HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL ON PREAKNESS DAY

BY JIM WELLS

Minutes before Saturday’s second race Kate Ulrich, one of Canterbury’s marketing mavins extraordinarie, looked out over the infield from a press box perch and smiled broadly.

“Ah, finally, sunshine. It’s great,” she said. Below her on a desk next to the window was the front page section of that day’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which carried a headline as radiant as the sunshine itself…if you are among the state’s fans of horse racing, as is Ms. Ulrich.

The headline said simply: “Racetrack slots are back in stadium mix.”

Scientists on cable television have been detailing for years the necessity of the sun to life on earth. Horsemen at Canterbury Park have been detailing just as long the necessity of a Racino to the life of Minnesota racing.

So, the union of sun and Racino as it occurred in this instance was a powerful antidote to proclamations all week that the end of the world would take place Saturday afternoon.
What the voices of doom failed to consider is that their prediction of earth’s demise could not occur as they envisioned, certainly not on Preakness Stakes Saturday.

Nor on an afternoon important to Minnesota horsemen, for that matter. Saturday’s card included the first stakes races of the meet, the $35,000 Lady Slipper for the girls and the $35,000 Canterbury Park for the boys.

There was money to be made on both races.Hidden Gold, a $1,200 purchase at the yearling sale three years ago, garnered little support from the Preakness Day crowd and left the post a 9-1, her chances considered slim to beat the favorite, the redoubtable Chick Fight _ the 2009 Horse of the year who had two other champions in her corner, trainer Mac Robertson and rider Dean Butler.

The card started under heavy rain with a track listed as sloppy. By the time of the first stakes race, the track was drying quickly and was muddy, heavy and tiring.

Chick Fight used her speed to lead the way but began to tire over the heavy surface, setting up the finish perfectly for Hidden Gold, who lived up to her name returning $21.40, $7, and $3.40.Ridden by Derek Bell and trained by Francisco Bravo, Hidden Gold took charge at mid stretch. No one was going to beat her on Saturday.

Bravo was on the phone immediately after the race with his wife, Lori, who was home in Texas. Lori owns the horse with Ann Sachdev of Edina and was the “brains” behind Hidden Gold’s purchase.”My wife has a very good eye for horses,” said Bravo.

Sachdev agreed. “Lori went with this horse and made a great pick,” she said.
Francisco Bravo wasn’t so certain in the paddock, however. Hidden Gold had something in her nose and looked lethargic. The “something” turned out to be Vicks, provided by her grooms and her lethargy nothing more than a relaxed attitude.

Bell was clearly delighted to ride the winner of the first stakes race of the meet, for more reasons than one. “I’ve been waiting to beat that horse (Chick Fight) for two years,” he said.
The 4-year-old daughter of Seeking Diamonds was already named as a yearling when she was purchased. “Lori said we should leave the name alone, that it fit,” Sachdev said.
On Saturday, for sure.

Trainer Larry Donlin saddled a 19-1 selection on Friday night’s card, Know No Somerset, for his first win of the meet. He was concerned afterward that he might be in for repeat of his meet last autumn at Remington Park when he got his only win with his first starter.
He can put that concern aside now, although there was nothing certain at the head of the lane in the Canterbury Park Stakes.

Donlin’s Freedom First had only one horse beaten at that point, but as David Cardoso swung the horse wide, Donlin let his hopes rise. “I thought we could get a piece of it,” he said. “Maybe third.”His chances didn’t seem that good at the 16th pole, with Rustic Road, Bet Your Boots and Bizet locked in a three-horse race. That attention-grabbing duel obscured another reality. Freedom First was closing like a stealth fighter down the middle of the track and swooped past that trio in the final strides at 15-1.

Donlin had his second long-shot winner of the meet, this time for stakes money. Among the beaten horses was Rustic Road, who has the same sire _ Demidoff _ as Freedom First. Rustic Road is owned by Curt Sampson, who sold Freedom First at the yearling sale three years ago. “I think it’s the only horse we ever sold,” he said.

That race finished about an hour before the end of the world was scheduled to take place, a predicted event that had some horsemen scheming Friday night in an attempt to cash in on the idea that eternity was about to begin for the earth’s nearly seven billion inhabitants.
Jerry Livingston and Paul Knapper, well-known figures in quarter horse circles and beyond, spent part of the previous evening trying to convince an acquaintance to forsake his long-time abstinence from alcohol. “Open a tab for yourself and your friends, for all of us,” they said. “What difference will it make with the earth about to be swallowed up in noxious miasma emanating from volcanoes, cracks in the earth and hell itself.”

Indeed, they went so far to imply that there was no longer any need for Americans to fret over that ever-expanding loan on the books from China. All of that took place well before Saturday morning’s headlines and the afternoon’s long-shot winners had conspired to provide some hope for Minnesota’s racing industry _ the lifeblood of their sport.

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