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Hazel Park Winner has a Breeders’ Cup Pedigree

photo by  by Anne Maslanka
A Jury of Peers (photo by Anne Maslanka)

Jury by Ryan Dickey

When Conrad Anthony Kruzman went with his friend to a farm in Fowlerville, Michigan a few years ago, he hadn’t seen a horse up close and personal in over five decades.  He had no idea that a day trip with his friend Randy Work would alter the path of his life.  Kruzman (who goes by “Tony”), now 69 years old, is the sole owner of a racehorse named A Jury of Peers.  Last month, when A Jury of Peers broke his maiden at Hazel Park Raceway, as they stood together in the winner’s circle, it was hard to tell what was more improbable: that a retired teacher (then principal) who hadn’t been on a horse since a trail ride at age 16 would be a winning owner; or that a horse whose sire and grandsire both raced in Breeders’ Cup races would be racing in Michigan.

 

This relationship between a man and his horse began on a trip with Work to Raisin Tree Farms, run by horse breeder Elaine Komorney.  Kruzman, now partially retired after 28 years as a teacher in Birmingham schools, and 14 years as an Elementary school principal in Bloomfield Hills, saw all twenty-two of her horses, and “it was then I realized how kind and majestic horses are and how loyal they can be to people who love them”, he said.

 

One of the horses was a weanling, out of a mare named Heresyourchancefanci, that was foaled on April 25, 2011.  Kruzman, a Riverview native who now lives in Troy, really liked the little male horse, who was yet to be named.  On subsequent trips to the farm, which Tony found to be relaxing, he would see the little one, and was “hooked” on him.  He was named A Jury of Peers.  His sire, Justice for Auston, was a Kentucky-bred horse that earned $394,208 during his career consisting of 63 races, including an appearance in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup.

 

Komorney had every intention of racing the horse, and when he was two years old, she sold ¼ of the rights of “Jury” to Kruzman, who paid in cash as well as helping-out by doing chores around the barn–fixing gates, mending fences, and cleaning stalls.  In January of 2013, the horse was sent to Red Bob Farm (now Rattlewood Farms) in Oxford, MI.  He was placed under the care of trainer Jason Uelmen.  It was here that Jury would be saddle-broken and learn how to follow direction, and begin his racing career.

 

Uelmen is the exact opposite of Kruzman. Jason, who has his own horse farm in White Lake, MI, grew up in the horse business, as his father Larry, and mother Virginia, both raised and trained horses.  Larry Uelmen trained his first racehorse in 1976, and in 2012, Jason followed his father’s footsteps, as he received his trainer’s license.  He has since saddled nearly 500 runners.  Uelmen said, “Jury is probably the most calm horse in my barn–he has a real nice demeanor”.

 

With the help of exercise rider Kala Crampton, Uelmen trained Jury as a 2-year old, but they could not get the rapidly-growing colt ready for the rigors of racing, because his knees had not “closed”–which meant running in races could have meant permanent damage to the horse’s legs, risking not only his racing career, but his life. They would have to wait for Jury to be ready, and he went back to Raisin Tree Farms for the winter.

 

A Jury of Peers made his racing debut as a 3-year old on August 9, 2014, in the Lansing Stakes at Hazel Park.  The 6-furlong race pitted Jury against five other horses.  At the end of the race, Jury could “see them all” as he finished last.  Kruzman got his first taste of what being a horse owner was all about.  He had grown to love the horse, and was very excited to watch him race, but to see him finish dead last was a bit heart-breaking, although not the end of the world.

 

Jury came out of the race just fine, and would race three more times in his 3-year old season, finishing no better than second on October 3.  He was also a “late scratch” in a race in 2014, as he reared up in the stall after being startled, and smashed his front legs against the gate. The track veterinarian would not allow him to run.  His 3-year old campaign consisted of a last place finish; coming home seventh out of ten horses the next time out; his 2nd place finish on October 3rd; and finishing fifth out of six contestants to end the Hazel Park meet.

 

His first season as a racehorse was not much different than his dam’s 3-year old season.  Heresurchancefanci made her debut at the now defunct Great Lakes Downs in Fruitport, MI on September 27, 1999, where she placed second out of eight runners in a maiden claiming race for trainer Karl Waters. Janell Gruss was her jockey that day.

 

Like Jury, Heresurchancefanci made four starts in her first campaign, finishing no better than second.  She would start her 4-year old season at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar, Florida, racing there twice for trainer Michael Murray. Murray then took the mare to Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota, where she raced twice, finishing sixth both times.  She would end her 4-year old campaign with three more races at Great Lakes Downs, again being trained by Karl Waters.

 

In 2001, she returned to Tampa Bay Downs, racing in two maiden claiming races under trainer Lisa Henry, before returning to the barn of Karl Waters for good.  She raced at Thistledown in North Randall, Ohio for three races, where on July 22, she broke her maiden in her sixteenth try.  At a little over 3-1 odds, she paid $9.20 to win under jockey Luis Gonzalez in a 6 furlong sprint.

 

Finally having a win to her credit, she returned to Great Lakes Downs, racing two more times to end her racing career, when she finished seventh out of nine runners in a 6 furlong claiming race on August 24, 2001.

