by Jim Wells
You’ve heard it time and time again. There are no sure things in horse racing. That’s why they run the races.
How true. How true, and Minnesota racing fans saw the axiom played out before their very eyes on the opening night of racing Friday, in the very stakes race of the new season.
Wizened veterans shook their heads while considering the prospects in the $60,000-guaranteed 10,000 Lakes Stakes, a six-furlong dash that presented only four starters after three entries scratched.
At first glance, that made the outlook even brighter for the star of this bunch, two-time Canterbury Park Horse of the Year Heliskier, an overwhelming favorite to win his first race of 2014 after a fourth and third in two starts at Oaklawn Park.
Now he was back home where he has had things pretty much his way and has awed the locals the past three years.
It didn’t matter in the least. Speakfromyourheart, trained by Vic Hanson, ridden by Lori Keith and owned by Almar Partners, made a stretch run from six lengths off the pace to catch Bourbon County by a head bob at the wire.
Bourbon County set the early pace with Heliskier at his shoulder to midstretch where Keith’s mount began gobbling up ground stride after stride to just catch the leader at the wire.
“I thought I had it, but I didn’t want to tempt fate,” said Keith, who rode the winners of the first two Mystic Lake Derbys, the richest race on the Canterbury calendar.
For her part, Marlys Gobel, who founded Almar Farms with her late husband Alvin, couldn’t have been more pleased. Speakfromyourheart runs in the colors of Almar Partners and Claudia Goebel but on this night she left the spotlight to her mother. “It’s about time,” Marlys said. “We’ve been chasing this guy far too long.”
It was the perfect night for remembering her long-time partner Alvin. “I dedicated this race to him,” she said.
Thus, Heliskier finished third, in front of only Freedom First. Who woulda guessed it.
Clearly, not many in the opening night turnout of 5,853 who made Heliskier 1-10 in the wagering. Speakfromtheheart, on the other hand, paid $26.60 to win.
The age of the dinosaurs came and went and empires rose and fell while Robertino Diodoro awaited his first win during his first meet at Canterbury Park.
“I don’t even want to think how long it took, Diodoro said, “or I might have to get myself a beer.”
His second trip to Canterbury was decidedly different. Diodoro sent out Ella’s Kitten in the first race of the 2014 season Friday night with Jorge Carreno in the saddle and, this time, the wait ended right there. Ella’s Kitten was much the best in the mile and 70-yard claiming event, winning easily.
Nothing went right in Shakopee for Diodoro last summer, and he was talking about making that right, with himself and his owners, two months ago during a conversation on the backside at Turf Paradise in Phoenix.
A year ago, he sent 20 horses to Shakopee and spent much of his time either with a stable in Canada or another in California. That will not be the case this summer. “I plan to be here a lot, lot more,” he said.
So, too, will Carreno, making his first appearance in Shakopee. “A good way to start,” he said. “A new racetrack and a win right away. Nice.”
Carreno and Diodoro teamed up as the leading rider and trainer during the Turf Paradise meet and have their sights on another prosperous meeting over the next three months.
It all continues today, beginning at 12:45 p.m.