The Festival of Champions began 20 years ago as a rebuke to track management at the time, as a demonstration by horsemen that the Ladbroke Corp.’s marketing strategies and ideas about live racing were wrong.
They’ve been proving that nearly every year of live racing since, often most notably on Festival day, but never quite like Sunday.
A crowd of 17,053 fans, nearly 6,000 more than ever previously recorded on Festival Day and the fourth largest overall in Canterbury Park history, took in a sun-soaked afternoon of racing featuring Minnesota quarter horses and thoroughbreds only. The record crowd wagered $432,978 on track, contributing to a total handle of $845,309
More than $400,000 in purses attracted the best from the barns in Shakopee with the notable exceptions of Heliskier, the likely Horse of the Meet, and the redoubtable Tubby Time.
It was a throwback to the days when large crowds were commonplace at Canterbury. Lines at mutual windows, concession stands and elsewhere were long, the escalators were packed and busy throughout the afternoon, the paddock full before races and the winner’s enclosure packed after races.
The card comprised 11 races. The final one of the card – an indication of a slower pace throughout the afternoon – went off at 6:50, nearly 20 minutes later than scheduled.
$50,000 Minnesota Distaff Classic
There are several ways to describe what took place in this race, but one that cannot go unrecognized is the role the rider played. It was indeed Tanner Time for the third time on the card, as Canterbury’s champion jockey for the season, Tanner Riggs, kept his filly’s head in the race from gate to wire for a convincing victory. That filly was Congrats and Roses, who had run a total of four times this season without a win.
All eyes (or was it ayes) were on Keewatin Ice in this one, at least until it became apparent that the Mac Robertson-trained horse with Riggs in the irons was not going to be denied. Sasha’s Fierce was second and Sam’s Grindstone finished third.
As she broke from the gate, Riggs gave his horse a reminder with a crack to the belly to assure she was cognizant of the race under way.
In a bit of banter possible only with Canterbury’s champion trainer, Mac Robertson, involved, the following comic exchange took place:
“Boy, I didn’t see this coming,” said Canterbury president and CEO Randy Sampson.
“Hey,” countered Robertson,” this filly ran great in this race last year. Ever since you started hanging with the commissioner, you’ve lost faith in me and it’s cost you money.”
Just then the subject of the moment, Minnesota Racing Commission chairman Jesse Overton appeared, camera in hand.
“Speaking of the devil,” Robertson intoned, as Overton prepared to snap a picture. “You should take those of me before the race,” Robertson added.
You can say those kind of things after winning eight consecutive training titles.
$50,000 Minnesota Classic Championship
They couldn’t touch Coconino Slim.
He broke to the lead and stay right there despite pressure throughout the mile and 1-16 events, finishing 2 ¼ lengths in front of Samendra and 8 ¼ ahead of Jaival.
Owner Catherine DeCourcy had a simply response in the winner’s enclosure afterward. “I’m honored and I’m humbled,” she said.
Under Tanner Riggs, the winner ran just the race needed for his first win in six starts. With a clear lead out of the gate, Coconino shook off a challenge on the backstretch and drew off in the stretch drive as the odds-on favorite.
It was a “chalky” kind of day and this race demonstrated it perfectly. Coconino won as the people’s choice. Samendra and Jaival were second and third as 3-1 choices. Eurasian was fourth as the next choice on the board.
$65,000 Northern Lights Debutante
Badge of Glory needed only to win this race to get her own badge of honor after breaking her maiden on July 28. She gets it after Sunday’s effort. It always helps to have Scott Stevens in the irons when the mount is a two-year-old, as demonstrated once again, in this race.
By Badge of Silver from Dracken, Badge of Glory is considered by her breeders as one of the most talented horses they have raised. They recognized her precocity hours after her birth in the way she handled herself in the stall. “We knew when this filly was two hours old that she would be the best we’ve raised,” said Richard Bremer.
$50,000 Minnesota Distaff Sprint
One of Canterbury Park’s enshrinees in the Hall of Fame Saturday night was breeder/owner Cam Casby, whose first shot with a thoroughbred on Festival Day was Polar Plunge.
