BY JIM WELLS
No matter how long you’ve been at an endeavor, there is always a first time for something, for just about everybody.
Take Hall of Fame trainer Dave Van Winkle, who’s left his mark just about any place his horses have left tracks in Shakopee over the past three decades. His entry in the $60,000 MTA Stallion Auction Stakes was Fireman Oscar, a three-year-old son of Law Enforcement from Brandy Bai, sent off the 3/5 favorite on Monday.
Several trainers with horses in the race had won it in the past, two or three times in certain cases, four in another. This was a 6 ½ furlong affair that Van Winkle did not have in his scrapbook, however.
Nonetheless, Fireman Oscar, owned by Pete Mattson of Prior Lake, seemed an appropriate moniker in the paddock moments before the race as the skies darkened, the winds whipped up from out of nowhere, the rain began to drill down at an angle and flashes of lightning appeared in the offing.
Who better to have your faith in under such an exhibit of nature, and the consequences sometimes produced during such times, than a horse with the first name Fireman. A turnout of 16,172 was on hand for the Labor Day festivities that included the Wiener Dog Races but half or more of them had scurried out the exits when the skies blackened.
Now add to the weather a rider hotter than the atmospheric electricity, Jareth Loveberry, and you have the makings of a 3/5 favorite. But there was additional drama. Loveberry is sitting on a suspension that all but appeared to have knocked him out of the race for leading jockey this meet when he was cited for a riding infraction last Friday. He was trailing Orlando Mojica in the standings by three wins at the time.
Popular opinion at that time, with Mojica in the lead, was that Loveberry could just about forget a riding title if he was going to be given days. But just like that, he went on a tear like he has never experienced before. “Unbelievable,” he said after winning Monday’s stakes race. “Just incredible.”
Yes, 13 wins in that short span is a bit incredible. He left the grounds Monday night, leading Mojica 69-61 in the standings.
The MTA stakes was thought to be a two-horse affair, between the unbeaten filly Ta Kela Warning, 3 for 3, and Oscar, who hit the board in six consecutive starts.
Loveberry rode the perfect race and wrapped up his week with a clear win, 3 ½ lengths in front of Sooner Heat and another head in front of Formidable Force.
“I just let him settle,” said Loveberry, “and then he dragged me to the lead. This whole week has been simply unbelievable.”
He capped it off in perfect style, a win in a $60,000 stakes.
The race has been run every year since 1987 with two exceptions, in 1993 and 2001, and was limited to two-year-olds from 1987 through 2000.
The winner of the first running was a baby named Flux Capacitor, trained by Clint Goodrich and ridden by Jon Oldham. The owner was Phil Marudas, a long-time early handicapper for the St. Paul Pioneer Press who out-picked all Twin Cities competitors in several consecutive years.
Among the trainers who won this race more than once is Hall of Fame conditioner Doug Oliver, who saddled Prince of Drummers for Allan Burdick in 1991 and Bleu Victoriate for Jeff Hilger in 1998. Oliver is calling it quits in Shakopee after a career in which he saddled horses in every meet since racing arrived in 1985.
The king of the trainers in this particular race, however, is Hall of Fame conditioner Bernell Rhone, who saddled four winners. “I never would have guessed it,” he said.
Remember Mr. Gangster (1992)? he was asked. “Yup,” he said. How about Hardy Har (1996)?
“Yup.” And Rustic Road (2010). “Yup.”
“Samendra (2011)? “Oh, yes.”
Next best is Francisco Bravo. His first winner was Crocrock (1999), Frosty Prince ( 2002) and Hold for More (2015). All three horses were owned by Dale Schenian, Canterbury’s vice chairman.
Pete Mattson was Monday’s winning owner, and he has a nice story to accompany his special win, Jareth Loveberry’s special if not historic weekend.
CANTERBURY CHOICE TIDBITS
The Labor Day weekend crowds kept Alexis Pearson busy selling tip sheets from her stand steps inside the main entrance.
On Monday, she sold 122 sheets with picks made by former paddock handicapper Kevin Gorg. On Sunday, she sold 102. “Anytime we break 100 it’s a great day,” she said. “We had two great days.”
On an average day, she said, “we’ll sell 45 to 60. Weather and the activities going on (such as the wiener dog races Monday and Pepsi Family Day Sunday) really help.”
BATTING .1000 IN THE BARNS
Former rider Sir Mark Irving, a native of Great Britain, gives tours of the stable area, introducing folks to the life of a trainer, what the duties are and what it takes to be successful. He will contact trainers beforehand for permission to give them a visit.
He will then pick out a horse entered to run and introduce his visitors to the horse as his pick in whatever race it will run. “Who knows he said, some of them might become an owner at some point.”
By the way, he’s doing right well with the horses he’s chosen. He is seven for seven. All of the visits have been followed by wins.
WIENER DOG RACES
The heats in the annual wiener dog race were run on Monday, but the championship was moved to closing day, September 16, when stormy weather arrived as they were about to be run. Instead, Canterbury chose to run the final thoroughbred race on the card and postpone the title chase for the dogs.