Canterbury Park, Shakopee, Minn logo

Angel’s Music Still Sings

angelmusicLil’ Apollo completed his preening for the camera and headed back to the barn as his owner stood in the winner’s circle and discussed what had just taken place.

Lil’ Apollo, a bay gelding by Added Edge out of Lil’ Mo Rhythm, minutes earlier had left six rivals in a puff of dust with his stretch run to win the $75,000 Minnesota Derby August 10 and his tasty slice of that financial pie, $45,000.

Now, Alice Theisen, the horse’s breeder and owner, her daughter Shaley at her side, discussed the winning horse’s background, bloodlines and the very tenuous circumstances under which Lil’ Apollo was even part of this world.

Shaley, it turned out later in the discussion, was hoping to embark on a trip to continue studying the Russian language, a mere one-seventh of her repertoire that includes Spanish, French, German, Italian, Mandarin Chinese and, of course, English.

It was Alice’s day to speak, however, so the story was told in English, much to the approval of those speaking with her and recording details of this heart-rending tale.

There is a history to this story that keeps it quite Minnesotan in nature, not a bad detail if you are from Albany as are Theisen and the horse’s trainer, Randy Pfeifer.

Lil’ Mo Rhythm, you see, broke her maiden in the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association Auction Stakes. She won another N2L allowance race before bowing a tendon and getting removed from active duty.

She had a new job assignment awaiting her. “She was built so good we thought she’d be a good broodmare,” said Theisen.

Just like her mama, who was the start to this particular story, to which another chapter was added August 10.

Theisen made a trip in 1996 to an annual horse sale in Albany hoping to get lucky enough to find a thoroughbred. “We had a mare at the time and we were looking for another one to go with her,” Theisen said.

Inquiring around the barn she was told that, yes, indeed, there were a couple of thoroughbreds on the grounds. Both had papers on them and were awaiting a sale of one kind or the other, their futures dubious at best.

The mare that Theisen rescued from the barn that day was Angel Music, who would later give life to Lil’ Mo Rhythm.

“Angel was the start of it all,” said Theisen.”I really loved that mare.”

Angel Music was probably 14 years old at time she was purchased by Theisen and managed to foal four horses for her in the years that followed.

Among them were Classic Nix, winner of the 2002 Princess Elaine, and a horse named Music Mission, who got only as far as non-winners of two allowance status. “There was a gray in there, too,” Alice said, “that didn’t break his maiden.” There were others, too, before Theisen discovered Angel Music in the back of the barn at the Albany sale. “I think that mare had quite a few North Dakota-breds before we got her,” she said.”But I don’t think any of them ever made it to the track.”

Theisen said there was another reason that Angel Music was appealing to her that day. “She was bred to a paint at the time and we thought maybe we could get a colorful baby, but that didn’t happen. She also had Stop the Music bloodlines.”

Now, all these years later Angel Music had come to mind once more after her grandson, Lil’ Apollo, surprised lots of folks at Canterbury Park, including Theisen herself to a certain extent. What she couldn’t quite fathom, however, was how the crowd let this horse get away at 7-1 odds. Yet, it was tough to dwell on that notion long in view of the check that Lil’ Apollo had just collected.

Theisen has been in racing since 1983. “I started out in Rapid City, S.D.,” she said. In 1985 she began ponying horses for Pfeifer. Together they have been raising Minnesota-breds for 16 years. They took two home with them from the recent sale at Canterbury Park. In addition to driving over-the-road truck, generally to the Northwest, Theisen raises cattle at her Albany place and sells quarters of beef. “Never had anyone dislike our beef,” she said.

All of that, of course, is a necessary part of the financial equation that helps keep her in horse racing with thoroughbreds such as Lil’ Apollo and at one time, of course, his grand-dam.

“I guess she must have been just about 20 when we lost her,” Theisen recalled.” She colic-ed and died in my arms.

“I really liked that horse. She had three good ones while she was here.”