ALL HATS OFF TO THE DERBY

Malibu Max wins $50,000 Paul Bunyan Stakes

By JIM WELLS

There are idioms galore in our language that explain the many uses of a hat, that item someone wears upon the head for effect, protocol or simply to keep the rain from drenching one’s skull.

You can keep something under one’s hat if you want to keep a secret. You might come hat in hand, looking for sympathy or in acknowledgement of wrong doing. You can take your hat off to someone in a salute to achievement. You can talk through your hat if you are trying to run for president or sell someone a car that doesn’t operate. You can throw your hat into the ring if you want to join a competition for, say, mayor of the town.

Or you can wear a hat because it is Kentucky Derby day, and the more outrageous the styling, the more apt you are to fit in. There were all sorts of examples on Saturday for the 144th running of the Derby, telecast at Canterbury Park as the part of the second day of live racing.

There were wide and narrow-brimmed hats of purple, black, white, blue, brown, grey and red, hats with large ribbons and small bows and small ribbons and large bows. There were women in hats, teenagers in hats and even small girls in hats. There was even a hat, worn in this instance by a man, that included a horse’s head on the front of the brim. One couple showed up, he in Kelly green suit, hat and tie and she in Kelly green dress, shoes and wide brimmed hat.

There are other sides to any argument, of course, or manner of reference, and one of those was pointed out by the baseball writer for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, LaVelle E. Neal III, when he asked if a winner had been determined for the finest “bonnet” of the day, taking a lot of steam out of use of the word “hat.”

Yet, a hat by any other name is just as recognizable, and tradition is still tradition when it comes to the Kentucky Derby, which drew a late-arriving crowd to Canterbury Park on Saturday.

A turnout of  19,326 watched heavy favorite Justify demonstrate that he might indeed be the next super horse; arguments have already been constructed portraying him as the next Triple Crown winner.

He not only lived up to the expectations of his backers, he did so over a sloppy track, taking command of the race under Mike Smith, who started his career at Canterbury Downs and is a member of the track’s Hall of Fame.

Saturday’s live card included two stakes races that attracted small fields and were reduced even further by scratches. The $50,000 guaranteed L’Etoile du Nord Stakes was carded as a five-horse race and was reduced to four runners after the Mac Robertson-trained Thoughtless reportedly bled during a morning gallop and was removed from the lineup.

Under Orlando Mojica, Fight to Glory went off the favorite at 3/2 and backed up that confidence with an easy win, galloping home easily in front, with four lengths on Hotshot Anna and 11 ¼ on Escape Clause.

The winner came home in a sizzling 1:09.46, the fastest six furlongs at Canterbury in two years.

Fight to Glory broke behind Escape Clause and went to the front quickly, widening an early advantage at every call.

“I just got position, tapped her a couple of times and looked back,” said Mojica. “We were two, three and four in front so I put away the stick and rode her home.”

The next stakes race on the card, the $50,000 Paul Bunyan Stakes, fared even worse after a six-horse field was reduced to three with three scratches. Jareth Loveberry, last year’s riding champion at Canterbury, brought home the winner in that one, Malibu Max, the 4/5 favorite and a two-length winner over Bourbon Cowboy.

The most significant aspect to that win, said Loveberry, was that he, trainer Mac Robertson and owner Joe Novogratz had just duplicated their first win of the Oaklawn Park meet as a trio by winning a stakes race at Canterbury too.

Now, Loveberry, Leandro Goncalves, Dean Butler and Ry Eikleberry, all champions at Canterbury,  will fight it out, first in the barns for mounts, and then aboard those horses on the racetrack, over the next 68 days of racing as they take on an exceptionally deep crop of riders.

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