News and Notes May 23

BY JIM WELLS

WHEN SPANISH EYES ARE SMILING….

Juan Rivera was anticipating the upcoming Memorial Day weekend earlier this week when he talked about the visitors coming to see him from Puerto Rico.

His dad and mother, a brother and sister-in-law, a nephew, two aunts and a cousin will be in Shakopee for the next couple of weeks, and Juan is looking forward to the visit.

His father’s name is Juan and so is his brother’s. Juan, the Canterbury jockey, chuckled when reminded that another athlete, heavyweight boxer George Foreman, has five sons, all named George.

Juan’s father was a trainer and jockey agent who started him in the thoroughbred business, and Shakopee Juan will have an interesting tale to share with him this weekend.

Canterbury race caller Paul Allen began calling Rivera ‘Senor Smiley’ a while back. “He smiles more than any jockey I’ve ever seen,” said Allen.

But that’s not the half of it.

Trainer Brian Porter originally intended to surprise Rivera with the news that he applied the nickname to a two-year-old he will run later this summer. Porter let the cat of the bag early, about three weeks ago, however. “I just couldn’t keep the secret any longer,” he said.

Porter bought the colt from a breeder in Arkansas. “He’s a full brother to a multiple stakes-winner I had that won more than $100,000,” Porter added.

He was having trouble coming up with a name for the horse when he decided on Senor Smiley.

“I ride Juan a lot on my horses, so I decided to use that nickname.”

Senor Smiley won’t be debuting anytime soon. “He’s knees weren’t closed so I held him back,” Porter said. “But he should be ready soon, and then I’ll begin breezing him. I hope to run him by August.”

Whenever Rivera spots Porter taking a horse to the track in the morning, he’ll ask if that’s his horse.

Allen explained the derivation of the nickname he gave Rivera. Allen was in Cancun, Mexico, a couple of years ago with his family. His son, Derek, now eight, smiles a lot, and some of the hotel staff began calling him Senor Smiley in Spanish.

“It dawned on me how much Juan smiles,” Allen said. “I just started calling him that.”
Allen can’t wait for the day Porter sends out the horse to run…”And riding Senor Smiley is Senor Smiley.”

Rivera was asked the other day if it is fair to assume that his father is Senor Smiley, Sr., and if that would make him Senor Smiley, Jr.

He merely shrugged his shoulders and….smiled.

GOOD NEWS FROM CHINA

Paul Nolan received some welcome news the other day. His aunt and godmother, a missionary nun in China, was safe and not affected by the devastating earthquake.

Nolan had been concerned because he couldn’t reach his aunt by email. “I can’t get hold of her, and I’m not sure why,” he said at the time. “She’s a teacher over there, a Mother Superior I think, and I know that some of the schools were hit hard.”

Sister Maureen Grant, a member of the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban and a sister to Nolan’s mother, was OK.

“She’s in the southern part of the country, a place called Guang Zhou, and didn’t feel any of the tremors or aftershocks,” said Nolan. “She teaches a lot of kids, but none of them had lost any relatives.”

Nolan had not yet heard of his aunt’s safety when he responded to a race fan the other day. Nolan was on a horse leaving the paddock for the racetrack when the incident occurred.

“A fan yelled out to me asking how my aunt was,” said Nolan, who clearly wasn’t expecting that kind of query at the time.

“It took a moment for it to register,” said Nolan, who whipped around in the saddle and responded.

“I don’t know,” he said to the fan, “but thanks very much for asking.”

MAC SPELLS IT OUT….

Mac Robertson has won three and arguably four consecutive training titles at Canterbury Park, although the first of those is credited to his dad, Hugh, since the horses were run that year in his name.

Robertson’s horses are generally in the thick of a race even when they don’t win, and one of his training techniques undoubtedly has a lot to do with that consistency.

“I’ve been fortunate,” he said the other day. “I’ve got some nice horses again and I’m sure they’ll win some races.”

Not always the way he intends, however.

Robertson tries to be patient with his horses. ” I let the horse decide when he’s ready to run,” he said.

That sometimes creates tension between the trainer and his owners, particularly at Canterbury, where the season is short.

“Everybody wants to run, run, run,” he said. “Usually, the longer you wait, the better off you are. If I’m not (better off) and the owners aren’t, the horses are, and I like horses a lot better than people.”

Robertson doesn’t want to be misunderstood on the issue, however.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I probably have the best group of owners out there, but we still have to wait and run the horses when they’re ready and not overrun them.”

Robertson says there is a good reason behind his approach.

“Whenever I take a shortcut it doesn’t work for me,” he said. “Some people can take shortcuts and get lucky. I’ve never been lucky. I have to see a thing through…if it works out, it works out.”

CLAIMING CROWN NOMINATIONS UP, UP

The $600,000 Claiming Crown returns to Canterbury Park on Aug. 2. Early nominations to the event reached an all-time high with more than 200 horses nominated to the seven-race card.
Those horses have started at least once since Jan 1 for a claiming tag that ranges from $7,500 and $35,00. The Claiming Crown was held at Philadelphia Park in 2002 and at Ellis Park last year and will be staged for the eighth time this summer at Canterbury, its original home.

Owners and trainers from 29 states and Canada have submitted nominations. Among those is Richard Englander, who has had four horses win Claiming Crown races. Entries have also come from trainer Scott Lake, who has sent out eight winners, and trainer Mike Maker, who won three races last year.

Nominations close June 13.

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