Balmy weather, dollar hot dogs and who knows what else were enough to produce the largest turnout for a Thursday night card this summer.
Anywhere you cared to look, there were human beings. The grandstand apron during races was packed tightly with bodies. The outdoor section on the second level of the grandstand was filled to capacity much of the evening.
It was crowded enough that a Shakopee raccoon chose a seat on top of the sign next to the large television screen in the infield.
“I can’t believe he’s still there,” said one fan moments before the fifth race. “He was there for the first race and he’s still there.”
Meanwhile, Ry Eikleberry got the card off with a statement, winning three of the first four races, including one for Joyce and Wally (the Beerman) McNeil on his 77th birthday.
Eikleberry hand, has shown signs the past week of picking up his game. Thursday night’s effort was the most recent indication.
In race one he was on Crown the Cat, the horse with 63 owners, 62 of them members of the club founded and overseen by media relations impresario Jeff Maday.
Eikleberry didn’t have a mount in race two, won by Piccolinni, a filly ridden by Luis Robletto and trained by Bruce Riecken.
But he teamed up with Bernell Rhone on Snuggilin Jo Jo to win race three.
“There was no pace in either of those races,” Eikleberry said with a shrug.
There was, however, when Eikleberry brought home Wally’s birthday gift, taking advantage in that case of a front-end duel between Mane Slick and Gents Suprem Lady aboard Lady Beryl.
From no pace in the first two races to plenty of pace and a winner again.
“You can do that if you have enough horse,” Eikleberry said. “She’s a nice filly but she’s been a bit disappointing. Maybe this will help her confidence.”
Breaking Eikleberry’s hold was Nik Goodwin aboard post-time favorite Casey’s On Call in race five, the start of what he hopes will be another good week after the best of his Canterbury career last week when he rode seven winners.
Trained by Clay Brinson, Casey’s On Call went to the lead and appeared headed straight to the winner’s circle until Dalliance, with Dean Butler up, hooked him in the stretch drive. Casey shed that challenge inside the final 16th and won for the fourth consecutive time.
“He could have given it up there,” said Goodwin, “but he went on about his business. I really like that horse.”
So, another, even better week under way?
“Well, I’ll have to win two a day,” Goodwin said.
That didn’t happen Thursday, so he’ll need three on one of the week’s three remaining cards.
TRAINER OF THE WEEK
Randy Pfeifer calls northern Minnesota home right now, about 20 miles north of St. Cloud, but he is a native of McLaughlin, S.D., a whistle stop on the Standing Rock Reservation.
He has a 10-horse stable in Shakopee this summer and sent out two winners on July 20, his third and fourth of the meet, enough to earn trainer of the week. Pfeifer does all his own work. He breeds, breaks and gallops his own horses, sometimes at his own peril.
Take an incident a few years ago back in South Dakota. He was on a horse some distance from the barn when it decided it wanted no further part of the work. “He went one way and I went another,” said Pfeifer, who ended up with a broken leg.
The horse wasn’t about to go for help so Pfeifer handled matters the only way available. He crawled home.
“It was about a half mile,” he said.
GROOM OF THE WEEK
Rachel LaCount has worked in the Bruce Riecken barn for three years and handles just about every task in the place.
She grooms Tricksters Queen, Sol Fire and Cubfanbudman, and was honored this week for her unfailing devotion and attention to duty in the barn.