Canterbury Park, Shakopee, Minn logo

A Racetrack Vow Comes Full Circle


You’ve just celebrated your 20th wedding anniversary and now you want to celebrate the entire 25 years you’ve been an item.

He trains racehorses off and on. You’ve covered thoroughbred racing for the Louisville Courier-Journal for the last three decades.

Your wedding took place in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs, so something to do with racing might be nice.

You spent a couple of days in Shakopee, Minn., 25 years ago writing about the new racetrack there.

He was working at Arlington Park at the time….

Hey, that’s it. Let’s go to the 2010 Claiming Crown races at Canterbury Park, celebrate our 25th at the same time Canterbury celebrates its 25th.
What a grand idea, what a great way to celebrate a wonderful quarter of a century together, years spent talking to testy trainers on your part, years spent cleaning up after horses covered in poop on his.

Well, even if it didn’t happen precisely that way…it could have.
Say hello to Jennie Rees and Pat Dupuy, husband and wife from Louisville, Ky., who were the first to arrive in Shakopee for this year’s Claiming Crown, with their one-horse stable comprised of Strike Impact, a six-year-old gelded son of Smart Strike (by Mr. Prospector).

Before you write off this couple as mere wannabes of some kind, consider this: Jennie is a three-time Eclipse Award-winning journalist for the Courier-Journal; her expertise, of course, is thoroughbred racing, a sport she covers full time. Well….full time by today’s newspaper standards, which include periodic furloughs for employees, but we digress.

Jennie grew up in Lexington, Ky., where it was part of growing up to skip German III at the end of the school day and head out to Keeneland Race Course during the spring and autumn meets.

Pat is a native of New Orleans where his father was a trainer and former jockey. (Does any more need be said?) Pat has trained horses off and on his entire adult life. Right now the correct terminology is that he is training a horse _ a single horse.

Long story short: Pat’s sister-in-law, Donna Dupuy (she’s married to Pat’s brother, Mike), claimed Strike Impact almost exactly a year ago and later sold the horse privately to Chet Miller and his wife, Susan Weiss, who live in Simpsonville, Ky., not 30 minutes drive from Churchill Downs. Chet plans to be at the races on Saturday.
Jennie says they are wonderful people who are truly excited about Saturday’s event.
Jennie and Pat arrived with Strike Impact last week, with 12 days to spare before post time, for the $150,000 Claiming Crown Jewel. They arrived with Winston Skaggs, a trainer and one-time jockey who agreed to exercise Strike Impact for them as well as drive the van from Kentucky.

Pat wanted Skaggs’ assistance bad enough that he agreed to pay whatever the man needed to leave his other work behind. Hello, Minnesota, Canterbury Park and the Claiming Crown!

One of the first things Pat and Jennie did was head to the Racing Commission office in the grandstand to get licensed, Pat as a trainer and Jennie as a groom/hotwalker. By the way, Jennie doesn’t shortchange her single charge, as some hotwalkers are prone to do. “I’ll walk him for a solid 40 minutes every day,” she said Wednesday, shortly after the draw for post positions.

Now, to the subject at hand, Saturday and the Claiming Crown, specifically the $150,000 Jewel for 3-year-olds and older at nine furlongs.
Dupuy and Rees chose this race after careful analysis. They didn’t want to run against Inca King, for one. Strike Impact lost to him by 3 1/2 lengths on May 30.

“We can’t beat Inca King,” Jennie said.

Trainer and groom did their homework on this one, too.

“We took a look at past Claiming Crowns and noticed that the Jewel didn’t have big fields,” Jennie said.

Not that they expect an easy time of it on Saturday, but at least they aren’t running against Inca King, who is the 9-5 favorite in the Emerald, and they are in a six-horse rather than 12-horse field.

Canterbury’s trusty morning line man, Mark Stancato, has installed Strike Impact as the 9-2 fourth choice in the race to Racing Bran (2-1), My Friend Nev (7-2), and Headache (4-1).

Dupuy is confident nonetheless. He and his owners didn’t invest all the time, money and travel if they intended to finish up the track. Just the same, Dupuy and Rees have figured out that even fourth-place money ($7,500) will be just about enough to cover their extensive expenses.

As husband and wife stood outside the stall to Strike Impact early Wednesday afternoon, both agreed that he could have run a better race coming into this one. On June 10 he ran sixth in a n3X optional claiming race for $80,000 at Churchill Downs. He did have a couple of legitimate excuses. One, he lost a rear shoe. Two, he got hit in the right eye with a piece of turf coming out of the turn. Strike Impact looked as if he were about to get on with it when he suddenly backed up. “We think that’s when he got hit in the eye,” Jennie said.

Strike has a 13-4-6 record from 45 career starts and earnings of $339,373. He has adjusted well to his new surroundings. (His handlers brought him in early to assure just that.)

Wednesday, for instance, Strike stood almost dead still in his stall as any relaxed horse is prone to do. He was so relaxed that he took his sweet time sucking up his favorite sweet, a peppermint, from a visitor’s palm.

Dupuy likes the way the race sets up for his horse. “There is enough speed for him to run at,” he said. Strike can run just off the pace or settle back, depending on what transpires up front. He will have Shane Sellers on his back.

Rees took a two-week vacation to help her husband get ready for the trip to Minnesota and the race on Saturday, but she has worked some just the same, sending daily blogs to her newspaper highlighting the trip and preparations for Saturday’s race.

“This is exciting,” Jennie said. “This is his (Pat’s) Kentucky Derby.”
She would like to send a blog sometime late Saturday afternoon, informing her readers what it feels like to win a Claiming Crown race.