Love the Nest Impressive in $100k Northern Lights Futurity

Jockey Eikleberry wins twice on MN Festival of Champions Night

Love the Nest, a 2-year-old colt trained by Joel Berndt and owned by Robert Lothenbach, powered to an impressive 7 1/4 length victory in Wednesday’s Northern Lights Futurity, one of six $100,000 statebred thoroughbred stakes on Minnesota Festival of Champions Night at Canterbury Park. Love the Nest broke quickly from the gate under Ry Eikleberry and battled between horses through a fast 21.66 second first quarter mile. The prohibitive favorite took control at the quarter pole and discouraged Doctor Oscar, second in the wagering at 5 to 2, who moved in from off the pace. The well-regarded colt pulled away in a final time of 1:10.27 for six furlongs.

“When he broke so clean I was very confident,” Berndt said, “and then turning for home I saw Oscar on the outside and I thought it’s a horse race. Very happy he kept on and it looks like he can go a little further.” Love the Nest paid $3.20 to win. “He’ll be a nice 3-year old,” Berndt said, not yet willing to commit to another race this year.

Eikleberry also rode Drop of Golden Sun to a win in the $100,000 Crocrock Sprint

Drop of Golden Sun

Championship, this time coming from five lengths back. He passed pacesetter Mr. Jagermeister in deep stretch to win by 3/4 length. Drop of Golden Sun is owned and trained by Tony Rengstorf. He paid $11.00 to win.

Mac Robertson added to his record 37 Festival victories by winning two more, both for owner John Mentz of Lakeville and both with Roimes Chirinos aboard. Cinco Star won the Blair’s Cove Turf Championship by a length and a half and Clickbait the scratch-depleted three-horse Bella Notte Distaff Sprint by 9 3/4 lengths. Each was a prohibitive favorite with Clickbait paying $3.20 and Cinco Star $3.40.

The stakes portion of the 12-race card began in the fifth race with 2-year-old She’s My Warrior racing gate to wire under Alonso Quinonez. She’s My Warrior is trained by Tim Padilla who co-owns the filly with Pete Mattson of Prior Lake. Breaking from the rail, she jumped to the lead, was challenged by favorite Honey Bella, but quickly increased her advantage, in the end winning by 3 3/4 lengths. “We weren’t going to get trapped down there behind other horses,” Padilla said after the race.

Rush Hour Traffic

Rush Hour Traffic provided a mild upset in the Princess Elaine Distaff Turf Championship. Unchallenged for the lead, the 4-year-old filly went gate to wire with Ruben Fuentes riding for trainer Gary Scherer and owner Sugarland Thoroughbreds LLC. She returned $12.60. Ready to Runaway, trained by Robertson, finished a nonthreatening second.

“She’s a strong filly,” said Scherer who did not expect Rush Hour Traffic to go to the front. “Once she broke good [Fuentes] was committed to stay just stay where he was at. It worked out well.”

The card concluded with the $62,900 Minnesota Quarter Horse Futurity and the $60,550

Jess Rocket Man

Minnesota Quarter Horse Derby. Jason Olmstead trained the winning favorites of both races. In the Futurity, Olmstead trainees finished first through fourth with Relentless Courage a length the best. Luis Valenzuela rode for owners Paul Luedemann and Tom Maher. In the Derby, Jess Rocket Man was simply too much, covering 400 yards in 19.870 second, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Western Reserve. Edwin Escobeo rode the winner for Lunderborg LLC.

Total handle was $1,884,984, the second largest total in the 28 renditions of the Festival of Champions.

Asher Murray Always Had Fast Horses

Much of the history of Minnesota racing, pre-dating the Canterbury facility, resides in the minds of those that participated. There are the rare programs from a meet conducted at the Anoka Fairgrounds in the ’70s or a faded winners’ circle photo, but the majority of the history is of the spoken variety. And that history tends to change with each retelling.

