There were employees, guests and dignitaries from Mystic Lake, ladies in wide-brimmed hats, bowls of chocolate-covered strawberries, just about everything except mint juleps Saturday afternoon for the biggest race in Shakopee since 1991.
The occasion was the $161,250 Mystic Lake Derby at about a mile on the turf, and the grandstand was festooned with paraphernalia and excitement missing on the grounds for two decades.
The excitement among race lovers was palpable, no matter with whom one talked. It was Derby Day 2012, the start to a new era of Minnesota racing, an era not remotely possible without the marketing deal struck between Canterbury Park and Mystic Lake.
The gods of racing were smiling on some local folks, namely Canterbury Park based rider Lori Keith, who not only rode the biggest winner of her career but survived a controversial finish in the process.
Keith was in the irons on Hammers Terror (replay below) for trainer Michael Stidham and owner Terry Hamilton, with whom she developed a relationship the last couple of years at Turf Paradise in Phoenix and at Canterbury.
She was on the right horse Saturday afternoon. Hammers Terror commanded this race, although he and Keith had to survive a stewards inquiry and jockey’s objection that left assistant trainer Chris Davis, the rider and Hamilton sweating it out.
Keith had gone to a left-handed whip at the head of the lane without negative reaction from her mount but when she applied it liberally inside the 16th pole, Hammers Terror veered sharply across the path of Delegation, who finished second, one length back.
The inquiry sign went up moments later and track announcer Paul Allen told the eager crowd that the stewards would undertake a review of the finish.
“Sweating it out. I certainly was,” Keith said anxiously after learning that the order of finish would stand.
Controversy swirled, as it always does in such instances, with sides divided about 50-50, in the grandstand, the jockeys’ room and anyplace else one cared to check.
About half the folks thought the winner should come down. The other half agreed with the apparent conclusion of the stewards and many fans that under no circumstances would Delegation have gotten past the winner.
Jockey Jermaine Bridgmohan got away from the assembled media types before he could be questioned about his take on the race.
Officially, Hammers Terror had one length on Delegation and 2 and ½ on the third place horse, Take Heart, ridden by Derek Bell.
The winning time was 1:37.18 and the payouts were $9, $4.80 and $3.40 on the 7-2 winner. A crowd of 10,127 sent Delegation off at 3-1 and Take Heart at 17-1. The favorite at $1.90-1, Gung Ho, never fired and finished behind all six rivals.
Davis didn’t have anything profound to share with Keith before the race. “Get him to settle, wherever he is,” Keith said. She did exactly that, relaxing the horse on the front end for a gate-to-wire effort.
The race was reduced from an eight-horse field to seven after Corporate Chapel, owned and trained by Stanley Mankin, was scratched
Hamilton has raced at Canterbury before, mostly two years ago, but intends to become a regular now, in view of the marketing pact between Canterbury and Mystic Lake .
“I plan to bring horses back,” he said. “All different kinds. This is what it’s all about. This agreement is absolutely great.”
So, too, was the winner’s circle for the son of Artie Schiller and Keith on Sunday.
This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.
Photo Credit: Coady Photography