By JIM WELLS
It had the trappings of a much bigger race with the paddock crowded, talk buzzing among the owners, and connections everywhere were hoping it was their day regardless of what the handicappers said.
Half of the field had run in the Lady Canterbury Stakes, Canterbury’s premiere race. Granted, the results varied widely, but just the same.
Randy Sampson, the track’s president and CEO was present. So was board member Dale Schenian.
“Good race. Good race,” said Schenian in the paddock. “Very competitive.”
“We’ve got an outside chance, a shot,” said trainer Lonnie Arterburn. “But it’s very competitive.”
Senor Luis Canchari, Louie the Glove from bygone days, saddled Diamond City, a big outsider at 30-1. Nonetheless, Senor Glove was dressed to the nines, in suit and hat, ready for the big show.
There was a field of 10 for the $35,000 Minnesota HBPA Mile, run on the Canterbury turf.
Anything can happen on race day, in such a race, but this one ran true to form with Derek Bell guiding Mac Robertson-trained 3/2 favorite Avenue Sister to the victory.
Bell got his mount to respond in the stretch drive for a victory over pacesetter and third choice Rare Sunset, ridden by Anne Von Rosen.
The winning owner, John Mentz of Lakeville, has four, originally five, horses with Robertson this summer. He has been in the game since 2001 when he won his first career race in the Claiming Crown Iron Horse that year. “We were hooked right there,” he said Saturday.
Avenue Sister was sent off as the favorite, based largely on her third place finish in the Lady Canterbury under Bell, who was supremely confident the entire race on Saturday.
“I figured we had this one won when the overnights came out,” he said.
Avenue Sister, a 4-year-old filly by Roar of the Tiger, did not disappoint. Bell was full of confidence in the stretch drive. “I had plenty of horse,” he said.
When he asked, Avenue Sister responded and steadily gained on Rare Sunset, who had moved well in front, by as much as 2 and ½ lengths at the half mile call, and finished ¾ lengths in front.
Rare Sunset had a full three lengths on Samantha’s Rule and Wilfredo Arroyo, sent off at 16 -1. In fourth was Mesa Mirage, ridden by Lori Keith, at 29-1.
For the record, senor Canchari’s horse, Diamond City, got left at the gate and finished last 19 lengths behind the ninth-place horse, Jeffell.
Bell was still smarting from the race immediately preceding the stake, after his mount, Joni’s Justice, reared in the gate and unseated him. His left thigh and arm were banged up and were bothering him after the stake. “I’m done now for the day, so that’s good,” he said.
All in all, it was a good day … He won two races, including the stake, and moved to within five of Dean Butler, who is leading the riding standings.
NOW IT’S BACK TO THE BOOKS
Tiffany Leggett, the horsemen’s bookkeeper, was offering cake to very special folks who stopped by to see her on Saturday. It was a delicious chocolate variety, soft and spongy on the tongue, marvelously palatable.
Saturday was Tiffany’s last day on the job. She left Saturday evening for Alamosa, Colo., and Adams State where she will be a junior.
Her degree fits quite nicely with her Canterbury job. She’s majoring in accounting.
Tiffany and her assistant in the office, Kelly Thorne, were trying to come up with a new scheme to lay on their buddy in the announcer’s booth on Saturday, Richard Grunder. They were trying to concoct something to top their latest prank, when they informed Grunder that every horse in a given race had been claimed.
A passerby was asked to contribute to the fund of ideas being collected. The individual suggested they inform Grunder that the last of the season’s turf races had just been run because a rare fungus, just discovered, had infiltrated the root system of the grass and would take several weeks to eradicate.
Tiffany politely considered the suggestion and then discarded it like yesterday’s newspaper.
Classes start on Monday, so Tiffany planned to hit the road as early as possible Saturday night. She wanted to leave enough time along the way to stop at Alamosa Race Track and watch a couple of races.