixed Idea, who will be driven by Randall Waples, will start from post eight in a field of 10 that includes elimination winners Bettor’s Wish and Dancin Lou as well as returning Breeders Crown champion Captain Crunch, Little Brown Jug winner Southwind Ozzi, and Meadowlands Pace winner Best In Show.
“As a Newfoundland kid growing up, you dream about being in those races,” said Clements, who made several starts as a trainer in the years prior to leaving home for his network administrator job. “I’m extremely excited to be in the Breeders Crown.”
Fixed Idea, a son of Big Jim-Calchips Artist owned by Christopher Nicol, was unraced at age 2 and joined Clements’ stable this year.
All five of the horse’s wins this season have come in conditioned races but he earned checks in three preliminary rounds of the Ontario Sire Stakes series as well as the series championship. He also was fifth-placed-fourth in the consolation of the North America Cup.
“The best thing about him is his durability,” Clements said. “He can take a long road trip and the best part of his mile is the last sixteenth. If races were a mile-and-a-sixteenth, a lot of those 3s and 4s would probably be 1s. He has heart. He tries and there’s not much more you can ask.”
Prior to Fixed Idea’s fourth-place finish in the Breeders Crown elimination, Clements’ thoughts returned to his father.
“I looked up and said, dad, please send me down some luck,” Clements said. “I don’t know if it was that, but we made it. We’re going to be one of the longshots (Saturday) but it’s a horse race. You’ve got to be in it to win it. We’re just very humbled and just excited to have the opportunity to be in it.”
Clements is not the only trainer in the race who made a career change. Tahnee Camilleri, a native of Australia, gave up a career practicing law to pursue her passion by moving to the U.S. to train horses. The 32-year-old Camilleri conditions Dancin Lou for owners David Kryway and 1362313 Ontario Ltd.
Camilleri, who trained some horses in the States during a brief stay prior to completing her law degree, is in her first full season with her own stable.
“There’s definitely not going to be a lot of sleep this week,” Camilleri said. “I’m so excited. I’m like a kid right before Christmas.”
Dancin Lou worked his way up through the conditioned ranks at Yonkers, putting together a five-race win streak, and won twice on the Kentucky Sire Stakes circuit. He was third in a division of the Bluegrass Stakes before winning a division of the Tattersalls over Southwind Ozzi.
For the year, he has 10 wins in 17 starts.
“I never thought initially when I got this horse that he was going to turn out like he has,” Camilleri said. “It’s been a gradual thing, but he’s just gotten better and better.
“He got on a roll at Yonkers and it did wonders for his confidence. I still can’t believe it’s the same horse that I had at the start of the season. It’s been unexpected, but a great ride along the way.”
Dexter Dunn drove Dancin Lou in his three most recent races but will sit behind Bettor’s Wish in the Breeders Crown final. Andy McCarthy, who guided Dancin Lou to a career-best 1:48.3 victory in a division of the Kentucky Sire Stakes, picks up the drive.
“He definitely can get the best out of him,” Camilleri said.
“Everything I’ve asked him to do, he’s stepped up to the plate,” she added about Dancin Lou, who is a son of Sweet Lou-Dancewiththebest.
“There hasn’t really been any pressure. It’s just whether he was going to take the next step, and every step I’ve asked him to take, he’s taken it. I’m really so proud of him.”
Breeders Crown finals for 3-year-olds and older horses are Saturday at Mohawk. The finals for 2-year-olds are Friday.
The field for the Breeders Crown for 3-year-old male pacers.
1-Southwind Ozzi-Brian Sears-Bill MacKenzie
2-Captain Crunch-Yannick Gingras-Nancy Johansson
3-Covered Bridge-James MacDonald-Blake MacIntosh
4-Dancin Lou-Andy McCarthy-Tahnee Camilleri
5-Bettor’s Wish-Dexter Dunn-Chris Ryder
6-Best In Show-Bob McClure-Linda Toscano
7-Semi Tough-David Miller-Ron Burke
8-Fixed Idea-Randall Waples-Todd Clements
9-Bronx Seelster-Simon Allard-Rene Allard
10-De Los Cielos Deo-Matt Kakaley-Ron Burke
— Ken Weingartner for Breeders Crown