With speed galore, the race set up beautifully for this daughter of Successful Appeal and that’s pretty much the way it played out.
Polar Plunge, the odds-on favorite, took advantage of the swift pace in front of her and glided home under Bobby Walker, Jr., one-half length in front of Gypsy Melody and 2 ½ in front of Happy Hour Honey
Casby declines to watch her horses run, preferring to watch the replays after the drama is over, but she stays tuned in to a certain extent, as she did for this race.
“We wanted her to be behind,” Casby said, “especially with those fractions. They were way too fast.” Happy Hour Honey set the pace for the first quarter in 21 3/5. The half was done in 44 2/5.
Still, Casby did not head to the winner’s circle until all the Is were dotted and the Ts crossed.
“You never know until you are past the wire and the photo proves it,” she said.
$65,000 Northern Lights Futurity
This race produced a stunning effort from Sugar Business, a son of Stormy Business from Sugar Hills Miss. Under Derek Bell, the brown colt left his rivals far back, finishing in a stakes record 1:10 1/5.
The start was only the third for the Curt Sampson-owned colt, who hadn’t run since July 13. “We wanted to rest him,” said trainer Tony Rengstorf. “This race was what we were shooting for.”
And the record time?
“A pleasant surprise,” said Rengstorf.
Surprising,too, to the winner’s rivals. Bet Your Life was second, eight lengths behind the winner. Lil’ Apollo was 18 ¾ lengths behind in third.
$50,000 Minnesota Sprint Championship
Normorewineforeddie is entitled to a goblet of the very best after winning this race for the third consecutive year, again in convincing fashion. The Scrimshaw horse covered the six furlongs in a swift 1:09 2/5 with plenty of ground between him and Gold Country Cat and Freedom First.
He had 6 ½ lengths on the second place horse, who got the place by a neck.
Winning owner Tony Didier was wearing a tee-shirt in the winner’ s enclosure depicting a jockey holding a bottle of wine aloft in a salute to Eddie. The wine bottle has been uncorked so it seems possible the state’s open bottle law does not apply to thoroughbred racetracks.
Didier, as usual, gave credit to his trainer, fellow Nebraskan Bruce Riecken and to winning rider Dean Butler.
“Bruce did a great job getting him ready,” Riecken said. And Butler’s ride? “You don’t have worry about anything with Dean Butler.”
The race was only the third for Eddie this year. “He’s had a few problems,” said Didier. “Hopefully he’s over them.”
Hardys Continue Festival Dominance
Employee problems among other issues kept Kari Hardy in Iowa for qualifying races on Saturday night, so she was unable to attend the Hall of Fame festivities at Canterbury and had nothing to show for the trip when she arrived back in Shakopee. How did you do in Iowa, she was asked.
“Mediocre,” she said. Neither of her two horses qualified for the John Deere juvenile challenge.
There was some consolation upon her return, however.
Western Fun (above), ridden by Mark Luark and owned by Canterbury Park’s newest owners in the Hall of Fame , Bob and Julie Petersen, won the first race on Sunday’s card, the $22,400 Minnesota Quarter Horse Derby in 20.640 seconds. Western Fun had a neck on Flyin Coronas (who was later disqualified for interference), who was a half-length in front of Streak N Hot.
The Hardy barn had the winner of the $23,350 Quarter Horse Futurity, too. Tanner Riggs, the champion thoroughbred jockey of the meet, brought in Fly Eyeann (below) in 18.607 for owner Rodney Von Ohlen, whose V Os Red Hot Cole finished third in the race. In between those two was Tres My Tracks.
“That helps a bit,” Hardy said.
Could it have been any better? “Well, yes, it could have been first and second,” said Von Ohlen.
Nonetheless, it was the fifth time the Hardy barn has swept the two races as this team adds each summer to their local dominance. They have won 16 races in the Minnesota Festival, 12 more than anyone else. The Hardy barn has claimed 11 training titles at Canterbury since 2000. The victory for the Petersens was their eighth on Festival Day, three more than anyone else.
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.
Photo Credit: Coady Photography