By Rebecca Roush
Nearly 15 years ago, on August 14, 2003 long-time trainer Bernell Rhone won six of the seven races in which his horses were entered at Canterbury Park. The career-record day was one that Rhone can still recall. “Before that, I had never been in the winner’s circle more than three times on a given day.”
That Thursday evening started out rocky for Rhone as Target Stripes, the horse that he saw as having the “best shot to win a race” finished fifth. “I remember thinking to myself after the first race that I had a long night ahead of me,” he recalled. The next thing Rhone knew he was called to the winner’s circle after every race that his horses were in.
Rhone says that some of the wins that night “came out of nowhere.” In the eighth race Belle American, a longshot ridden by Leslie Mawing, took first and Rhone’s other horse, the race’s favorite, Smilin’ Ali took last. “I just couldn’t believe the outcome of that race,” Rhone commented.
The sixth win of the night came from jockey Mike Ziegler. “That was such a long time ago,” said Ziegler. The only thing he recalls from the race was that fact that he was not supposed to get the mount to begin with, but ended up taking it for jockey Derek Bell who became ill before the race and couldn’t ride. “I didn’t ride many horses for Rhone, but I am happy to be a part of such a special night in his career,” Ziegler added.
Before the Shakopee, Minn. racetrack opened, Rhone trained horses at tracks throughout Canada and the Midwestern United States. In 1984, a year before Canterbury opened; he brought many of his horses to a farm in St. Peter, where he got them ready to run at the new facility. He recalls driving along Flying Cloud Drive and seeing large cranes piece together the grandstand. “Before the track opened, there wasn’t much to do in the area,” Rhone commented. “The track brought something really special to the community.”
The next thing Rhone recalls was Canterbury Downs being ready to open for its first season and he was “eager to get in on the action.” In fact, Rhone was the first in line at the stable gates with his trailer.
On Canterbury’s opening day, Rhone recalls the traffic being so “backed up”, that he almost didn’t make it to the races in time to see his horse run. “People were just pouring in,” he said. “There was one point where one of the jockeys, Vicki Warhol, had to park her car in a ditch and run across the field to make it in time for her mount,” Rhone recalled.
Rhone had just eight horses in training during his first year at Canterbury and needed little help with caring for them. “My wife was the only help that I needed at the time,” he said. When he first started out here, he would even gallop his own horses. Today, Rhone has 52 horses in his barn, which understandably requires more help than years ago.
Since coming to Canterbury, and he has never missed a season, Rhone has been on the leader board many times, won the training title in 1996, and is the all-time winningest trainer in the history of the track. He is also a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame, where he is recognized as a Champion Trainer for his many accomplishments.