Hozier winning Mint Millions would be quite the tale for Storyteller

(Photo above: Hozier winning Ellis Park’s Kentucky Downs Preview Mint Millions. Coady Photography)

Hozier at Kentucky Downs. Tim Wilkin photo

Ted and Mary Nixon didn’t have to look far for their first racehorse as sole owners. They already owned a piece of then 3-year-old Hozier as partners in Starlight Racing.

The Nixons, of Louisville, were already smitten with Hozier. So when Starlight and SF Racing decided Hozier was among the horses they would sell at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky’s 2021 Horses of Racing Age auction, the Nixons thought he’d be a great way to start their own stable, known as Storyteller Racing. They purchased Hozier for $200,000, far less than the $650,000 paid for him as a yearling at Saratoga before he went to trainer Bob Baffert as a 2-year-old.

Through Starlight, the Nixons were in on Justify’s 2018 Triple Crown sweep and many other big races, including being partners in 2023 Preakness winner National Treasure. But Hozier running in Saturday’s $2 million The Mint Millions (G3) — the richest stakes at the very lucrative FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs — is huge for them as well. The Rodolphe Brisset-trained Hozier earned a fees-paid spot in the race by winning the $200,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Mint Millions at Ellis Park on Aug. 4.

Hozier, who is 5-4-2 in 23 starts for earnings of $739,635, is 30-1 in the Global Tote morning line. Alex Achard, who rode the gelding at Ellis Park, has the mount.

“The last couple of races, he seems like a new horse. So fingers crossed,” Ted Nixon said by phone. “It’s a biggie. As Rodolphe said, it is a $2 million race, so it’s not going to be a walk in the park. But we know that. But the fact that he’s in the gate is great.”

Let’s put that $2 million in perspective. While $1 million of the purse is available via the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund to registered Kentucky-breds, they account for 10 of the 12 entrants, and the other two are 30-1 shots. Whether the entire $2 million is distributed or not, the Mint Millions will be the second-richest race in Kentucky behind only the $3 million Kentucky Derby and the third-richest offered by a racetrack in the United States behind the Derby and $3 million Pegasus World Cup. Outside the Breeders’ Cup, it is the richest turf race in America.

“That’s amazing,” Ted Nixon said. “I was looking at National Treasure, the Preakness was $1.5 million. This is two! So this is exciting. We’re looking forward to coming down.”

Hozier was on the Derby path with Baffert, finishing second in Oaklawn Park’s Rebel Stakes (G2) before a well-beaten sixth in the Arkansas Derby (G1) sent him to the Sir Barton Stakes on the 2021 Preakness undercard, ultimately to Brisset for a Midwest campaign, then sold to the Nixons at auction and subsequently gelded after a poor performance in the St. Louis Derby.

Said Ted Nixon: “Rodolphe said, ‘He’s kind of distracted, just doesn’t seem like he’s focused. Unfortunately he doesn’t have any big black-type wins, so he’s probably not going to be a great stallion. So why don’t we geld him and see how he does?’ And we did.

“… He’d had a pretty good 3-year-old campaign. He was headed toward potentially the Triple Crown. He ran in a race on Preakness Day and got nosed out at the wire. You know, the sort of Starlight, SF program didn’t fit him. They ran him in a couple more races, and we just loved him. He was our first purchase for Mary and I. He was No. 1. We said, ‘We love the guy and we like Rodolphe, because he was training him at that point in time.’ We raced him a couple of times after we bought him, then we gave him a bunch of months off because he’d had a long campaign. He did pretty well last year. We had him in a couple of dirt races when it was muddy, and he did well. So we put him in a turf race and it perked him up.”

Hozier ran at Kentucky Downs last year, setting the pace before weakening to sixth in an allowance race. It was Nixons’ first starter at Kentucky Downs and first time to be at the track.

“We loved it, had a ball,” Ted Nixon said. “Unfortunately Hozier got out of the gate too quick, led the pace for the first half-mile, six furlongs and got tired. Rodolphe said we’re going to get him down there earlier this year and we’re going to make sure he’s ready for the course. He’s got his racing plan ready to go. So we’ll see if Alex Achard can bring him home. Alex is a young jockey who seems to do real well with Hozier. We just think the world of him.”

Based at Keeneland, Hozier went down to Kentucky Downs with assistant trainer Lesley Howes to train Friday morning.

“He’s adorable. He’s everybody’s favorite,” Howes said. “He’s got beautiful soft-brown eyes. He’s a very kind horse. He loves everybody and everybody loves him. He loves carrots. He loves it when his owners come. He nickers for them. He’s just a great guy.”

Hozier earned his first stakes victory in last fall’s off-the-turf, $300,000 River City at Churchill Downs. He comes into the Mint off two strong races, warming up for his Preview Mint Millions victory with a good fourth in the Grade 2 Wise Dan won by Stitched, who also runs Saturday. Third in the Wise Dan was Set Piece, who went on to win the Grade 1 Arlington Million at Colonial Downs.

“I think him being in the right position and being happy that day” are the key, Howes said. “Really, even the races he didn’t win, he ran a fantastic race at Ellis when he was fourth. It was a huge race. He’s sneaky good. And if the chips all the right way, he can easily be 1-2-3 in any race.”

The story behind Storyteller: The stable name comes from the road in Santa Fe, N.M., where the Nixons have a second home. Their racing silks reflect the New Mexico Zia symbol. They remain a partner in Starlight but now have a half-dozen horses of their own, all with Brisset.

“It’s different. We still love Starlight and are still in Starlight,” Ted Nixon said. “But having your own horse. Going to your own barn. Talking to the trainer about what he should do and shouldn’t do, what not. It’s just a whole different gig.”

The Nixons are retired, if you could call it that, and are very involved in philanthropic projects. Mary Nixon was a vice president with Yum! Brands and now serves as chairwoman of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees. Ted was the third generation to run his family’s Louisville-based DDW The Color House, the world’s second-largest natural-color company for the food and beverage industry, before selling in 2021.

“The proceeds are helping to fund Storyteller, so that’s good,” Ted Nixon said, adding of their charitable endeavors, “It’s our time to give back. I’m doing a fair bit with housing in west Louisville, working on gun violence. Mary is working in education. We’re both are using what we hope are some leadership and management skills which we learned in our corporate lives and be able to transfer some of that to the non-profit arena.”

Meanwhile, they’d love to see Hozier excel in Saturday’s for-profit Mint Millions. And there maybe some luck of the Irish at play. Mary Nixon points out that Hozier is named after the Irish singer, who coincidentally is performing at Louisville’s Bourbon & Beyond festival on Sept. 14.

Hozier winning Mint Millions would be quite the tale for Storyteller - Kentucky Downs