The stories are retold vividly including those from one of the pioneers in the early days of Minnesota racing, Asher Murray, best known as a four-time Minnesota Festival of Champions winning quarter horse trainer. He won the Minnesota Futurity in 1995 with Hy Whistlin Willie, in 1999 with Cracklin Cash, and in 2002 with The Grindstone, all owned by his brother Jim Murray. Cracklin Cash won the 2000 Minnesota Derby, Asher’s fourth Festival tally, and was named Quarter Horse of the Meet that season.

Most of what Asher refers to as his “good horses” were raised by either close friends or his brother. He claims the most expensive horse he ever purchased was a $3,200 acquisition that won four times. He also had a horse named Susan for President that he came by for $1,800 that ran out $27,000 in 13 months.

Asher with first pony Coco

It was the fast ones that he was surrounded with that brought him to the bush tracks of Minnesota from his hometown of Wadena in the early 1970s as a young man. He participated in the races at Lake Elmo north of the Twin Cities. He also raced in Aberdeen, South Dakota and at the long-defunct and fabled Park Jefferson in North Sioux City.  Many of the legends in Minnesota racing were on the circuit – Steve Erban, the Bethkes including brothers Troy, Bill and Shane, the Warhol family, and  the McKinleys.

Asher moved to Watertown to raise a family. “We lived on a farm right behind Bob Morehouse. An airstrip was on that property we lived on behind Bob,” said Asher’s daughter Julie. It was on that airstrip that Asher galloped his horses. “I was fascinated by the Morehouse family,” Julie said. “Bob was in movies and his horses were in the magazines stacked at our house.  It felt like we lived next to royalty.”

It may have been Asher’s influence that led Bob Morehouse, now a Canterbury Hall of Famer, to quarter horse racing for Morehouse soon had the stallion Jet A Van, and Asher was racing his offspring. Incidentally it was a quarter horse mare by Jet A Van that produced that great runner Cash Caravan who was future Canterbury Park Chairman Curtis Sampson’s introduction to horse racing. And Curt’s resurrection of Canterbury in 1994 made it possible to be racing today.

It was the quarter horse people that were the driving force behind legalization of pari-mutuel racing in Minnesota. When Canterbury Downs finally opened and invited quarter horses to run in 1986, it was Asher who was the first quarter horse trainer to obtain a license. He had shipped from Rapid City where he had been racing to the Malkerson’s training center in Shakopee. “I was close so I just drove on over,” he said.

Involved in racing for decades, Asher also had a straight job. He spent 35 years as a PBX

Cracklin Cash

Technician for Verizon. With the flexibility of his employer and the accumulation and strategic deployment of PTO, he was always able to train. He stayed because he loved the sport and the horses. “I always made money. Always had good horses,” he said. He also enjoyed the crowds, “all good people,” and the camaraderie of Canterbury, the fans in the grandstand asking him if his horse would win. And win he did with, especially with Hy Whistlin Willie, named after Asher’s son who couldn’t whistle as a kid, who reeled off five in a row in 1995 and Cracklin Cash who won six stakes at Canterbury.

Barn D-8 on the Canterbury backstretch is where Asher was stabled from 1995 to 2012 when he left training. That barn became a gathering place for many. “We fed a lot of people,” he said. “The refrigerator was always full. Every night the grill was going. People knew that they could come over and get something to eat.” A groom five days away from a paycheck could always find a meal if needed. “The tack room was never locked. There were couches, chairs, recliners. Two card tables going every night. That’s what that barn meant to a lot of people.”

Now his other daughter Briannah McDaniel is in D-8 training thoroughbreds and quarter horses.

Daughter Briannah McDaniel and Asher in Canterbury paddock.

She loved barrel racing and the racetrack as a child. “Always would want to go to the track,” Asher said. It was inevitable that she would follow in Asher’s footsteps. Asher is still at the barn regularly but makes it clear that Bri is the trainer. “I just clean stalls,” he said. And then added, “Maybe I’ll make a suggestion now and then.”