 

In 2010, Heresurchancefanci was bred to Justice for Auston, the son of a multiple Breeders’ Cup champion.  Trained by one of the leading trainers in the country, Dale Romans, Justice for Auston would find himself a competitor in the 2006 Cherokee Run Breeders’ Cup Handicap at Churchill Downs.

 

His seven-year racing career began as a 2-year old at Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky, on September 22, 2001, where he finished seventh out of twelve starters as a 20-1 shot at the mutuel window.

 

Justice for Auston, like the mare he was bred to, and the son that they would produce, finished no better than second in his first campaign.  He broke his maiden in his thirteenth try (eighth race of his 3-year old season) on July 12, 2002 at Ellis Park in Henderson, Kentucky in a 5-½ furlong turf sprint as a nearly 2-1 favorite, paying $5.60 to win.  Jon Court was the jockey that got him home ahead of the eight other runners.

 

Justice for Auston came right back to the winner’s circle in his following start (in allowance company) at Ellis Park, beating seven other contestants.  He would win a total of three races at Ellis Park in his sophomore year.

 

In 2003, he won a claiming race at Churchill Downs.  The following year, to start his 5-year old season, he won back-to-back races again, both at Churchill Downs. At six, he again won at Ellis Park, in a Handicap race.

 

His 2006 campaign ended with another trip to Churchill Downs, where Romans, who was the leading U.S. trainer that year, saddled Justice for Auston in the Cherokee Run Breeders’ Cup Handicap–a five furlong turf sprint.  At 48-1 at the betting windows, Justice would not prevail, as he finished ninth out of twelve sprinters under jockey Mark Guidry.  He would race for two more seasons before being retired on July 30, 2008.

 

Justice for Auston’s sire (and A Jury of Peers’ grandsire) Lit de Justice, was a two-time B.C. Champion, as he won the 1995 Pat O’Brien Breeders’ Cup Handicap in 1995 at Del Mar, and the 1996 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Woodbine.

 

According to Joe Nevills of the Daily Racing Form, A Jury of Peers is the only horse sired by Justice for Auston to ever run in a race.

 

In the winter of 2014, Elaine Komorney moved to Florida, and sold the remaining rights to A Jury of Peers to Tony Kruzman, and in March, the colt began training for the 2015 meet at Hazel Park. Kruzman said, “he had gotten taller and more muscular over the winter.”

 

His 4-year old campaign started the same way as his career debut, finishing dead last, but this time in a 4 furlong maiden special weight sprint.  He tried again two weeks later, finishing a promising fourth out of nine runners in a 5-½ furlong affair.

 

Kruzman, who was now paying all of the training bills, and who is solely responsible for all financial aspects of horse ownership said he was “watching my money go down the drain”.

 

Then, on June 12, A Jury of Peers would try again at 5-½ furlongs on the Hazel Park track, and with Eric Edwards in the saddle, found himself out to an early five-length lead.  At the top of the stretch, he held on to a three-length lead over odds-on favorite Snowy Pleasure.  “There is no better feeling in the entire world than standing at the finish line and watching your horse turn for home in the final stretch with all of the other horses chasing him”, said Kruzman.

 

Jury would hold on to win the race, breaking his maiden in his seventh try (much better than both his sire and dam) at just over 5-1 odds, paying $12.60 to win.  “I have had many, many life experiences but I have never had the feeling of awe and amazement and joy when I stood in the winner’s circle with Jury and Kala, and Jason”, exclaimed Kruzman.

 

After spending about an hour in the “State barn”, Jury got back to his stall, and looked tired.  Tony fed him some hay, and kissed the winner goodnight.  He told Jury how proud he was of him. Kuzman said, “you have moments in your life, like when a child is born, or something of that significance, but seeing your horse win a race is a magical experience”.

 

Now the owner of a winning racehorse, Kruzman is not ashamed to confess that he knew very little about horse racing when he purchased his ¼ share of Jury in 2013. “I didn’t really know what the Kentucky Derby was”, he admitted.

 

When asked how he chose his owners “silks” (the colors and patterns of the shirt and helmet cover worn by the jockey to signify who the horse belongs to), he stated that he didn’t even know he could “choose” them.  Uelmen had a set of white silks with blue diamonds and blue bars on the sleeves somewhere in his barn, and that’s what the jockey would wear.

 

He also had no idea his horse’s sire and grandsire raced in the Breeders’ Cup, let alone that Lit de Justice won twice.

 

Although he was a complete novice to the horse racing game, Kruzman, like most horsemen, has his own rituals and superstitions.  He wears the same shirt and hat to every race.  He goes to Jury’s stall before each race and prays with him. And he stands in the same exact spot in the Hazel Park grandstand, near the finish line–”for luck”

 

On Friday night (July 10), a Jury of Peers raced for the first time since breaking his maiden in a $4,800 purse claiming race ($8,000 claiming tag) at Hazel Park and finished second by a head. He came out of the race fine, and will continue to race in Michigan–the grandson of a two-time Breeders’ Cup champion.

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