DELIGHTFUL DAY INCLUDES A FEW GROANS
BY JIM WELLS
Sun, light breezes, brightly colored hats of various shapes and sizes, excitement from the top of the grandstand to the apron, everywhere you looked on Saturday there were signs of a special afternoon.
It was Belmont Stakes day, and there were 9,507 folks on hand.
Business was light at the Hat Trix on the second level of the grandstand, where a woman could find the hat of her choosing: wide-brimmed, narrow-brimmed, flowers or feathers, pink, red, brown, yellow, black.
Kentucky Derby day was better for selling hats.
There was only one sign of discontent, registered at the finish of the Belmont Stakes with groans, moans and other exhibits of disbelief when Ruler On Ice, at 24-1, finished just in front of Stay Thirsty at 13-1.
Kentucky Derby and Preakness runnerup Animal Kingdom, the Belmont choice, wound up trailing the field after he clipped heels with another horse and John Velazquez lost a stirrup shortly out of the gate. Animal Kingdom made a game run at the leaders but tired badly in the stretch drive.
Meanwhile, the Canterbury crowd exulted in a $52 winner, a pair of wins from a rider celebrating his birthday, a hat trick from rider Derek Bell, who registered three wins on the card.
TWO WINNERS IN ONE RACE
What a way to break your maiden.
Horse and trainer.
Casino Charley ran away from the competition in race four, a sprint for maiden claimers, with Wilfredo Arroyo in the irons.
At odds of 25-1.
“I just kept hoping he wouldn’t run out of gas,” said trainer Laddie Litfin.
Clearly, a lot of folks thought he would, with reason.
In his two previous starts, both in 2010, he finished out of the money both times, by a combined 44 lengths.
“He had a lot of trust issues we had to work out of him,” said Litfin. “He was in bad shape.”
The therapy worked, and Litfin celebrated with his first career win as a trainer, an occupation he entered two years ago after retiring from the construction business.
Winning on Saturday was not part of Laddie’s expectations. “We were just hoping for a good race,” he said, “maybe finishing in the top five. I never expected to win.”
Litfin lives about 30 miles south of Duluth. “I’ve been around race horses all my life,” he said. “But my son, Nevada, has been training for me.”
Saturday, Laddie did his own saddling and the result was a $52.20 payoff on a $2 ticket.
THE BIRTHDAY BOY
Justin Dugas turned 19 on Saturday and celebrated the occasion with two trips to the winner’s circle.
He got his first winner early in the card, in race two, with Cliff’s Reign, a three-year-old filly trained by Mike Biehler and owned by Al and Bill Ulwelling.
He got the second winner in race five aboard Jalal, a 4-year-old filly trained by Nicole L. Walt and owned by Delmar Pettigrew.
As he bounded into the jockey’s lounge, the kudos began. “Nice ride, Dustin.”
“Thanks,” he said.
Dugas, born and raised in New Orleans, began riding three years ago at Louisiana Downs before moving on to the Fair Grounds.
His incentive for the move to Shakopee?
“Gary Scherer talked me into it,” he said.
So far, so good.
“I like the weather,” he said. “It’s ideal for raceriding. I tell that to all my friends in New Orleans when they call complaining about how hot it is.”
NO NEED TO START THE FURNACE IN ARIZONA
The fires devastating northern Arizona have had far-reaching effects.
All the way to Minnesota in some cases.
Jockey Scott Stevens, who lives in Phoenix, was talking the other day about some people he knows who had to abandon all to save their lives. Convinced they were safe, they stayed on the ranch but ended up hightailing it when conditions changed.
“They had gotten word they were fine and then the wind shifted,” Stevens said. “They could have moved all their horses earlier, but wound up setting them all loose.”
Not everyone with cabins or homes in the north were affected.
Canterbury Hall of Fame trainer Dave Van Winkle owns a three-bedroom, two-bath cabin near Heber. “The fire started about 10 miles east of us and moved east,” he said. “I think we’ll be just fine.”
A COAT OF A DIFFERENT COLOR
Yes, that was Jerry Livingston Friday night in the sportcoat.
Granted, it did have the western piping on the front shoulders back yoke, but still a bit unusual for the man. Livingston in sportcoat is akin to Lady Gaga in, oh, an ensemble from JC Penney.
Still, there he was looking as if he was headed to a wedding dance later, maybe a bar mitzvah or graduation exercise of some kind.
The conjecture ran wild. Was he opening a business, headed to a formal nightclub after the races or simply entertaining some high falutin’ clients from KC?
Much simpler than that.
He didn’t have an available jacket and the weather had turned a bit chilly for a Kansas boy. “I had to wear somethin’ to stay warm,” he said.