Say it to anyone around the track and you’ll get an immediate look of understanding or a nod of respect. He works the gate. Stories abound around any racing community about accidents in the gate, about horses stomping, tearing or kicking a member of the gate crew into the next county.
“I’ve seen horses throw a guy around like a ragdoll,” said clerk of scales/jockey room custodian Jerry Simmons, who worked gates throughout the Midwest for two decades.
The most recent, local example of mayhem in the gate occurred on Saturday’s card, in the seventh race. The crew was trying to load the No. 2 horse, Surplus, when the four-year-old delivered a cow-kick into the groin of 25-year-old Jared Harris.
Harris was wearing the mandatory helmet and flak jacket required in Minnesota but it was of little use where he was kicked.
“I guess you’d call that a nice cow-kick,” he said Monday shortly before the fourth race (check out the video below).
Harris was observed in the hospital for three hours on Saturday and then released. He was back at work on Sunday’s card but still applying ice from time to time on Monday to the affected area. “We don’t want any swelling,” he said.
The kick caused Harris to hit the dirt as if he’d been leveled by a shotgun blast, a perfectly understandable result.
“I probably wouldn’t have had to go to the hospital if I’d been kicked in the chest or somewhere else,” Harris said. “But I wasn’t about to take a chance with this. No way was I going to take a chance.”
The dangers of working the gate are obvious to anyone familiar with racing, but the crew Harris is part of pretty much agrees they have the second most dangerous job on the track.
“The riders are No. 1. We’re No. 2,” said Harris.
Danger and injury don’t seem to deter these fellows from their jobs.
“The job is addictive,” said starter Larry Davila, who oversees the crew. “There is nothing more satisfying than keeping a horse under control and getting him out of the gate.”
Anyone who’s worked the gate has had to deal with injury of one kind or another.
Levi Vivier of Belford, N.D., broke a wrist.
Ed Butler, who rode at Canterbury in 2010, broke a knee working on a gate in 2007. But, as if to prove Harris’s earlier point, he broke his neck while riding last year at Ft. Pierre, S.D.
Simmons, one time, suffered a painful injury when a horse decided to take a bite out of his forehead and wound up sinking a tooth into his skull.
Local racing fans might recall the most devastating incident in Canterbury history. The accident occurred during the mid 1980s. Bobby Compton, a member of the gate crew, was killed when he fell as the gate pulled away from the starting line and a wheel crushed his chest.
HONOR THE HERO EXPRESS
The field included the defending champion, a Mac Robertson-trained veteran of Grade III competition and lots of speed on the front end.
Part of that early speed included the 2011 winner of the race, the Greg Boarman-trained Humble Smarty, who was sent off at 2-1. Silver Magnus, trained by Robertson, drew top attention at 6-5.
On this sunny, breezy afternoon, a horse named Santo Gato, a veteran of competition at Churchill Downs and the Fairgrounds, was a bit too sharp for his seven rivals and won the $35,000 turf express, run for the second year on the dirt.
Under Bobby Walker, jr., Santo Gato (photo above & video replay at the bottom of the post), a gelded-son of Kitten’s Joy, took charge at the eighth pole and hit the wire 1 ¼ lengths in front of Richmond, a 20-1 longshot trained by Mike Biehler and ridden by Lori Keith. Humble Smarty was another ½ length back.
No Peace At All, who wound up dead last, worried the winner’s trainer, Gary Scherer, a bit as he watched the race unfold down the backstretch. “I thought the nine horse was going to kill us on the backstretch,” Scherer said.
“I wasn’t going to let him kill us,” said winning rider Bobby Walker, Jr., who got his horse to stay close without extending himself until they hit the turn.
The winner is owned by Merrill Scherer, Dan Lynch and Ken Sentel.
SKIP ZIMMERMAN STAKES
Christine Hovey was on hand from Adel, Iowa, for the running of this 350-yard event and its $15,000-added purse money.
Hollywood Trickster (photo below & video replay at the bottom of the post), her horse in the race, made the trip worthwhile. The five-year-old son of the thoroughbred Favorite Trick was a convincing winner at 5-1 odds for trainer Ed Ross Hardy and rider Derek Bell, finishing in 17.903.
Bell, who typically rides thoroughbreds, had a terse, witty appraisal of the race afterward. “I didn’t have to rate him at all,” he said.
Hovey obviously was pleased with the result, although she might have been a bit skeptical on the trip from Iowa. Her horse prefers longer distances, although that wasn’t evident on Monday. Where’s Your Wagon, trained by Amy Wessels and ridden by Oscar Delgado, was second. Show Me The Wave, trained by Amber Blair and ridden by Mark Luark, was third.
On hand in the winner’s circle was Miss Rodeo Minnesota, Paige Oveson of Columbia Heights, as well as her father Jim. “My parents were good friends of Skip Zimmerman,” Paige explained.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Adolfo Morales rode back-to-back winners for trainer Clay Brinson, Boneafide Cat in the fourth race and Teton Motel in the fifth.
Trainer Larry Donlin had terse advice for Morales, who rode Know No Somerset for him in race six.
“Just pretend this is a Brinson horse,” Donlin told him.
HONOR THE HERO & SKIP ZIMMERMAN STAKES REPLAYS
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.
Photo Credit: Coady Photography
Video Credit: Jon Mikkelson & Canterbury Park Television Department