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Claudius Augustus leads royal field

May 06, 2010

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Claudius Augustus is one of those horses all owners and trainers strive to have in their stable. Not only does he bring home the money, he has quite the personality to compliment his success. He loves visitors and comes right up to the gate when someone walks by. This usually brings out his goofy side, as he will stick his tongue out and expect you to pull it. This horse likes getting his picture taken also, as he boasts nearly a 50 percent winning average, claiming the top spot in 20 of his 42 lifetime races.

Claudius Augustus has fallen off his mark recently, though, and is looking to return to his old form soon. After starting off the season at Hoosier Park with two consecutive wins, the six-year-old stallion has found himself in much tougher competition recently. Going up against some of Hoosier Park’s best horses has resulted in not missing a pay check, recording two fifth place finishes and a third in his past three races.  In all, Claudius Augustus has earned $225,000 in career purse money and his lifetime mark of 1:53.3 was taken at Indiana Downs last year.

Luckily, Claudius Augustus’s trainer knows all about tough competition. Johnson was privileged enough to play sports for Muncie Central High School. While he was an underclassman, his team was a major nemesis to Milan High School in the 1954 Indiana High School State Basketball Championship. For those unfamiliar with the rivalry, Johnson’s Bearcat team eventually lost the state final on Bobby Plump’s buzzer beating jump shot, which later inspired the movie, Hoosiers.

Johnson followed his love of sports into harness racing and eventually landed in California. After a considerable stint racing in California, Johnson returned to Indiana seeking better racing opportunities and the chance to move back home. Claudius Augustus was a key factor in the decision to move as he could no longer find any competition.

“He (Claudius Augustus) just blazed over everybody and it got to the point where we couldn’t race him there anymore,” said Johnson.

The move has worked out well for Claudius Augustus, who has not shipped well in the past. He sustained an injury when loading into a trailer a few years ago, severely damaging his stifle. Although he fully recovered from the incident, he still has a large scar as a memory of the event.

The return to racing for Claudius Augustus has been all too desirable for any horseman working with an injured horse. When asked about his ability to return from the injury, Johnson replied “He’s just a good racehorse and knows what he needs to do.”

Part of the desire to race for Claudius Augustus was passed down by his mother, Claude’s Last Lady, who won numerous races over Hoosier Park’s oval in the late 1990’s. She ended her career in 2001 with 36 wins and nearly $300,000 in earnings. An invitational trotter, Claude’s Last Lady took her career best time of 1:55.2 at Hoosier Park in 1999 for trainer Gary Budahn and his wife, Debbie. The Budahns later relocated to the Canadian circuit and Gary passed away a few years later. Debbie, who still resides in California, is the owner of Claudius Augustus.

Being the veteran racehorse he is, Claudius Augustus is back in to race Saturday, May 8 with hopes of getting to the winner’s circle. Driven by Lemoyne “Mooney” Svendsen, the son of Angus Hall has drawn post one in the $23,000 co-featured Invitational Trot. He will continue to go up against Hoosier Park’s best trotters.

Returning in the race is last week’s winner, Southern Rocketop, who was crowned 2009 Illinois Horse of the Year. Piloted by Dave Magee, Southern Rocketop won his first start back in 2010 convincingly in 1:55.0. The four-year-old Psychic Spirit gelding will begin from post eight in the 10-horse lineup, which has been slated as the ninth race on the 12-race program.

Other top contenders for the title include ABC Mercedes, piloted by Joe Putnam, who is a perfect three for three in 2010. Owned by Larry Miller, ABC Mercedes was named Indiana’s 2009 Trotter of the Year. He starts his journey from post nine with an estimated post time of 8 p.m. EST.(Hoosier Park)
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