BY JIM WELLS
Helene Kaplan was one of the first people to reach the winner’s circle after the second race Friday night.
She had hoped to be there one race earlier, but Fight On Gino took the night off and finished out of the money.
Not so with Clever Thought, who hung on with Juan Rivera in the saddle to win race two. “Helene got down there before I did,” said Ralph Strangis, whose son Paul is part owner in the winning horse along with Tom and Karen Metzen.
The significance of Strangis’s statement becomes more apparent if you know that Helene is 94 and was getting around Friday night without the cane she sometimes relies on after breaking her back in a fall two years ago. “It’s too much stuff to carry,” she explained.
Helene is the recent widow of Sheldon Kaplan, a prominent Minneapolis attorney and one time board member of the Minnesota Vikings. Sheldon got involved in racing when Canterbury opened in 1985. He remained active until his death a week ago at 96.
Now it is up to Helene to carry on this allegiance to racing that began with such notable runners at Canterbury as Cachuma, one of the track’s early stars.
One of the first things she did after Clever Thought’s victory was head to the racing office to renew her owner’s license. “You know, they predicted that we’d have rain off and on today,” Helene said after getting dampened a bit outdoors. “But it’s been mostly on.”
So, too, was Clever Thought. The first race was supposed to have included a memorial tribute on the winner’s picture to Sheldon Kaplan, but it didn’t seem quite appropriate when Fight On Gino didn’t display much fight.
So, media relations director Jeff Maday deftly had the memorial notation shifted to the second race, a gesture that Helene truly appreciated. “He’s very sweet,” she said.
Upon renewing her license Friday, Helene decided to keep the same picture on her owner’s badge that she’s used for the past eight years or so. “This might be the last year I get away with it,” she said.
Small cakes bearing either a horseshoe or a fish accompanied the memorial dinner for Sheldon Kaplan last Tuesday. “His favorite sports were football, golf and horse racing,” Helene said, “but his favorite activities were the horses and fishing.”
Clearly, horse racing occupies a special place with Helene, too.
“Helene asked me one time if she could name some of the babies when they’re born,” Karen Metzen said. “She came up with a list that was incredible. Any one of them would be a great name for a horse.”
Helene, of course, has a history of coming up with good names…and ideas. She, Diane Page and Miriam Kelen own Leapfrog Associates. “We think up products and name them,” Helene said.
That ubiquitous milk moustache?
That was Helene’s idea.
She was part of the team that produced that idea in the mid 1950s.
“That’s the one I’m most proud of,” she said.
She was proud, too, on Friday of Clever Thought, although a bit disappointed that the horse was claimed by trainer Kevin Eilkeberry for some of his owners.
“We’ll get her back,” Helene said. “She’s a good horse.”
She was a great horse, a special horse on Friday.
WHAT ARE THE ODDS?
Tracy Black and his wife, Pam, were stationed near a television monitor Friday night when they heard the name Jerry Kill mentioned.
They didn’t think much of it at first until they looked up and discovered that Kill was present at the track.
“We went running,” said Pam.
With good reason.
Tracy Black and Kill were runnin’ buddies at one time back in Cheney, Kan., but hadn’t seen one another in several years. “We played sports together, ran together,” Kill said. “I worked for their dad, baling hay and helping out on the farm.”
The odds of such a chance meeting?
“Can’t believe it,” Tracy said. “We nearly grew up together.”
Kill, the new University of Minnesota football coach and several of his assistants visited the track on Friday night with horseman Steve Erban, who frequently puts trips together for Gophers games in several sports.
Tracy Black and his family were here to see some of his brother Casey’s horses run. “Those boys knew how to work,” said Kill. “They throw bales with the best of them.”
Of such stuff is the alignment of the stars sometimes made.