By Jim Wells
There were horses named Famous Bank and there Goes My Wallet, each with a connotation of wealth or the loss thereof.
But the real money in this race was on AJs High, a four-year-old gelding by Apolitical Jess with a flashy resume and the speed to go with it.
Sent off at 1-5, AJs High, a tightly wound and at times fractious fellow, was nearly a model of decorum Sunday and used a late surge to outrun There Goes My Wallet (3-1) by a whisker. Almost exclusively a competitor at Remington Park, AJ came north with trainer Charlie Hunt for this race, the Canterbury Park Challenge Championship and the $66,690 purse that made it worth the trip.
He made it worth the while for his owner/breeder Michael Teel, for Hunt and for the only man who has ever ridden him, Stormy Smith, who won both quarter horse stakes on the card.
As he awaited the race, Smith, who had been on AJ’s back for his previous 16 starts, was asked how he managed to secure the mount without interruption. “We’re the only two who understand one another,” Smith said. “He’s a bit insane but that’s easy to tolerate because he keeps winning.”
Winning? Without a doubt. AJs now has 12 wins and a show from 17 career starts with earnings of near $500,000.
On Sunday, AJ, who is mellowing with time according to his trainer and who is on edge only on race day according to his owner, was fairly well behaved in the gate as he awaited the start of the race.
“Oh, yeah,” he’s easy to graze, just another horse,” said Teel. “But now today, he was bowing his neck. He knew it was race day.”
Previously, he has carried his antics into the gate, sometimes with unfavorable results.
“Once he acts up, it usually continues,” said Smith. “But this time the only thing he did (in the gate) was sit down once like a great big dog.”
Then he picked the competition’s pockets, edging There Goes My Wallet at 3-1 by a fraction in a winning time of 21.919, with Famous Bank third and Fantsy Pants next.
The race was the first at Canterbury for the winner, who nonetheless is spending his third summer in Shakopee. In the past he has merely stayed in condition for the races in Iowa, staying loose and competitive with frequent trips to the stable-area pool.
“All he’s done previously here is swim,” said his trainer.
Sunday, AJs High added “win” to that local resume.
Smith was calling Sunday “a good day” after making consecutive appearances to the winner’s circle in the card’s stakes races.
Breeder Larry Sharp was calling it “a good day” too, as was trainer Casey Black.
“That will do it,” Sharp said as he entered the winner’s circle. Jerry Livingston, a fellow trainer and long-time friend, had already told Sharp that he was buying.
“I’ve given that up,” Sharp deadpanned.
Winning a race worth $39,150 will do that for a fellow’s spirits.
And Bye Bye Birdy, a four-year-old filly whose dam is Sweet Bye and Bye, not only won this race by a half length over Political Nonsense, but stirred memories of a movie with the same name and young lady named Ann Margaret.
The breeder of the winner, who is known for his Sharp wit, looked at the tote board as the horses entered the gate and couldn’t believe his eyes. “She was 4-1 and I knew she could beat this bunch, ” Sharp said. “The one way to stop her was if I bet two bucks.”
Apparently, he didn’t.
Bye Bye Birdy broke from the five hole with Fortune In a Wagon from the eight hole. “That horse on the outside gave us something to run at,” said Smith.
Bye Bye Birdy shot right past and Fortune In a Wagon settled for a dead heat for show with My Girls Toasted.
And Smith, Black, Sharp and owner Barbara Barley (Sharp’s sister) had reason to celebrate.