By Woodbine Communications/Chris Lomon

Of all the photographs he has seen of the handsome bay gelding, it was a recent set of pictures that left John Ross deeply moved.

It was six years ago when Cool Catomine delivered longtime horseman Ross one of his most treasured training moments, a victory in the 2017 Prince of Wales Stakes, the second jewel in the Canadian Triple Crown series.

The winner’s circle photo, along with other camera captures from that day, hangs proudly at the conditioner’s barn on the Woodbine backstretch and at his home, about a half hour’s drive west of the racetrack.

“We have the pictures, and we do reminisce about that Prince of Wales win once in a while,” said Ross, who recorded his first win in the race after finishing second with Arco’s Gold, behind Wando, Canada’s most recent Triple Crown winner, in 2003. “That’s what this sport is all about, winning those big races and then having those great memories that will stay with you forever.”

As will his recollections of the talented, blue-collar bay, bred in Ontario by Bernard and Karen McCormack.

Not many days go by, perhaps a few at most, where Ross doesn’t think about Cool Catomine.

The man who started his Thoroughbred life working as an exercise rider for Conn Smythe can easily recall how the horse came into his life.

“I was speaking with the Jack of Hearts owners, Jim Aston and Neal Mednick, and they asked me to go and pick out a racehorse,” remembered Ross. “It meant a lot to me, that they had faith and trust in me. When you hear that, it makes you feel fulfilled. I bought him from the consignment of Bernard McCormack. When I saw the horse for the first time, I turned to the Jack of Hearts guys and said, ‘That looks like a racehorse.’ I liked him and we ended up getting him for a very good price. I was very happy to get him.”

After a mixed bag of results, a seventh, a third and another seventh to launch his career in the spring of 2017, Cool Catomine broke his maiden in his fourth try, a gutsy head score at 14-1 over the Woodbine main track.

It was enough to prompt the connections to enter the horse in the Prince of Wales, a 1 3/16-mile test over the Fort Erie dirt.

“When I got him, he was a very nice horse to train,” said Ross, who won the 1997 Breeders’ Stakes, third jewel in the Canadian Triple Crown, with John the Magician. “He worked well, and we felt we had something there. Everyone was excited about him. We never had a chance early enough to run him in The Queen’s Plate at that time. It was about three weeks before the Prince of Wales when we had him in an allowance race at Woodbine. He ran a mile and a sixteenth and he won the race. He was really starting to come into himself. We felt that he had come a long way, so we gave him a shot at the Prince of Wales.”

Once again sent on his way at 14-1, Cool Catomine converted a head advantage at the stretch call into a 2 ½-length triumph.

“There were a lot of good horses in the race, and we beat some very nice ones that day. It was quite overwhelming to be part of that, a little guy like me who had just a few horses.”

It would be the most notable win for Cool Catomine, who, after a series of out-of-the-money finishes, eventually went from stakes glory to the claiming ranks at Woodbine.

On September 7, 2018, nearly 18 months after his first race with Ross, he was claimed for $40,000.

It would mark the beginning of a nomadic life for Cool Catomine, whose travels took him throughout the U.S., including starts at Oaklawn Park, Prairie Meadows, Will Rogers, Fair Meadows, and Delta Downs, just to name a few.

From September 2021 until September 2023, he competed exclusively in claiming races.

“Eventually, he lost a step or two,” noted Ross. “We didn’t think he would get claimed but he did. He was always a little hesitant at the gate and with some horses, when they find they don’t like racing anymore, they come down the ladder and he shipped out to the lower-level tracks. We kept in touch with people over time and they said he was sound.”

In the days leading up to what would be Cool Catomine’s final start, a second at Prairie Meadows on Sept. 9, Ross received a call from Vicki Pappas, chairperson and founding member with LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society.

The conversation was exactly what Ross wanted to hear.

“I spoke with Vicki who had also contacted Bernard, and we talked about reaching out to others about bringing the horse back home. Bernard was very instrumental in it. We spoke to a lot of people who were interested in giving some money so we could get him back. This was a show of unity, to bring back a horse so many people love.”

Established in 1999, LongRun is one of the most respected horse retirement and adoption organizations, and the first industry-funded adoption program in Canada. Its picturesque property, a 100-acre home to over 50 retired Thoroughbreds, is situated in Hillsburgh, less than an hour’s drive northwest of Woodbine Racetrack.

LongRun helped lead and contribute to the fundraising to buy Cool Catomine and transport him back to Ontario.

Donations came in from everywhere – Alabama, Tennessee, New Brunswick, British Columbia and, of course, Ontario.

“We were unprepared for the generosity of horse lovers, racing fans and his racetrack connections when we asked for help in getting Cool Catomine home,” said Pappas. “It is especially noteworthy that owner Jim Aston, trainer John Ross and jockey Luis Contreras made significant contributions, while breeder Bernard McCormack offered him a permanent retirement home. Bernard paid for his layover in Kentucky and trailered him back to Ontario himself.”

When Ross saw a series of recent online photos featuring Cool Catomine, now 9, his smile grew wider with each picture he looked at.

“Those photos were very emotional for me. I saw the pictures of him in a nice, open-grass paddock at Bernard’s farm. I said to myself, ‘Wow… he’s finally where he belongs.’ I was so glad we got him back and I’m so happy for him. It wound up being a beautiful story.”

A story that is far from over.

Soon, Ross will have the chance to add other photos of Cool Catomine to his treasured collection.

They will be every bit as meaningful as the ones taken on that cloudy day in the aftermath of the Prince of Wales.

“We are going to see him soon, myself and the owners,” said Ross. “Bernard’s hope is that this guy will become a pleasure horse.”

As for how he will react or what he will say to Cool Catomine when they are reunited, Ross isn’t quite sure.

He is, however, certain of one thing.

“This guy is going to have a good life. That is what he and every horse deserve.”