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A Very Gray Kinda (Month) Day

Prophet SongThe fourth race on Saturday’s card summed up the afternoon and most of the meet this spring/summer/fall at the same time. Very, very gray.

The race drew an 11-horse field that included four grays.

Four grays in one race? When is the last time you’ve seen that?

Racing operations analyst and tote board messiah Andrew Offerman had an immediate response.

“Rillito Park,” he said. “They always closed the meet there with a race in which a horse had to be gray or roan to enter.”

Even track president Randy Sampson does not recall a previous meet that got under way with as much rain as there’s been this season… and very little sunshine, the X-factor that impacts attendance for better or worse.

“I don’t remember another season like this one,” Sampson said. “Not with rain this consistently, nearly every day. And the forecast is for more.”

Saturday’s card included rain for a brief time.

“It’s every day, every day. I’m sick of it,” said trainer Larry Donlin in a raspy voice. Donlin isn’t only sick of it, he’s just plain sick.

When there hasn’t been an appreciable amount of rain on a given day, ominous storm clouds have done their best to scare away otherwise willing patrons and to keep the jockeys, valets and trainers guessing throughout the course of the day.

Saturday was no different – overcast, dark, foreboding.

“Well it hasn’t rained yet anyway,” said Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens after winning the first race on the card, his first of two winners Saturday.

A bystander remarked to Stevens that even a blind man should have been able to pick his horse. After all, Scott Stevens on a mount named Scotts Gap.

“That’s the reason I took the mount,” a grinning Stevens said, adding to a valet nearby, “hey I’m not kidding.”

Later, Stevens, known for his ability to get the most out of horse and have enough left to finish strongly, ran into a horse with more in its tank in the final strides and finished second to fast-closing Storming the Gates and the meet’s leading rider, Lori Keith.

Keith has been having a bang-up meet. She’s riding good mounts and riding the best of her career at the same time.

Incidentally, that race was the fourth and Stevens was riding a 3-year-old Holy Bull filly named Sentiment Gray.

Even Oracle, Canterbury’s handicapper supreme, a person of extreme even temperament, was knocked off his game on Saturday, although weather had nothing to do with it. The pressbox soda machine was out of diet Mountain Dew. “He might have a meltdown,” said pressbox boss Jeff Maday.

The Oracle is prepared for nearly any eventuality, however, and would likely survive the most dire of circumstances. He later produced a diet Mountain Dew, opening it slowly. “I squirreled it away in my briefcase from yesterday,” he explained.

Just like that an overcast day was sunny again for at least one individual.

Also on hand to watch a friend’s horse run Saturday was one of Canterbury’s newest Hall of Fame inductees, Sheila Williams, and her granddaughter, Kianna, who will undergo knee surgery at Mayo Clinic soon.

Williams was enthralled with the finish of the second race, along with numerous others on hand, and anxiously awaited the outcome of a photo finish between Prophet’s Song and What A Score in race two (photo above).

The finish was so tight that everyone, including announcer Paul Allen, had to await delivery of the photo. “I think the inside has it, but maybe not,” said Williams. “What do you think Kianna? I’ll bet it’s the outside horse, but maybe not.”

How close was it?

“Well, if Paul Allen isn’t leaning one way or the other,” said Williams, “it’s probably a dead heat.”

It was Prophet’s Song and Martin Escobar by – as the photo showed – no more than the tip of her nose.

On an otherwise ordinary, gray day there was this additional bit of sunshine:

Daniel Vergara, moments before mounting Gadsden Purchase in the seventh race, responded to a question.

“Is Sophia a relative?” he was asked.

Vergara broke into laugher as he was given a leg up.

Perhaps he was still laughing when Allen made this comment midway through the race. “Bizet is moving up and Gadsden Purchase is losing ground.”

Allen had a chuckle himself when reminded later that we gained ground, parts of Arizona and New Mexico, with that particular purchase.

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.