Briannah has two entered in the Minnesota Quarter Horse Futurity on Wednesday’s Minnesota Festival of Champions Night. Asher will present the trophy to the winner of the race, the race he won three times as a trainer, and perhaps he will present it to himself as one of Briannah’s entrants, Trippin Guns, is owned by Asher Murray.

Mr. Jagermeister Ready For $100k Crocrock Sprint Championship

He won the premier Minnesota-bred sprint race in 2019 as the 2 to 5 favorite, drawing off to win by more than five lengths. Now Mr. Jagermeister is again entered in the Crocrock Minnesota Sprint Championship, one of six $100,000 statebred stakes that make up Wednesday’s Minnesota Festival of Champions.

Mr. Jagermeister missed the race last year after being sidelined following a disappointing fourth in an August allowance, not to resurface until February at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He ran well against some of the best sprinters in the country and arrived in Shakopee for the opening week 10,000 Lakes Stakes. The 6-year-old, trained by Valorie Lund, was sent to post as the 6 to 5 choice and dominated by 4 3/4 lengths.

Since then he has twice tried two turns at Canterbury and sprinted in a stake at Prairie Meadows, never finishing better than fifth. Mr. Jagermeister has been sidelined since July 14. A nagging hoof problem has been the culprit; a quarter crack that prevented him from training effectively. “He’s battled that all summer,” Lund said. The two recent works, including a 59.80 second drill Sept. 1 under rider Ruben Fuentes, indicate he might be the old Mr. Jagermeister.

“The bar shoe is off,” the trainer said. “We think [the hoof] grew out enough now. I was really pleased with the work.” It was that work she needed to see before she was convinced the 2018 Horse of the Meet should return.

The eight-horse line-up in the six-furlong sprint is a Canterbury greatest hits collection including 2020 Crocrock winner Fireman Oscar, all-time leading Minnesota bred money earner and 2018 Crocrock champ Hot Shot Kid, speedy stakes winner Drop of Golden Sun and likely 3-year-old of the meet Thealligatorhunter.

The Crocrock Sprint will go as race 9 on a 12-race program that begins at 4pm.

Mr. Jagermeister’s 2-year-old full sister Amaretto Di Amore, also trained by Lund and ridden by Fuentes, will run in the Northern Lights Debutante. She debuted Aug. 17, raced forwardly early before getting pinched back, dropping seven lengths off the pace, only to charge on late to finish second to Start Singing who she will face again Wednesday. The morning line has the filly slotted at 8 to 1.

Come Thursday morning, Lund will load 3-year-old Bodenheimer onto a van and haul him to Kentucky Downs to run in a 6 1/2 furlong Grade 2 turf stakes, the $600,000 Franklin-Simpson. The race will be the tenth on the Kentucky Downs Saturday program. Also entered is Mystic Lake Derby winner King of Miami.

Furlong Learning Provides On-Track Educational Assistance

The idea was “born in the barn” according to Meghan Riley who works in the stable of Tony Rengstorf but also has an education degree and has taught in the US and other countries. She would often meet children of other backstretch workers who were having trouble completing homework or families having difficulty navigating through the educational system. “It’s a very transient community and kids and families are always coming and going,” she said. Riley recognized a need, and along with cohort Melissa Burgess, formulated a plan.

Rengstorf approached Minnesota HBPA director Mike Cronin on their behalf. “Tony told us he’s got a couple of people that want to start a tutoring program,” Cronin said. A presentation was made to the MN HBPA board. “We were really impressed,” he said and then the board went to work determining how to make it happen and provide funding. Thus Furlong Learning began.

Many race fans are not aware that the backstretch of a racetrack is a community full of families with children of all ages. They live and work together and have the same needs as any community would. “It’s the village,” Riley says. “They are in it together.”

It is that spirit that Riley and Burgess have found encouraging as they hold tutoring sessions in the chapel on the backside at Canterbury. Riley was immediately amazed by the students and “how committed and enthusiastic about showing up for learning every day” they were. “The families have been so supportive.”

