By Jim Wells
Sometimes the spoils go, quite simply, to the fastest horse. Never mind the various handicapping factors under consideration…the fastest, the swiftest, the speediest is often standing in the winner’s circle when all is said and done.
Veuve Clicquot is the latest example of that simple truth, validating it with simple clarity on Saturday, in the $57,325 Gopher State Quarter Horse Derby. First…gate to wire.
The fastest horse in the Derby trials was the fastest horse in the championship. It didn’t hurt, either, to have Stormy Smith in the irons, this journeyman known throughout the quarter horse world as the Bionic Man.
The 10-horse field included a colt, five geldings and four fillies, including the winner. She qualified in 19.87 and won the big event _ and $25,796 _ in 19.84, a half length in front of Spy for the Senate and another neck in front of Fast Bobby
The surprising element? The winner was sent off at 6-1. One Famous Ocean, ostensibly because of ownership connections to Wild goalie Alex Stalock and track announcer Paul Allen, was a 2-1 favorite but finished fourth.
“Good job,” said assistant trainer Mason Lincoln as Smith dismounted from Veuve in the winner’s circle.
Moments later, after the picture was taken, handshakes and hugs exchanged, Lincoln, filling in for Crawford, who was understandably preoccupied at Ruidoso on Saturday, hollered to Smith, “hey, you owe me a drink.”
Smith simply smiled and headed down the steps toward the jockey lounge. A former quarter horse riding champ at Canterbury Park, Smith said he will continue to show up throughout the meet in Shakopee for various races. “I won’t be staying,” he said, “but I’ll be here from time to time.”
Smith’s been called the Bionic Man for some time, an appellation derived from the numerous steel plates, wiring, pins and screws that hold together various parts of his anatomy.
Now 41, he originally thought his future lay in the rodeo. He rode the rough stock, the saddlebroncs and bareback horses, in his youth and was used to being “beat up.” But nothing like he has endured since he began race riding quarter horses, a career in which he has 6,344 starts, 993 wins, 934 seconds and 788 thirds for earnings of $16,999,434.
How tough has quarter horse racing been on the Bionic Man ?
Seven plates and two feet of wire hold together the right side of his face. There are two more plates and eight screws in his right shoulder. There is a steel rod and eight screws in his right leg, in addition to some reconstruction on the left side of his face.
That merely covers some of the reconstructive work he has undergone in two decades of riding, but not all of the fractures, some of them compound, that he has endured.
A horse that he was on one time threw its head, hammering his face, bucked him to the ground and kicked him in the head.
The horse’s trainer, who is his father-in-law, fired him afterward.
Race riding is a tough business sometimes…..in so very many ways.