Thrills and Chills of Extreme Day

Zebra Start 7-20-13

Canterbury Park will send out exotic animals and accompanying jockeys for Saturday’s annual Extreme Day, an occasion when caution and civility are thrown to the wind and some people are caught downwind from the camels, zebras and ostriches. It is an occasion of fun and games along with the regularly featured thoroughbred races, including a few of an extreme nature.

During his second season as a jockey Ry Eikleberry consented to riding an ostrich during a promotion at Turf Paradise in Phoenix. Listening to him retell the occasion, it sounds as if the memory isn’t about to fade anytime soon.

Eikleberry climbed aboard the big bird in the claustrophobic confines of the starting gate prepared to break cleanly and swiftly, in the fashion he always anticpates aboard a horse.

One problem.

“The bird turned its head and looked right at me,” he said.

Creepy?

It goes without saying, but the ordeal wasn’t over.

“Then it kept trying to peck me,” he said.

So, there he is, aboard a nice pair of Nocona exotic boots, and the thing was prepared to eat him.

Will that stop him from riding an ostrich during Canterbury Park’s Extreme Day promotion on Saturday?

Yup!

Eikleberry is leading all riders in the current standings in Shakopee. Who in his right mind would jeopardize that by risking a disabling peck in the eye from a bird that has been known to kick a human being to high heaven for simply looking at him…or her.

Not Eikleberry. He’s taking a philosophic approach to Canterbury’s Extreme Day and the chance to ride an ostrich, a camel or even a zebra.

Thanks. But no thanks.

“It was fun,” he said about the ostrich ride. “A real good, one-time experience.”

He will be part of other Extreme Day activities nonetheless.

He will ride Oughterson in the seventh race as the Battle of the Surfaces returns, with some minor adjustments. Races will be run simultaneously on the dirt and turf courses, but for wagering purposes it will be a single race.

That event will feature the largest field in the nation this year with a contingent of 20 horses, besting even the Kentucky Derby and its annual cavalry charge by one.

Twelve horses are entered to run on the grass, the other eight on the dirt.

You might recall that one of the starting gates failed to open in 2008 when this race was run for the second time. It is emerging from the ashes Phoenix-like for its first running since.

The grass horses will run a mile and 1/16 and those on the dirt a flat mile. Racing officials have analyzed the varying speeds of the two surfaces and the class of horses entered in the two fields to account for the difference.

Some of the jockeys aren’t so sure about that.

“A mile is a mile is a mile,” one of them responded.

Canterbury apparently will take everything to an extreme on Saturday.

Eikleberry will ride a horse called Rebel’s Myne in the sixth race, at a mere two furlongs. “I’ve ridden a lot of babies two furlongs.” he said. “But this is the first time I’ve ridden an older horse that distance.”

Canterbury Park Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens will leave the exotic rides to the youngsters. He’s had enough spills and wrecks for one lifetime without setting himself up for a possible peck or two from an ostrich, a bite from a zebra or camel spit in an eye.

Besides, camels have been known to transmit the dreaded MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) virus to human beings, although pressbox impressario Jeff Maday is not in the least concerned.

“These camels were bred in Kansas,” he said. “No need to worry.”

Tell that to Lori Keith, who rode one of the smelly fellows to victory a couple of years ago. “I didn’t know they spit at you,” she said at the time.” Nonetheless, Keith was aboard the winning Rock N’ Spit.

There are also zebra races scheduled, and Keith was able to supply some insight on those beasts as well, supplied by trainer Mike Biehler. “He said they are kind of ornery and very hard to break,” she said.

In addition, one of the striped devils from a previous Extreme Day had the termerity on an occasion to bite off its trainer’s thumb..

Keith has the mount on Little Wagon in the Battle of the Surfaces, on the turf. She is foregoing another opportunity on the camels or ostriches, content to leave that to the track’s youngest riders, who still believe they are bullet-proof.

Despite her reluctance to mount another camel, the two-time winner of the Mystic Lake Derby likes the Extreme Day promotion.

“It’s good to cultivate the younger population, and this is good publicity-wise for Canterbury,” she said.

Although camels or zebras are not among his mounts on the card, Stevens will ride Ivory Fudge for trainer Robertino Diodoro on the main track in the Battle of the Surfaces race. He has the call on My Fine Lady in the sixth race, the two-furlong dash.

As one example for his enduring success at race-riding, Stevens pointed out some facts about one of his rivals in that race, an indication that he continues to do his homework.

Jorge Correno rides Just Meteor, a winner at five furlongs in his only Canterbury out. He has a six-race winning streak. “It would be 10 but he finished second in two races by a nose and a neck,” Stevens said.

Even so, he figures to be in the race. “I like my chances,” he said. “My filly is fast, real fast.” A nice feature in any race, yet especially at two furlongs.

 BY JIM WELLS

 

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