Saturday’s rain drenched the racetrack, dampened spirits and put a damper on the day and its scheduled events, turning an expected festive occasion into a damp and disappointing drudgery on several fronts.
Normally the Lady Canterbury and Mystic Mile turf races, both $100,000 events, could be expected to attract an enthusiastic turnout. Throw in the Human Cannonball and we’re talking a crowd of 10,000 or more. Many of them because of the Cannonball alone.
It was not to be. The rain forced postponement of the Human Cannonball presentation for two weeks to July 26 and drove the two feature races off the grass. “This is a damn shame,” said one horseman. “We could have had a huge crowd today, but nobody’s here.”
There was that, too, a turnout of only 5,026.
The disappointment continued. Officials held off as long as feasibly possible after moving the fourth race from the grass to the main track but eventually had to relent and moved the co-feature events also.
Thus, a host of scratches ensued.
The Lady Canterbury, scheduled for about a mile on the turf, was moved to a mile on the dirt and Stoupinator, Enlightened and I Dazzle scratched, reducing the field to seven.
The winner was defending champion Awesome Flower, ridden last year by Chris Landeros, this time by Francisco Torres, who drove the horse in the final strides past 3/2 choice Gold Medal Dancer with Canterbury Hall of Fame rider Luis Quinonez in town for the mount.
The winner was sent off at 3-1 as was the third place horse, locally owned Eden Prairie.
Torres was delighted to get the mount from Mike Maker, who trains for the owners, Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey. He had reason for confidence. Awesome Flower, by Flower Alley, won the Lady Canterbury last year, and Torres rode Kune Kune, the third place horse. Thus, Torres knew what he was riding, the defending c hampion. “She ran past us (last year) like we were standing still,” he said.
Awesome Flower, it seems, likes Canterbury Park and blossoms in the Lady Canterbury.
Forecasts called for some rain Saturday, but no one expected the deluge that drenched the racetrack and caused four scratches immediately after the Mystic Lake Mile was moved to the dirt.
Another completely unexpected scratch took place moments before post time. Broadway Empire, the prohibitive favorite, turned up lame in the post parade and was scratched moments before the horses entered the gate, a huge disappointment to rider Scott Stevens and trainer Robertino Diodoro.
Stevens descended the steps to the jockeys room clearly upset, deprived of what most observers considered a sure thing, along with the winner’s share of the $100,000 purse, or $60,000 that went to the winning connections.
Alas, one person’s loss is often another’s gain. Trainer Dan McFarlane, who scratched Red Zeus when the race was moved to the dirt, also considered scratching Az Ridge. He held off.
With Ry Eikleberry riding as if there were no tomorrow in the stretch drive, Az Ridge held off a hard-trying Stachys to win the second running of the Mystic Lake Mile by 1 ½ lengths.
The ironies of the moment and recent past were immediately on McFarlane’s mind. “It’s funny,” he said. “This horse is better on the dirt than on the grass but was named Turf Horse of the Year at Turf Paradise last winter.” And yet he considered scratching Az Ridge because Saturday’s race was moved to the dirt.
But he didn’t.
He and Eikleberry were quite pleased with that decision. “You hate to see anything happen to another horse,” said Eikleberry. “But they made the right decision with that horse. They took care of him.”
And, of course…
“We have to ride for the money when we get the chance,” he said.
Which is precisely what Eikleberry did in those final strides.
BOB MOREHOUSE STAKES
Dirt Road Queen didn’t win a race in three 2013 outings. The best she could do was a third place finish in her maiden start.
That was last year.
“She’s really come on, really improved,” said Bob Petersen, who owns the horse with his wife, Julie. The Petersens are Canterbury Park Hall of Fame owners, and demonstrated one more reason for their presence with this result.
The Minnesota-bred daughter of Country Chicks Man was sent off the odds-on favorite in this $20,000-added event at 400 yards and made it look easy under Seth Martinez. She out-finished five rivals with a mid-stretch burst.
She was still pulling away at the wire, finishing in front of Furys Folly and Little Bit Brandy.
Dirt Road Queen blew past her rivals for her third win in four 2014 starts, finishing the final 100 yards in 20.540 without so much as a slap from Martinez.
“She’s a really nice horse,” he said. “She can really run.”
Dirt Road has filled a void for the Petersens, who lost Sport Wagon last winter in Phoenix. He cut a leg, developed an infection and was put down.
Dirt Road’s emergence couldn’t have come at a better time.
“She’s filling his shoes very nicely,” Petersen said. “She had some problems last year but has really come around.”
Story by Jim Wells