As often is the case, there’s a story behind the story.
In this story, there’s the soon-to-be 83-year-old trainer Jim Wyness. And then there’s a young backstretch worker named Jamie Saulnier.
What they both have in common is a deep, fervid love for a six-year-old gelding named Bon Prix, who has undergone a metamorphosis the likes of which have rarely been seen before.
Bought as part of a four-horse package deal out of Toronto - sight unseen - in July of 2021 - Bon Prix appeared to be just another horse when he first ran in Alberta - finishing eighth in a $16,000 claimer at odds of 44-1 on October 1, 2021.
He ran two more times at Century Mile that year showing some signs of life with a second-place finish at the end of October.
The start of last year’s season began with another runner-up effort in a race for $4,000 claimers.
But then Bon Prix regressed finishing ninth, sixth and a well-beaten fourth.
Then something happened. Something magical. Something that almost defies belief.
Despite having to move six wide Bon Prix won on August 5. And, coming from mid pack he won easily.
It was no fluke. Instead, it was just the beginning.
On August 19 he won again - this time even more easily opening a five-length lead and coasting home by three lengths.
And then he kept on winning and winning and winning crossing the finish line on top in six straight races which easily made him last year’s Claimer of the Year.
While the exact voting results aren’t made public it’s probably safe to say Bon Prix was a near-unanimous choice.
This year he picked up where he left off in 2022 winning on May 12 with a splendid wire-to-wire performance despite having to start from the outside 10th post position.
He broke so fast that it looked like either he was shot out of a bazooka or that the other horses were tied to the starting gate.
“He was in tough. It wasn’t an easy field by any means,” said Saulnier, 27, of a race where his competition included Smarty River Pants, a former Two-Year-Old Alberta champion; Glava, who was running in stakes races last year, stakes winner Above and Beyond and Hard to Come Home, who has won 15 races.
So what happened? How did Bon Prix get so good? How did he go from trailing bottom claimers and never winning a single race in all of 2021 into a horse that now looks like he could be a stakes winner?
“I’m not going to give you all my secrets,” said Wyness with a chuckle but, with a lot of prompting, decided to do so anyway.
“He wasn’t in shape at the start of 2021,” said Wyness. “I got him in shape. But the first thing I did was give him two months off. He was a tired, body-sore horse and I didn’t run him at all in August or September.
“We just took our time with him,” said Wyness, who started training “way back in 1963 mostly on the B circuit. “It started out as just a hobby while I worked for Shell Oil for 32 years.
“I always liked horses.”
Wyness also made some equipment changes: taking off Bon Prix’s tongue tie, changing the horse’s bit and taking off Bon Prix’s leg wraps.
He also started putting a magnetic blanket across the horse’s back when he was back in his stall. And, he changed Bon Prix’s diet.
“I give him just about everything he wants to eat and he eats like a pig,” said Wyness, who said Bon Prix gobbles down six gallons of oats a day.
“Oats are where horses get their energy. The hay they eat just keeps their stomachs working.
“I give him his dinner and when I come back in the morning his feed tub is licked clean.
“He eats big time,” said Wyness, who also gives Bon Prix lots of flax oil in his feed.
“The flax oil gives him his shine and it also helps his stomach.
“He’s put on a lot of weight. He doesn’t look anything like he did when I first got him.
“He’s a good looker that bugger,” Wyness continued of the chestnut who has a big wide, white blaze that splashes down the centre of his face.”
Wyness doesn’t know how Bon Prix, a son of Palace who won nine stakes races including two Grade 1 outings - the Alfred G. Vanderbilt and the Forego - was trained in Ontario but here in Alberta he hardly ever has a rider on his back.
“I use a pony to gallop him. And just slow gallops. I don’t want anybody on his back other than when he works or races.”
But there were two other things that happened to Bon Prix that really made a difference.
One, Wyness started swimming Bon Prix on a treadmill at the Millennium Equestrian Rehabilitation and Training Facility in Carstairs where the horse would also get massages. Secondly, Saulnier came along.
Neither was coincidental.
“The treadmill did wonders for him. It muscled him right up. It made a big difference.
“So has Jamie. Jamie loves Bon Prix and Bon Prix loves Jamie,” he said of Saulnier, who arrived on the scene just about the same time that Bon Prix started winning races.
“Jamie worked for Bar None Ranches and trainer Ron Grieves. When she was finished her work for Bar None she would come around my little stable, pet and groom Bon Prix and forever talk to him. And she always gave him plenty of peppermints and carrots.
“She’s been a big factor. She’s done such a good job,” said Wyness, who only has two other horses in training.
Between Wyness and Saulnier there probably isn’t a horse that is pampered and treated better than Bon Prix.
“He’s a pretty happy guy,” said Saulnier, who in addition to taking Bon Prix to the paddock and then going out on post parade with him before his races, does a fair amount of ponying Bon Prix.
“He’s spoiled,” she said.
“It’s been fun to watch him develop. He started slow but once he got his first win in Alberta, once was not enough. He just seemed to decide that racing is fun.
“It was really neat to see him come back this year and take off where he left off.
“I was really surprised that he got the lead so easily,” she said after Bon Prix got the first quarter in a very fast 21 4/5 seconds.
Also surprised was Bon Prix’s jockey, Alexander Marti.
“That horse is unreal,” Marti told Wyness after the May 12 race.”I can’t believe how he goes. I just had to keep him out of trouble. He ran his own race. I never had to touch him with the whip.”
Saulnier said Bon Prix “has got a real personality but you never know for sure which side of his personality he is going to show.
“Sometimes he’s cool and collected and just wants to be your best friend. The next day he wants to drag you around on the pony. On those days he just wants to buck and play and stretch his legs.
“He’s classy,” said Saulnier, who came to the track just four years ago and said she just started dropping by Wyness’ barn almost by accident.
“I worked in the test barn for two years but I decided that wasn’t good enough. I just decided that I needed to work on the backside and I started working for Bar None.
“Right away it captivated my heart.
“While I worked in the test barn I got to know who everybody was. Jim and I just became friends.
“I got to know him and I got to know Bon Prix. In a sense Bon Prix just became my pet.
“It’s been a fun adventure.
“A lot of people on the backside have gotten excited about Bon Prix.”
A lot of people have also approached Wyness about buying Bon Prix.
“Why would I sell him. You get a good horse you don’t get ride of them. He’s by far the best horse I’ve ever trained.”
Wyness, who can often be found sitting in a chair in front of Bon Prix’s stall spraying cold water on the horse’s legs, admits that Bon Prix surprised him the way he has turned around his racing career.
“But then he’s surprised a lot of people,” said Wyness. “And he’s still surprising them.”
Wyness said he doesn’t know when Bon Prix will run next. But he does know one thing: “It won’t be in a claiming race.”
Wyness said he knows something else too. “Wherever I do run him he’ll win. I just know he will. The way he’s running. The way he’s feeling. He just keeps on winning. He doesn’t quit. He’s got a big heart. He’s a special horse.”
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