A Great Horse, Stable Call It Quits

BY JIM WELLS

It was past seven o’clock Saturday evening when a horse entered the winner’s circle with a blanket of 99 roses on its back. He was still glistening with perspiration, having just run a mile and three-eighths on a warm day.

There was symbolism; there was irony, and there was the end of an era as the 10-year-old Aroney took a quick turn in and out of the area, and headed back onto the main track and then to the barn.

On the last race of the 2018 season, Aroney ran the last race of his career, the 99th start for a true veteran of the racetrack, a game racehorse.

Last race of his career, and the last race of a storied stable credited with establishing racing on a competitive, stakes caliber level in Florida, although the home of its owners had long been in Minnesota.

A storied stable that bred and campaigned great racehorses, a family tree that began with My Dear Girl, the dam of a dynasty, who was champion juvenile filly of 1959. Her fame as a broodmare followed: Her second foal, In Reality who later sired sprint champion Smile was the start.

And, of course, My Dear Girl, bred to Caro, produced the inimitable Dr. Carter, among the great sprinters of all time.

There were countless others, but Genter Stables became synonymous with racing in Florida and respected well beyond, a stable at the top of the list after Unbridled won the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic and was named three-year-old of the year in 1990.

And Aroney’s place in this long story? He was the last racehorse owned by the late Bentley Smith, son-in-law to Frances Genter, the Grand Dame of American racing and a resident of Bloomington, Minnesota in her final years. She was the sweet grandmother cradled by trainer Carl Nafzger on national television as he informed her of Unbridled’s stretch run to the wire in the Kentucky Derby.

Smith ran  Genter Stables, was the man at the top before and during

Unbridled’s glorious three-year-old season and beyond. Aroney was his last racehorse

Racing commissioner Jim Lane was the attorney who handled the Genter Stable dispersal sale upon Frances Genter’s death and also handled the later sale of Aroney to Dave Astar.

He was claimed from Astar by Tom Amoss at the Fair Grounds and sold via the claiming box another five times before he was purchased by Sampson Family members who campaigned him through his final race on Saturday.

“He was a very sound horse,” said Lane. “He was trained by Carl Nafzger, so he had a very good upbringing.”

Strong and still game, Aroney finished his career with a record of 13-14-16 and earnings in excess of $260,000. He was 6-5-4 from 26 starts in Shakopee, where he earned more than $93,000 of his career bankroll.

The Sampsons, his last owners, turned him over to Teresa Falconbridge, who will stable him at her Minnesota farm.

Aroney, a son of Aptitude from the Chester House mare Ambling, was bred by Smith in Kentucky. He finished fifth in his final race, a consequence partially of a gate quirk that was sometimes beneficial.

“He would try to time the opening of the gate with the movement of the other horses,” said Russ Sampson. “He would take a step forward just before the gate opened.”

This time, he ran smack dab into the closed gate and was taking a step backwards when it opened.

So, who knows…..

A brief ceremony awaited him in the winner’s circle nonetheless.

Randy and Paul Sampson joined their brother Russ and father, Curt, who had informed the pressbox and all other interested parties of Aroney’s imminent retirement.

And on the last day, in the last race of 2018, Aroney, the last horse from a once grand stable, ran his final race.

 

 

 

 

 

Aroney – A Class Act

Aroney is a 9-year-old bay gelding, non-descript aside from the heart-shaped white marking on his face, just below his forelock. His strong muscles ripple underneath his gleaming coat and his ears are pricked, sensitive and alert, belying his age.

 Aroney was recently acquired by Nextgen Racing Stable, a group of owners that run their horses at Canterbury Park. The partnership is comprised of relatives of Canterbury Chairman of the Board Curt Sampson, including his son Russ Sampson and several nieces, nephews and grandchildren. He is trained by Tony Rengstorf, and is entered to run tonight in the second race. Orlando Mojica will guide him from post position nine.

The gelding isn’t a superstar – in fact he hasn’t won since last September when he won a starter allowance at Kentucky Downs at a mile and a half on the rolling turf course. He comes into the race off of several disappointing performances at Oaklawn, but those races were contested on the dirt, a surface that has clearly been at least part of the cause of many of Aroney’s subpar performances. Tonight, Aroney was supposed to return to the grass, his preferred surface, but inclement weather has forced all turf races to the main track.

Aroney holds a spot in Canterbury’s record book at that ‘about 1 and 1/16 mile’ on the turf. Almost four years ago on June 20, 2013, the last season he raced in Minnesota, Aroney blazed through the distance in 1:40.83, setting a turf course record that still stands. He also raced in Minnesota the year prior, when he won three races in a row. Over the course of the two summers that Aroney was stabled at Canterbury, he ran 11 times. Of those 11 starts, he won four and finished second in four.

The gelding is what many would consider to be a bit of a war horse, or at least well on his way to becoming one. He has raced 82 times, consistently running between 12 to 14 times a year, never sidelined, rarely getting a break of more than a month at a time. He has won 10 races, come in second in 13 and third in 12. He has earned $227, 201 dollars in his 7-year career, a good chunk of that won here at Canterbury Park. Aroney has been in and out of different shedrows all over the country, his papers have changed hands many times, and his name has appeared on the set-lists of different trainers.  He probably hasn’t made any of them rich, but he’s tried hard, and he’s won for most, if not all of them. He’s paid his way.

Aroney’s return to Minnesota is somewhat like a coming home party. In addition to being the place where he ran his best races, and the only track where he set a course record, there is another reason that Aroney is tied to Minnesota racing history. Aroney’s original owner was Minnesotan Bentley Smith, son in law of Frances Genter, a famed, Derby-winning Minnesotan whose Genter Stables owned and bred some of the fastest and finest thoroughbreds to race in the mid and latter parts of the 20th century, up until her passing in 1992. After she died, Smith took over responsibility of her stable before branching out and creating his own. Like his mother-in-law, most of Smith’s horses were in training with the Hall of Fame trainer Carl Nafzger, who won the Derby for Mrs. Genter in 1990 with champion colt Unbridled. Aroney was one of the last to run for the successful duo before Smith’s death in 2011.

Aroney was originally purchased by Dave Astar of Astar Lindquist, LLC from the Bentley Smith Estate Sale in 2012. It was Astar who bought him as a little piece of Minnesota nostalgia and brought him to Canterbury for the first time, proud to own a homebred of the late, great Bentley Smith. Aroney ran successfully for him for a couple years before he was eventually claimed. This winter in Oaklawn Park, trainer Tony Rengstorf recognized the horse with the heart on his head, and remembering what he had accomplished at Canterbury Park in the past, purchased him privately at the end of the Oaklawn meet. Nextgen Racing Stable was eager to acquire Aroney and bring him home to Minnesota. “We want to see if he can regain his old glory,” explained Russ Sampson.

As Aroney attempts to regain that old glory, he continues to carry the torch for Bentley Smith. He is now the only horse still running that was once owned by the Minnesota horse racing legend. But Aroney is also what the future is made of. Nextgen Racing Stable was formed to carry on the racing tradition of the Sampson family, and what better way to build a foundation for future generations in Minnesota racing than to stake it on the strength and nostalgia of that which came before. Aroney may just be a non-descript bay horse with a heart on his head, but he represents much more in the past and future of Canterbury Park and horse racing in Minnesota.

Katie Merritt is a senior at the University of Kentucky and currently an intern in the Canterbury Park Press Box. Before returning to school she galloped at several tracks around the country, but spent the majority of her time working for Carl Nafzger and Ian Wilkes. Katie galloped Aroney in 2010 and 2011 while working for Wilkes.