Tribal Racing Once Again A Hit

By JIM WELLS

The song was beat out on the drums and accompanied by the old lyrical ululations that brought it all to life, an appropriate accompaniment to what was about to take place.

Lakota Sioux singers introduced Thursday night’s opening Indian relay races, the first of three such evenings, with a song entitled, “We are the horse Nation and We Are Coming.”

Indeed they were, in all of their tribal splendor and ceremonial dress, celebrating the animal that changed life for their ancestors and is still a part of their cultural traditions. A large turnout for the races responded enthusiastically, especially during some of the dramatic exchanges from one horse to another directly in front of the grandstand.

It was not necessary to look any further than the winner of the first relay race  for corroborating evidence of the riders familiarity with the horse.

Chris Carlson, a 28-year-old, eleven-year veteran of relay racing representing the Blackfeet Nation, parlayed his wealth of savvy and experience into well-timed rides aboard his three mounts to win the first of two relay races on the card for the Little Badger team.

For the first two and one-half laps of the three-mile race, it appeared the team of Mountain Crow, with Zack Rock, Sr. the rider, would easily win the opening relay, leading as he did at some stages of the first two laps by as many as 12 lengths and more.

Carlson kept his eye on the leader and when he spotted the horse starting to back up, made his move. “I could see him tiring,” Carlson said, “and I made my move between the third and fourth turns.”

Carlson’s first of three horses he uses is a quarter horse, reliable most of the time, but unwilling to slow down so he can mount his second horse for the night  on some occasions. He was in near perfect form on Thursday.

Carlson has been doing this for a long time and it took a few moments for him to recall how many times he has won relay races. “Four, maybe five,” he said.

He did not need that long to recall what time his next assignment was for the evening. His girlfriend, Marci, and two-year-old daughter, Alaysia, were flying in from Great Falls, Montana, and he needed to pick them up at 11:30 p.m.

Did he know the way from Canterbury to the airport?

“Google knows the way,” he responded.

The second relay race was a one-team show with Brian Beetem an easy winner for the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe’s Dolphus team, gliding home many lengths the best.

Beetem said he was surprised at the response he got from his horses, particularly the third, who displayed unexpected speed despite running on reserve. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “He was tired and yet when I got after him turning for home and picked it up even more.”

He used no special strategy or game plan for the convincing victory. “I just go out and ride he said. “That’s what I did tonight. Ride and see what happens.”

Apparently that is a strategy. It worked in 2016 when Beetem was the winning rider overall.

“This is my favorite track,” he said.  “I really like it here.”

Why wouldn’t he.

Relays & Riding Title Drama

Indian Relay_17 9-13-13 BLOGThe spectacle is every bit as good the second time around, although a miscue before the first heat of Friday night’s Indian relay racing shortened the field to three teams.

A horse reared up while his rider attempted to mount and then disappeared into the gloaming of the overhead lights with an outrider in hot pursuit and the rejected rider limping toward the sidelines.

The winning rider put on a show as he strode toward the wire, galloping home easily in front of his two opponents, his back straight as a pillar, his seat a picture of riding precision and unity with the horse.

The winner was LeGrand Coby, a Sho-Ban from Fort Hall, Idaho, riding for the Coby team.

Eliminated was Lynwood His Bad Horse, Jr. from Lame Deer, Mont., a member of the Northern Cheyenne Nation. Second was Miles Murray, of the Blackfeet tribe from Browning, Mont. Third was Lil Muncie, also of the Browning Blackfeet.

The second heat of the night went to a repeat winner. Ferlin Blacksmith of the Montana Crow Agency, riding for the Holds The Enemy team, won a heat on Thursday night’s card also.

Second in that heat was Ashton Old Elk, a Crow from Lodge Grass, Mont, and third was Josh Osborn of the Tissidimit team from Fort Hall, Idaho, a Sho-Ban.

Looking ahead to today’s nine-team championship race, Blacksmith, 21, anticipated a competitive finish. “It’s going to be pretty tough out there tomorrow,” he predicted. He expected the Tissidimit, Coby and White Calf teams to present the biggest challenges.

“This will probably end the relays this year for us,” he added with a trace of sadness.

He plans to return home following today’s championship race and then, perhaps, return to the North Dakota oil fields, where he worked last year.

“I can make some pretty good money there,” Blacksmith said, “working the oil rigs. I’ll do that if I can.”

The relay races, as on Thursday’s card, were conducted after the third and sixth races on the card, which presented an interesting sidebar to the season. As recently as a week ago, Dean Butler, the Canterbury riding champion three consecutive years starting in 2009, had a seven-win lead over Alex Canchari, who was serving a suspension at the time.

Just like that, Canchari came roaring back and with a win aboard Russian Dancer in Friday’s first race cut the margin to one.

Butler wasn’t prepared to stand still with his young rival breathing down his neck and claimed that win back in race four with B J’s Angel. Then he added what might have been the coup de grace, winning the final race on the card with L G Suprem, nipping Lookin at Larry and Canchari at the wire.

Butler and Canchari have mounts in each of Saturday’s 10 races.

And so it went, right into the final day of the 2013 racing season, the 69th day of racing.

Mac Robertson claimed another training title, his ninth straight, the most dominating streak in track history. Midwest Thoroughbreds went into the final day of racing with a four-win lead on Al and Bill Ulwelling, who have no horses running on the final card of the season.

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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.