He was an unimposing fixture at Canterbury Downs and then Canterbury Park, seldom seen on the frontside but ubiquitously present in the barns and racing office, often with a string of watches on one forearm, ready to show anyone in need of a new timepiece. “I’ve still got one, a Gruen, I bought from him a few years ago,” said trainer Doug Oliver. “I”ve had to replace several bands on it, but the watch is fine, a really good one.”
People saw Guldemann all the time, this knowledgeable horseman who was part of Minnesota horseracing since the 1960s and involved in the game way before that.
“You saw him around the track all the time. He was there when they opened the place,” said HBPA president Tom Metzen. “I remember he was around when we ran horses at the county fairs, out at Lake Elmo. He had a couple of horses with Dave Sorum at one time. He was nice to everyone. A very nice person.”
Guldemann, who would have turned 95 on May 1 was still driving to the stable-area at Canterbury on a daily basis during the meet last summer when he took on a new part-time line of work, selling bridles or colorful lead ropes, any kind of tack a person desired. “Hard to believe he was that old. He was sharp as a tack,” said Oliver.
For many years he sat in in the dining room of the track kitchen with an open briefcase in front of him, watches, pocket knives and other paraphernalia on display, but Guldemann’s true love was racing, horses in particular.
“He tried to get us into a racing partnership several years ago,” said Canterbury Hall of Fame owner/breeder Gretchen Eaton. “He was a very nice person, very knowledgeable about horses.”
Guldemann died on January 18 at St. Joseph’s Hospital after suffering a stroke. Track chaplain Ed Underwood will lead a memorial for him in the stable chapel at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.
Guldemann bred and trained racehorses from 1951 to 1965 in Minot, N.D., and was a key participant in the drive to bring parimutuel racing to North Dakota. He was one of the founders of the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association and its first president, on an interim basis, while bylaws were being written in 1970. Five years later, living in Hampton with 40 broodmares, he won the Minnesota Thoroughbred Breeders Award for Hut Sut Ralston, by Guldemann’s stallion Vapor Whirl. For the next 10 years, Guldemann lived in Mount Vernon, Illinois, on a farm with 27 broodmares, returning to Minnesota when Canterbury Downs arrived in 1985.
“He sat in my tackroom every morning talking about racing,” said trainer Tom McFadden
“He was a nice old fellow, a nice person. I’m going to miss him.”
Guldemann didn’t simply sit there. He had purchased a mare in foal that Harvey Harrison bought from him. They named the foal Hoodwinked Holly after the woman whose Shakopee family took Guldemann in the last couple of years. “I lived closer to Canterbury than he did,” said Holly Bungert. “He kept his apartment in Prior Lake and he’d go there to write letters to the Thoroughbred Times and take care of his business matters, but it was easier for him to get to the track from my place, and cheaper, too, when gas prices were so high.”
Holly’s two daughters, Rachel and Beth, worked in the stables at Canterbury when they first met Guldemann and quickly began referring to him as “grandpa.” Beth is now an assistant trainer to Mike Lauer at Churchill Downs. Rachel is barn foreman for Mac Robertson at Delaware Park. Guldemann simply became “grandpa” to the entire family, including Holly and her husband, Lowell.
“My kids adopted him,” said Holly. “And he’s been a part of our lives ever since. At first he’d stay over on weekends. Then it was another day and then another.”
Guldemann has a daughter, Melissa, and a granddaughter, Mariah, of Glencoe. He was born on May 1, 1918 in Bowman, N.D.
Guldemann frequently communicated with the Thoroughbred Times, which printed this poem by him in 2009:
THE OLD RACEHORSE
The old gray horse looks over the fence
In a weary sort of way
He seems to be saying to all who pass
Well, folks, I’ve had my day
I’m simply watching the world go by
And nobody seems to mind
As they go dashing by in swift cars
An old gray horse who is twice lame and half blind
The old racehorse has a shaggy coat
But once was young, fit and trim
And he used to work on the racetrack
With a jockey who was fond of him
His owner drives by in his super-charged car
And it makes him feel quite sad
When he thinks of the days that used to be
and the stakes wins that they had
Sometimes a friendly soul will stop
Near the fence where the tired old head
Rests wearily on the topmost bar
And a friendly word is said
Then the old racehorse gives a sigh
And he feels the kindly touch
Of a hand on his mane or shaggy coat
and doesn’t mind so much
So if you pass by the field one day
Just stop for a word or two
Where the old racehorse
Who once was young and full of life as you
He will love the touch of your hand
And i know he will seem to say
Thank you, friend, for the kindly thought
For a stakes horse who has had his day.
This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.