“Literally I think they are batting a thousand as far as attendance,” Cronin said. “All the kids that have started the program have not missed one course.”

The teaching team knew going in that availability and flexibility was crucial. Life on the backstretch is not uniform. Hours vary depending on where you fit in. “We operate according to their schedules,” Riley said. “We tailor it to each individual child and family.”

Furlong Learning serves a wide range of students from Pre-K through high school and also has an ESL component for adult learners.  Cronin indicated that a plan for distance learning is in the works that will allow students to continue getting the assistance they need when the race meet ends and families disperse to the next racetrack.

“You need an education if you’re going to have a good life,” Cronin said. “It’s especially difficult for kids who are on the backstretch.” Furlong Learning is helping to fill the gaps. One indication of the success of the program is that many of the children, when asked, recognize that skills they are learning or honing this summer will help them in the classroom when school begins.

“We are a bunch of teachers and kids that prefer our dusty boots to a desk,” Riley said.

Bulk Shipping :  Canterbury Park 2-year-old contingent invades Iowa Saturday

Five 2-year-olds that have won at Canterbury this summer are shipping to Prairie Meadows for stakes races Saturday evening. Doctor Oscar, Jacks Willie and Pepper Spray go six furlongs in the $100,000 Prairie Gold Juvenile while Viva El Capitan and She’s My Warrior run in the $100,000 Prairie Gold Lassie for fillies.

Why are Minnesota-breds Doctor Oscar, Jacks Willie and She’s My Warrior leaving town to face open company when Minnesota Festival Day and $100,000 pots facing statebreds await Sept. 8? The money is an obvious answer. Pete Mattson, owner/breeder of Doctor Oscar and co-owner breeder with trainer Tim Padilla of She’s My Warrior offered his explanation.  First he thinks they are good enough to win. Hard to argue that as Doctor Oscar’s 51.43 seconds for 4 1/2 furlongs is the fastest at that distance this meet.

Second, when a 2-year-old wins early in the Canterbury meet, there are “no other races”

Peter Mattson

according to Mattson. A non-winner of two condition is rarely offered and the open-company Shakopee Juvenile is not until closing day, just eight days after Festival.

The fear is a horse might come into Festival Day flat. Mattson has his own example. Last year Molly’s Angel, owned and bred by Mattson, won on July 7 and was not seen again until the Northern Lights Debutante on Festival Day. She went favored and never fired. Thealligatorhunter, owned with Padilla, won July 21 last year, returned to action in the September Northern Lights Futurity, and he too did not run well. “They both flopped,” said Mattson matter-of-factly.

The timing is perfect for this Iowa race and then forward to the premier Minnesota-bred day.

Canterbury jockey’s make the trip as well. Chad Lindsay rides Doctor Oscar for David Van Winkle. Luis Valenzuela rides Pepper Spray for Ed Kereluk. Dean Butler gets Jacks Willie for Kerri Raven. Alonso Quinonez ships with She’s My Warrior. Lindey Wade rides Viva El Capitan for Robertino Diodoro.

Prairie Meadows begins at 6pm with the Juvenile scheduled for 9pm followed by the Lassie. The Canterbury Park Racebook will be open for wagering all day.


The Northlands Futurity Has History

Tonight’s tenth race is the 34th running of the $137,100 Mystic Lake Northlands Futurity. This 350-yard race for 2-year-olds has been a fixture on the quarter horse stakes calendar since 1986. The inaugural Northlands, with a $60,554 purse, was won by Ms Gold Bug in a final time of 17.77 seconds. The stakes record belongs to Minnesota-bred First Class Smarty who was victorious in 2006 with a final time of 17.735 with Tad Leggett aboard.

That was Leggett’s third Northlands win, a total equaled by Stormy Smith when he rode three consecutive winners from 2011 to 2013. Ry Eikleberry, Harold Collins and Julian Serrano each have two Northlands wins. Smith tonight rides Hes Resilient for trainer Vic Hanson who won the race in 2012.

