Harvey Jacobsen has been training horses in one fashion or another since Canterbury opened in 1985. Before that, he took a small stable to Winnipeg and raced there along with other Minnesota owners and trainers. Or he raced in North Dakota, Nebraska or one of the tracks outside Chicago. Most summers he conditioned horses he bred and raised himself in Oakdale, although he has trained for other owners, too.
That’s the way it’s gone every summer since the late 1970s, although Harvey and his wife, Rose, have an understanding when the meet ends at Canterbury on Sept. 1. “It’s not easy, but I’m going to sell all of my horses,” Harvey said.
That will enable the Jacobsens to spend more time with family, their three sons and daughter and their 12 grandchildren. Like many such agreements there is a stipulation, however. “I told my wife I’m retiring,” Harvey said. “But she knows I can’t do it completely.”
What precisely does that mean?
“Well, I want to get a couple of guys together and we’ll claim horses,” Harvey said. “I don’t want to breed horses or have a lot of horses. It takes three years to raise one and you invest thousands of dollars and sometimes end up with a horse that can’t do anything. You stick three or four years into a horse, then you take it to the track as a two-year-old and it shin-bucks. It’s hard to justify that kind of time or investment.”
Harvey is 71 now and he wants to spend his remaining years involved in projects other than breeding, nursing weanlings, training two-year-olds and then being disappointed if the investment of time and money ends up with a bowed tendon.
He wants to take time to smell the roses and maybe even the occasional baby diaper when the great grandkids start arriving some day.
“I want to be open to just having fun in my old age, whatever comes along,” he explained.
Harvey knows something about having fun.
He retired in his 40s, burned out after establishing a transitional care center for the mentally disabled, the first of its kind in St. Paul. (Jacobsen grew up in the Frog Town area of St. Paul and attended St. Agnes High School and Mechanic Arts.) After selling his business, he purchased land outside North St. Paul, land now surrounded by the city of Oakdale, and started breeding and then racing horses, something that appealed to him since boyhood.
Now, after four decades with the horses, he wants to try some other projects. For one, he intends to spend parts of the winter in Panama. His son Eric has property there that is being developed into condominiums with a golf course and other amenities. “He has two big units on an island overlooking the ocean. It’s a gorgeous piece of property and I want to spend some time down there,” Harvey said.
There is also the sailing.
Last winter, Harvey was part of some 250 sailboats that left he Canary Islands for the Americas. “We sailed from Africa to the Caribbean, to St. Martin,” Jacobsen said. He has also spent time sailing along the coast farther south. “My nephew, Lee, has a 47-foot catamaran, too, and we’ve sailed around South America a bit,” he said. “We’ve spent a lot of time on the boat.”
Twenty years ago, Jacobsen was fascinated with flying. So he and Lee bought a four-seat Piper Cub. “I flew around Minnesota and once in a while went to Chicago,” he said.
“I was never interested in money that much,” Jacobsen said. “That’s not what life is about. It’s about family and relationships.”
Sometimes those relationships extend to the equine family as Harvey well knows. When he looks back on his racing career, one horse in particular stands out _ Twyla’s Star, the 1996 Northern Lights Debutante winner and Stallion Auction Stakes winner.
“Horse racing is as American as the Fourth of July and apple pie,” he said. “A lot of people say it’s only about the gambling now. At least we still have the Kentucky Derby and those traditions.”
Harvey also knows that once it’s in your blood it never leaves completely, which leads him to a conclusion about the immediate future.
“I’d like to be able to say that I’m really retired,” he said. “But I love horses and I love the game.”
AN AWARD-WINNING ‘SONG’
Peggy Davis has been part of the Canterbury scene from very beginning and a fixture in the racing office since 1985. She is there every morning the office is open, and on race days you’ll find her at her station in the press box as well. She is the clerk of course and a placing judge, too.
A couple of years she worked in maintenance at Canterbury starting in the fall. On other occasions, she started in January or February and helped with the condition book and with Claiming Crown letters.
A Bloomington resident, Peggy has worked in a number of positions over the years at Oaklawn Park, Tampa Bay Downs, Lone Star Park, the Woodlands and Hoosier Park when the race meet was finished in Shakopee. She has been exclusively at Canterbury, however, since the race meet ended at Hoosier Park in 2004. “The rents have gone up everywhere,” she explained. It simply got too “spendy,” she said, to keep her place in Minnesota and rent elsewhere, too.
Peggy recalls that first year in the racing office, when things were still a bit primitive. “I cut up (Daily) racing forms and put the PPs on index cards,” she said. She kept track of horses at Arlington Park, Aksarben and Canterbury for agents and trainers who wanted to peruse them in the racing office.
“That first year, we didn’t have a fax machine,” she recalled. “I think I read a lot of nomination lists over the phone for (racing director) Lou Eilken and (racing secretary) Tom Knust.
Whenever she is free, Peggy is at the Malkerson Training Center where she keeps two Morgan horses for riding. She purchased the mare in 1989. The second horse, the mare’s foal, was born in 1991. “The same day that Fly So Free won the Florida Derby,” she recalled. “I went in to watch the race and when I came out he was there.”
Other times, when the mood is right, Davis loves to write. She wrote a piece of fiction called “The Song” that won first place in the Thoroughbred Times 2008 Fiction Contest.
It is the story of a group of friends and their daily lives as they monitor the well being of an injured Kentucky Derby winner and struggle with his loss. One of them writes a song about the episode, hence the title of a story heavily influenced by the ordeal of Barbaro.
“I thought he was going to be put down on the day of the Preakness Stakes,” Davis said. “He recovered and was such a good patient. That moved me more than anything. Then he foundered. We thought was going to go then, but he recovered.”
She was also surprised by the reaction from friends who weren’t necessarily into horses or horse racing. ‘My civilian friends were all caught up in it,” she said. “I wasn’t the only one moved by this horse, my non-horsey friends were, too.”
Davis entered the Thoroughbred Times contest, which is offered every other year, five times previously and was awarded an honorable mention in 2000. She was working a temporary job in administrative work for Northwest Airlines when she got word in February that her story had been awarded first place.
“I was in my cubicle and I sort of squealed ‘I just won a fiction contest,’ ”she said.
Peggy describes writing as a hobby. “I don’t write every week,” she said. “Sometimes I just get inspired. I have ideas in my head and I get them on paper. Sometimes I like them and sometimes I don’t. ”
What she seems to like consistently are horses, those she owns and those she watches on race.
“They are such gorgeous animals,” she said. “I’m not a bettor. I’m into horse racing for the beautiful generous animals and the people who take care of them and go to heroic lengths for them sometimes.”
She enjoys people watching in a unique way as well.
“People say there isn’t enough betting here, but fans here watch the races. They cheer during a stretch duel. It’s fun to watch racing at Canterbury.”
She had similar feelings about her award-winning story as well.
“This story sort of took off on its own,” she said. “I felt good about it. I liked it.”
So, too, did the editors at the Thoroughbred Times and countless people who have read “The Song.”