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Celii Looking Forward To 'Pace' With 'Nitro'

Published: July 9, 2008 10:15 am ET

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A victory by Badlands Nitro in the $1.1 million Meadowlands Pace on July 19 would taste especially sweet for owner John Celii.

The colt will square off against undefeated Somebeachsomewhere and six other tough competitors in the first of three $50,000 elimination races for the Meadowlands Pace on Saturday night. He will start from Post 6 with Brian Sears at the lines in Race 5. The top three finishers in each elimination, plus the fastest fourth-place finisher overall, advance to the $1.1 million final.

Celii's best shot at winning the Meadowlands Pace should have been nine years earlier with the colt's sire, Badlands Hanover. After banking $500,000 and pacing a World Record 1:50 at two, Badlands Hanover seemed poised for a big sophomore campaign. However, he was plagued by illness and injury throughout the season and ended 1999 with just one win in 11 starts. Badlands Hanover finished second in his 'Pace' elimination, but was no match for The Panderosa in the final and finished sixth.

"Badlands Hanover had an awful three-year-old campaign," Celii recalled. "We almost lost him early in the year. He raced in a three-year-old open at the Big M, it had to be 104 degrees and a heat index of over 110 degrees. I believe that he paced in 1:50 that night. Later that night, Joe Holloway called and said that he was very concerned because Badlands could not cool down and was very sick. He was suffering from heat prostration and Joe thought that we might lose him. Fortunately, he recovered.

"After that illness, he developed a systemic problem of putting in a few steps when he accelerated," he continued. "We had him examined by many vets and no one could tell us what the problem was. Finally, in late fall we sent him to the University of Kentucky and they found a hairline crack in his coffin bone. When additional pressure was placed on this area, it would create pain; therefore, the steppy reaction. He clearly earned his nickname 'Badluck Hanover' given all the sickness, injuries and plethora of horrible post position draws at three."

Badlands Hanover was retired to stallion duty early in his four-year-old season. To help establish Badlands Hanover as a successful sire, Celii began to look for quality mares to breed to him. Celii had already purchased several prospects, like Oohs N Aahs, before a colleague suggested he buy Pleasant Thoughts, the dam of Badlands Nitro.

"I saw her as a yearling and I actually bid on her," Celii said via e-mail. "She was a really good-looking Artsplace filly. I bought Pleasant Thoughts and several other mares and began breeding to Badlands. After a few years, I had accumulated 13 broodmares and decided to cut the number in half. Pleasant Thoughts had a couple of Badlands foals but had not yet produced a really good horse, so I decided to sell her in foal to Badlands at Harrisburg.

"When I went to the Standardbred sale [yearling sale in Harrisburg, PA] two years later, there where 13 Badlands yearlings," he continued. "I thought that I had seen them all until I checked my Black Book and noticed that I missed one."

The youngster was Badlands Nitro. Celii told trainer George Teague Jr. that he was going to look at the son of Pleasant Thoughts.

"It was love at first sight," he said. "He was unquestionably the best looking Badlands that I had seen to date. He reminded me of his dad - beautiful head, athletic body. I called George to come and look. He walked around him once, came to me and said, 'Buy him and I would like to take half.' So, I purchased Nitro for $16,000 and offered 50 percent to George. Those were two great decisions, buying Nitro and having George Teague as a partner and trainer."

Badlands Nitro was lightly staked at two and did not debut until July 31, 2007 at Rosecroft Raceway. He won his first two starts and finished second in the $122,170 Smullin after shaking loose late in the stretch. The colt went on to sweep the Delaware Standardbred Breeders' Fund at Harrington, prompting Celii and Teague to supplement him to the Matron. He breezed to victory in his Matron elimination, but finished sixth in the final.

"Around late June last year, George called me and stated, 'We may have a special horse,' Celii said. "He loved how easily he did everything. He said, "He is so well gaited that you do not think he is going fast until you check the stop watch.'

"He won his Matron elimination by 13-plus lengths and tied Artsplace's 16-year-old record on a five-eighths mile track in 1:51.1. That mark established him as a World Champion. Unfortunately, he was knocked out of the final and was slightly injured."

Badlands Hanover concluded his freshman season with six wins and one second in eight starts and $145,904 in earnings. His three-year-old record entering the Pace eliminations is virtually identical - six wins and one second in seven starts. Badlands Nitro has already banked a hefty $861,488 this season, thanks in large part to a second-place finish behind Somebeachsomewhere in the $1 million North America Cup. He began his sophomore campaign with three straight wins, including the $301,072 Max Hempt at Pocono Downs. His victory in the $538,270 Art Rooney last week at Yonkers pushed him to millionaire status ($1,007,392).

John Celii and his wife of over 40 years, Patricia, reside in Chadds Ford, PA. Celii spent 20 years in finance and marketing at Hewlett-Packard Company, before becoming chief financial officer of 3Com Corp., where he managed the company's Initial Public Offering in 1984. Celii later served as director of East Coast Business Development for Cisco Systems before retiring in 1998. In addition to managing his racing interests and charitable endeavors, Celii is also an avid poker player.


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