In addition to First Class Smarty, who was trained by Ed Ross Hardy, three other Minnesota-breds have won the Northlands: Holland North (2008) also trained by Hardy; Pyc Jess Bite Mydust (2016) and Jess Doin Time (2018), both trained by Jason Olmstead. Olmstead has a chance to lead another Minnesota-bred into the winner’s tonight with Bring Back My Vodka.

Olmstead has won this marque quarter horse race four times. Hardy has seven wins. Three of those came consecutively from 2008 to 2010, replicating a feat accomplished by trainer Olin Goff when he won the Northlands in 1991, 1992 and 1995. Canterbury was dark in ’93 and ’94 before reopening in 1995. Tonight Olmstead will saddle four of the ten and Hardy has a lone starter.

Capones Vault won what was then a Grade 3 race for the Hardy/Leggett combo in 2002 when the purse was only $38,300. The gelding went on later that fall to win the first ever $1 million race in Texas history, capturing the Texas Classic Futurity at Lone Star.

The Northlands had a six-figure purse from 1988 through 1991. It was not until 2013 that it reached six figures again and has been so ever since. The high water mark came in 2017 when the purse was $167,600. The race was won by A Jordan Reed for Hardy.



Trainer Jason Olmstead sweeps two quarter horse stakes

Tuesday night at Canterbury Park belonged to the track’s leading quarter horse trainer Jason Olmstead as he swept the co-featured Skip Zimmerman Memorial Stakes and the North Star State Futurity.  Juice Is Loose won the $28,500 Skip Zimmerman by one-half length under Edwin Escobedo for owners Tom Maher and Stephen Williams, covering 350 yards in 17.662 seconds. Juice Is Loose paid $5.60 as the wagering favorite and provided Olmstead with his first Zimmerman win. Heza Blues Man was second and Justafamilytradition was third.

Juice is Loose broke from the inside post in the seven-horse field. “I heard the inside was a little heavy so I tried to move him a little bit to the outside and get him going and he just took off halfway down the stretch,” Escobedo said.

Olmstead next won the $28,000 North Star State Futurity with Minnesota-bred 2-year-old Relentless Courage who was ridden by Luis Valenzuela for owners Paul Luedemann and once again Maher, a top owner in the history of quarter horse racing at Canterbury. The favorite paid $4.20. Final time for the 300 yards was 15.756 seconds. Olmstead also trained second-place finisher Relentless Babe. Jjs Full Moon was third.

Relentless Courage has now won three consecutive starts after a fourth-place finish in his debut. Both he and Relentless Babe could be headed to a rematch in the $50,000 Minnesota Futurity on Sept. 8.

It took Luedemann some time to realize how talented this gelding might be. “It was his second race he won and we were kind of surprised,” Luedemann said. “He was kind of an underdog at the barn in the beginning. Then he came back and won his second race and then we knew he was the real deal. And now tonight I guess he is.”

Victor Cisneros – Minnesota HBPA Groom of the Week

Trainer Bernell Rhone considers himself fortunate to have a groom like Victor Cisneros. Rhone has for years had a staff that has remained loyal. Cisneros, who estimates he has been with the Hall of Fame trainer for 20 years, is a perfect example. The native of Zacateca, Mexico has traveled with Rhone to Canterbury each season and has also been to Remington Park, Indiana Grand, and most recently Tampa Bay Downs.

He cares for five horses in the barn. Cisneros recalls that one of the best he has groomed for Rhone was Sky and Sea, a multiple stakes winning mare that in 2014 won the Minnesota Oaks and Bella Notte Sprint and was named Horse of the Meet that season.

Victor will be honored in a winner’s circle presentation tonight following the first race.

