A SILVER TOUCH TO A GOLDEN FESTIVAL

By JIM WELLS

Here are the details, as they occur only in horse racing, a sport that at times resembles extended family as much as it does industry:

On Sept. 12, 1992 the first Minnesota Festival of Champion was conducted, put together entirely by Minnesota horsemen for Minnesota horsemen and their Minnesota-bred horses.

There was a winner that afternoon in the very first Minnesota Sprint Championship by the name of Silver Me Timbers, the sale-topper at the 1989 Select Minnesota Yearling Sale, a $19,000 purchase by Jan and Connie Chumas out of the first crop of Silver Ghost.

Silver Me Timbers had been bred by Art and Gretchen Eaton, who were in racing at the time with the intention of breeding only, something that changed suddenly when one of their horses didn’t sell at sale and they wound up racing him.

Good thing for Minnesota racing. The Eatons will race today in the 18th running of the Festival as the event leaders with nine wins.

The second of the two horses they have entered on today’s card is Suddenly Silver, a seven-year-old gelding from one of the last crops of Silver Ghost.

It so happens he will be ridden by Derek Bell, the leading rider in Festival history with 20 wins. So, Hall of Fame owners/breeders will team up with a Hall of Fame rider to run a horse whose half brother won on Festival Day nineteen years ago.

Suddenly Silver is no stranger to the race. He won the Classic in 2008 and in 2010 and was second in 2009.

Told about the historic connections to the inaugural Festival, Bell mulled over the details. “That’s pretty cool,” he said.

Bell has been on Suddenly Silver several times, including his 2008 Classic win and second-place finish in the 2009 running of the same event.

“He’s a good horse. He can win, but he’ll have to beat Black Tie Benny. I don’t know if he can.”

There are “horses to beat” in the other Festival events, too.

The $15,000 Quarter Horse Futurity will feature Streak N Hot, owned and trained by Dale Haglund, who has won twice and finished second twice from five starts.

Brent Clay chases his second $15,000- Derby win with morning line choice Lien On Me. Seis it Fast, the 2010 Horse of the Meeting, is in the field of nine, too, but is winless this year in six outs.

The Eatons are the owners/breeders of Bella Notte, the two-time defending champion of the $50,000 Distaff Sprint who will be favored slightly over Chick Fight. Both horses are from the Mac Robertson barn.

Nomorewineforeddie is the defending champ of the $50,000 Sprint Championship and will again face Bizet the 2010 runnerup and 2009 winner of the race.

The favorite in the $55,000 Northern Lights Futurity is likely Heliskier, owned by Marlene Covlin and trained by Robertson.

Tubby Time has won three straight on the grass and is the horse to beat in the $35,000 Turf Championship.

The horse beat in the $55,000 Northern Lights Debutante is Jills Summer Raine, trained by Doug Oliver and ridden by Lori Keith.

Sheso Dazzling, with Bell up, will be the filly to beat in the $50,000 Distaff Classic. She and Tubby Time are contenders Horse of the Meet.

Two decades ago, Gretchen Eaton was certain she and Art were in the horse business as breeders only, but she had reservations just the same after the sale of Silver Me Timbers at the 1989 yearling sale.

“We were staying at the Canterbury Inn after the sale. I went to check on the horses and Connie (Chumas) was there giving the horse a carrot. I thought then that everything was OK, that the horse had a good home,” Gretchen said.

That recollection surfaced as Eaton thought about that day many years ago, before Silver Me Timbers proved his mettle in the inaugural Festival Sprint.

The Festival has come to mean different things to different people, but she summed it up in these terms:

“It’s the Academy Awards for Minnesota-bred horses.”

Art Eaton:

“It’s like a homecoming game in football.”.

The kickoff is at 1:30 p.m. today with nine championship races and more than $400,000 at stake.

NEVER SAY NEVER

Supreme Ghost is four years old but had not won in six career starts. Then again, Supreme Ghost, an absolutely gorgeous silver/roan, had undergone some infirmities in his young life.

First there was time he was cast in his stall and injured a hock that swelled to the size of a beach ball. Then he injured a tendon. Consequently, Supreme Ghost did not race at all as a three-year-old and was in danger of being retired to pasture.

If he goes on a pension now, it won’t be as a non-winner.

There he was in Saturday’s fourth race huffing and puffing toward the finish line, on the lead and headed for win No. 1. Inside the 16th pole, he looked ready to quit, once, twice, but each time he wanted to cash it in, Paul Nolan gave him a reminder with the stick. Each time he lurched forward a foot or two, enough to propel his body another jump. He got there just in time.

A much appreciated win for the horse, his owners _ Carin Offerman and Dennis Strohkirch _ his rider and his trainer, Troy Bethke.

“I didn’t think the wire was ever going to come up,” said Bethke.

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