By Jim Wells
On Preakness Stakes Saturday, the sun was absent, the temperature 49 degrees with easterly winds of 14 mph and the humidity a damp 74 percent, which, all combined, produced the feeling it was about to snow.
Do not let that missing element fool you. It was still much like an early winter day.
“Man it’s cold,” was the common refrain. Some valets were wrapped in hooded sweatshirts beneath jackets. Rider Eddie Martin, Jr. wore a head-wrap beneath his helmet.
Nonetheless, Canterbury’s current leading rider, Franciso Arrieta, put a spotlight on the afternoon by sweeping both stakes races as part of a hat trick for the card.
The track was listed as muddy throughout the nine-race card that concluded with a simulcast of the lackluster Preakness Stakes.
“Small (crowd) turnout because there is no (possible) Triple Crown horse,” was another common sentiment. The problem with that point of view is that it excluded the weather forecast, which indicated heavy rain throughout the day, and the downright chilly air. The skies stayed dry throughout the card, but, again, the combination of temperature, breeze and humidity created an atmosphere not unlike late November. Then again, we are talking Minnesota weather here, so what’s to discuss.
The card included two stakes races for Minnesota-bred horses, the 10,000 Lakes Stakes and the Lady Slipper Stakes, both worth $50,000.
For that kind of money, a shot at $30,000 to the winner, you might expect a lineup of, oh, say, six or seven horses on the low side.
By post time, though, there were three horses in the gate for the 10,000 Lakes after A P is Loose and Mr. Jagermeister both scratched.
“Hey, with one more scratch, we could have a match race,” was heard from more than one trackside analyst.
The day, as it turned out, did indeed belong to Arrieta, who gave Hot Shot Kid the ideal ride, suited to the circumstances.
“He’s been riding a lot of good horses, fast horses,” said trainer Mac Robertson. “And winning gives you confidence. When you have confidence you don’t have to wait.”
And Arrieta didn’t wait. He broke last, behind his two rivals, but had his head in front at the half mile pole, had a two-length lead at the head of the stretch and was in front by 4 ¼ at the wire.
Mines Made Up was second, 7 ¼ lengths in front of Speeding Kid.
“You did a nice job last time,” owner Warren Bush said to Arrieta in the paddock, minutes before the race. “Try to do that again.”
Arrieta did just that.
And he was the man in charge once more in the next race, the Lady Slipper, taking Aria Gia wire to wire to win by 3 ½ lengths, in commanding fashion. The winning time was 1:10.29, compared to 1:10:08 for the males.
Aria Gia was sent off at 9/5, favored over last year’s winner, Pinup Girl at 2-1. It was no contest once the gate opened, however, and owner/trainer Jose Silva, Jr., was delighted with the result.
He claimed the horse for $6,250 and she has won more than $120,000 overall, including Saturday’s take.
What attracted him to her ?
“I like fast horses,” he said.
And the way Arrieta handles the mount.
He rode the mare for the sixth time in Saturday’s race.
“The first time he got on her he told me that the horse doesn’t like the whip,” Silva said. “He knew that immediately.”
What happens if the stick is used ?
Well, the mare appeared headed to the winner’s circle at Turf Paradise last January when Denny Velazquez got into her with his sizzling whip. “When he did that, she stopped cold,” Silva said.
And finished third.
No danger of that on Saturday. She was easily in front of Honey’s Sox Appeal at the wire with Double Bee Sting another 3 ½ lengths back.