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11,000+ Enjoy Rescheduled July 4th Festivities

Who was your favorite winner over the weekend: Serena Williams, the Bulls at Pamplona, Oscar the wiener dog, Lori Keith, Soonerette, Huckleberry Mojito or the hot dog champ?

They all deserve a tip of the cap, but Soonerette and Huckleberry Mojito (pictured above) were truly the stars of Saturday’s card in Shakopee.

There were 11,337 fans on hand who might have ideas of their own, but most of them would surely agree with the two equine stars.

Soonerette, the 3-year-old filly out of the Donnie Von Hemel barn shipped in from Arlington Park and stole the early show under a smart ride from Tanner Riggs in the $75,000 Northbound Pride Stakes.

Then in the $40,650 Canterbury Park Quarter Horse Derby, Nik Goodwin, the leading Q rider on the track, guided Huckleberry Mojito to an easy win, setting a track record of 19.3 in the process.

By that time Keith had already ridden three winners on the card, Williams had long put her Wimbledon trophy in a safe spot, the bulls were resting up for another shot at the Spanish crowd and Oscar was on his way home to Ellsworth, Wis., with his championship booty.


Whenever the money gets better, the horses start arriving and three of them shipped in for the race named after one of Canterbury’s Hall of Fame runners from the past.

There was Banded from Prairie Meadows, Starship Duchess from Arlington Park and Soonerette (above) from the same suburban Chicago site.

The mile race on the turf belonged entirely to Soonerette and Tanner Riggs, who guided the Master Command filly to a gate to wire triumph for her 60 percent cut of the $75,000 prize.

The margin at the wire was two lengths back to Banded, with Starship in third after a perfectly executed ride from Riggs, who got very basic instructions in the paddock from Von Hemel’s assistant.

He was told the put the horse at the lead out of the gate and that’s just what he did.

“They just told me to let her roll,” Riggs said, “and that’s what I did.”

Riggs regarded the win as payback to Von Hemel for favors done over the years. “He gave me horses to ride at Arlington,” Riggs said, “and kind of worked as a mentor to me.”

Von Hemel was not present but Tanner’s uncle and aunt, Roger and Lisa Riggs from near Mitchell, S.D., were. “We like to come up and watch Tanner ride when we can,” Roger said. “He rode a good race today.”

A bystander took a look at the winning horse and remarked. “You wouldn’t have guess that horse would win it. He’s kind of ratty looking.”

Sometimes looks are deceiving and that was certainly the case in this race.


Huckleberry, a three-year-old daughter of Feature Mr. Jess from Eye Opening Special, opened a few eyes and then tried to close some, too.

Under Goodwin, she broke cleanly and charged to the front, finishing easily in front of Painted Lies and Paint Or More.

“I wasn’t think record, but I knew she was traveling pretty fast,” said Goodwin. “She broke straight and I just tried to guide her from there.”

Moments later in the winner’s circle, the winner nearly took out winning trainer Ed Ross Hardy, delivering a kick to his leg. The impact was reduced by Hardy’s proximity to the horse. Had he been a couple of feet further away, it might have leveled him.

The win was the third straight for Huckleberry, who was the fastest qualifier for the Derby in the June 23 trials.

The winner has a historic blood-line connection to Canterbury. Her dam won the Express Handicap twice, the 350 Handicap and the Bob Morehouse, all in Shakopee.

Huckleberry apparently shares one more trait with her mama, who was about as ornery as they come on occasion.

None of that seemed to matter in the winner’s circle on Saturday.



There were concerns earlier in the week that Oscar might not be ready for the finals of the 2012 Dachshund Dash, not ready even though he was a prohibitive favorite after qualifying with one of the fastest times ever.

Oscar (in the lead above) suffered a mishap last week and has been on antibiotics the last few days. It seems that he got a little overly excited when his owner Chrissy Bitterman got home from work the other day and she inadvertently stepped on him.

That raised all sorts of concerns prior to Saturday’s championship, postponed from July 4 along with the rest of that card.

Nonetheless, Oscar was a clear winner once again, as he was in the qualifying heat, outrunning nine rivals to win easily, although not without controversy. Oscar shot out of the gate like a rocket and straight to the finish line where Bitterman, of Ellsworth, Wis., awaited him with a treat.

He stopped upon reaching the finish, however, and there was some brief uncertainly whether he had actually crossed the line.

A review determined that, yes, in fact, his nose had broken the plane.

“He always stops like that,” said Bitterman, ”as soon as he gets to me. He’s been trained to do that.”

Upon hearing that Oscar had run on antibiotics, an anti inflammatory drug for his recent injury, there was a minor objection that it had not been reported in the program, as such cases are with the horses.

Another quick review determined that what applies in the horse world is not necessarily a factor in the dog domain.

Bitterman also explained that Oscar’s full name is Oscar Michael, named after her late son. She was not aware of the contest until a friend e-mailed her in June suggesting that she enter Oscar in the contest.

Oscar has been on a bland diet all week along with the medication. Even his treats had to be changed.

A 10-pound, 15-inch 2-year-old, Oscar did his training in a cornfield on property owned by Jan Godden of River Falls, a friend of Bitterman’s.

“He’d run all over that field,” said Bitterman. Well, until the injury, he did.

“I didn’t know if he could run very fast today,” she added

Oscar answered that concern with an affirmative “No problem.”

Afterward there was a treat awaiting him in the winner’s circle. His diet still didn’t allow the usual treats, so Bittmeran prepared something special.

A bit of bacon.



The rules to the hot-dog eating contest have changed in the last few years, putting some of the top dogs of year’s gone by at a disadvantage.

At one time, the number of hot dogs consumed in a period of time determined the winner. The contestant to consume five hot dogs the fastest has been the winner of recent contests.

That puts a seven-time winner such as Paul Gustafson of Wayzata, affectionately known as Gus D Dawn, at a decided disadvantage. “I guess I’m just getting old,” he lamented after Saturday’s contest, won by Mark Pederson of Little Canada.


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

Video Credit: Jon Mikkelson & The Canterbury Park Television Department