Everything stopped for a few minutes about 5:15 Saturday afternoon in the grandstand at Canterbury Park. In the midst of all the usual sights and sounds at a racetrack, a palpable feeling of anticipation filled the facility from one corner to the next.
Here and there a fan, adult or child, had his or her fingers crossed as the call to post at Belmont Park was made.
Would Big Brown end a 30-year wait?
“Big Brown. Big Brown,” said Jake Mauer, who’s been selling tip sheets at the track since 1985. “Will there be a winner of the Triple Crown? No doubt.”
Others were merely hopeful, for the sake of racing.
“We need a Triple Crown winner,” said trainer Tammy Domenosky.
“The only thing is that something could happen,” said owner/breeder Art Eaton, shortly before Bella Notte notched another win for him and his wife, Gretchen, in the sixth race.
Most racing fans were confident that Big Brown would finish off the Triple Crown in convincing fashion, just as he did in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes.
“He’ll win by 20 and overwhelm the group,” said horse owner Bob Lindgren of Prior Lake. “He’ll finish first and the field will finish second.”
Horse owner Cam Casby was one of those with her fingers crossed, but there was no doubt about her allegiance on Saturday. She was wearing a brown blouse, brown skirt and brown boots.
“Have you ever seen me in brown before,” she asked rhetorically. “Nope. I never wear it. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed, just hoping he makes it around the track OK.”
Her words were almost prophetic.
Big Brown inexplicably had none of the fire or big run that carried him to resounding victories in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, and the Belmont victory went to a 38-1 outsider, Da’ Tara.
“It just goes to show you, there are no certainties in horse racing,” said Canterbury track announcer Paul Allen.
Well, the feature race on the card at Canterbury, the $50,000 Brooks Fields Stakes, did produce a very likely winner in a field that was reduced from 10 to six after the race was moved from a 7 ½ -furlong event on the grass to a mile on the dirt.
Prospective Kiss, owned by Jer-Mar Stables and trained by Mac Robertson, was an easy winner in the race, drawing off from Switzerland nearing the 1/16th pole for a three-length victory. It was another 12 ½ lengths back to Heza Wild Guy.
“Piece of cake,” said winning rider Derek Bell while exiting the winner’s circle.
“He ran a big race. He was dragging me around there today.”
Bell said the winning margin might have been even bigger if the winner could have kept his mind on business. “He looks around out there down the lane,” he said. “He might be able to win a graded race if he got his mind on business.”
Robertson and Jer-Mar stable owner Jerry Myers appreciated the big win, and spent some time needling one another afterward.
“You don’t see many seven-year-olds win stakes races,” Robertson said. “But at least this keeps the owner off my back for a while.”
“Well, he hasn’t gotten anything entered for me again until next Thursday,” Myers shot back. Owner and trainer agreed at that point that they would revel in the victory a while longer before turning their attention to future races.
That will hold them for awhile, but for most of the fans at Canterbury hoping to watch Big Brown make history, a single word summed up their feelings for the day.
BIG DAY FOR THE QUARTER HORSES
The Minnesota Quarter Horse Racing Association conducted its annual day at the races on Saturday, and completed the card with the $15,000 Minnesota Stallion Breeder’s Quarter Horse Derby and a maiden race.
Perennial training champ Ed Ross Hardy sent out a three-year old named Rare Inca Bug, a son of former Canterbury Derby winner and world champion One Rare Bug, for the Derby.
Somehow, this horse got away at 7-1 and paid a handsome $16.60 to win after nosing out Wheely Quick.
That brought cries of pain from everyone who overlooked the winner’s credentials. How was it possible to let an Ed Ross Hardy trainee get away at those odds?” a disgusted patron wondered.
Hardy’s horse in the race that followed, the MQHRA Classic, did not get away at such generous odds. Toast to Brendan made toast of eight rivals, winning by five lengths. He was an even-money winner under Tad Leggett, who also rode Rare Inca Bug.