Danjer Too Great In Canterbury Park Championship Challenge

Danjer, the 1 to 9 favorite in the Grade III $52,360 Canterbury Park Championship Challenge, easily won the 440 yard race over a sloppy track by 2 1/4 lengths on Tuesday returning $2.20 to win. Dean Frey trains and co-owns the 5-year-old quarter horse, who has won 12 of 22 lifetime starts and $1,093,770 in purses, with Downtime Enterprises LLC and Billy Smith. Cody Smith rode the winner. Juice is loose finished a nonthreatening second and Heza Blues Man was third. Final time of the race was 21.414 seconds. Danjer won this race last year, earning a berth in the Bank of America Championship Challenge at Albuquerque Downs which he won later that fall. With this victory Danjer again qualifies for Bank of America Championship Challenge.

Lynnder 16

Lynnder 16 won the $38,615 Canterbury Park Distaff Challenge for the second consecutive year. The 5-year-old mare, who has now won 13 of 26 career starts, is trained by Jason Olmstead and owned by Tom Maher and Richard Tobin. Lynnder 16 sailed over the sloppy track to win the Grade III race by one-half length over stablemate Apollitical Mogul in 19.702 seconds. The prohibitive favorite paid $3.80 and was ridden by leading quarter horse rider Edwin Escobedo.

Olmstead had five of the ten 2-year-olds in the $71,362 MQHRA Stallion Auction Futurity and was attempting to win the race for the third consecutive year. He accomplished the feat, winning the night’s richest race with Relentless Courage for owners Tom Maher and Paul Luedemann. The favorite Relentless Babe, also an Olmstead trainee, finished third. The other Olmstead horses ran fourth, sixth and ninth. Relentless Courage, who paid $9.40, was ridden by Luis Valenzuela. Final time for the 350 yards over a muddy track was 17.762 seconds.

Ms Esther

Ms Esther charged through the falling rain to win the 870 yard $25,432 Canterbury Park Distance Challenge by 5 1/2 lengths in a final time of 45.375 seconds. Andrew Samaniego rode the favorite in the first of the four stakes. Ms Esther paid $3.80. The 7-year-old mare is trained by Vic Hanson and owned by Jordan Baumann.

Dick Cappellucci enjoying “best job I could ever have”

He’s known as Flaco at tracks across the southwest where he has trained racehorses for many years. Dick Cappellucci is making his first visit to Canterbury this summer, he is known by the bettors here as someone best not left off a ticket.

Cappellucci’s grandfather and father were trainers as is his brother.  “No one in my family has fewer than 500 wins,” he said. As a youngster growing up in New Mexico, while others kids were doing various things during summer vacation, “my grandfather would pick us up at 4 a.m. and drive 37 miles over the pass to Raton. The track was Las Mesa Park,” he said. He quickly discovered there was no place he would rather be. “This is the best job I could ever have,” he said

Cappellucci trained at the several tracks in New Mexico but went to Turf Paradise in Phoenix this winter for the first time when the pandemic closed his home state tracks. He finished third in the standings.

Canterbury Park racing secretary Rob Junk, who holds the same position in Phoenix, recruited Cappellucci. “Robbie said to come up to Canterbury. I’m glad I did. I’d come back here every summer,” he said. He is impressed with the facility, the open spaces, the grass for grazing and the friendliness of the staff and the other trainers. “Where else would someone apologize for claiming your horse?” he asked. And claiming has been a common thing in the Cappellucci barn. The stalls may as well be equipped with revolving doors. “They’ve claimed 14 off of me,” he said. He also has done his fair share of claiming to replenish the stock. In the coming three days he had identified eight horses he would drop a claim on hoping to get two if lucky.

Cappellucci agrees with the assessment that a trainer is only as good as the crew he employs. He brought four grooms with him and they operate with precision, handling the 25 or so horses in the stable. Ramon Villalobos, who has worked for Flaco for three years, was named Minnesota HBPA Groom of the Week. Cappellucci can be found in a stall doing leg work as well or anything else that needs to get done for that matter.

The system works as the stable is clicking along at a 20+ percent win rate.