The Lay Of The Land Is Uneven This Early

BY JIM WELLS

The first race of the third day of racing produced the kind of result that had veteran players shaking their heads in wonder and newcomers wishing they understood the inner workings of the game to cash in on such opportunities.

The newcomers will discover one day that these very opportunities take place outside the boundaries of understanding, which is what makes them “opportunities” in the first place.
The reason a horse pays $67.20 to win, as Sink the Bismarck did in race one, is that bettors avoided him as if he were missing a leg.

In other words, few people saw this one coming, and certainly not the experienced crowd.
For one thing, Sink the Bismarck, a 4-year-old gelding trained by Bruce Riecken, ran on May 3 in Shakopee, finishing second by a half length in maiden claiming company. So, here he was eight days later, trying once again to become a first-time winner. The recent start, a mere eight days earlier, had grizzled veterans delivering wisecracks left and right.

“The trainer should have left him the paddock and saved himself a trip from the barn,” for one.
More common, though, was the hopeful thinking of players who wished they had laid five or ten bucks on the winner. “Could have headed home after the first race if you had that one,” went the refrain.

The larger truth of the matter is that three days into the meet, everyone _ trainers, riders and players alike _ are still trying to figure out the lay of the land. Is the track as deep as some people claim ? If it is, why are some maidens turning in times as swift as those of their elders ? Are some horses still as sharp as they were when they left Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, or Nebraska three weeks ago or have they lost their edge ?

If the horses in a given race are truly equal, are the riders ? Has anyone of them found a “secret” component to the track, along the rail, in the middle, or outside that might provide a distinct advantage ? Answers to some of those questions sometimes can be found by analyzing post positions and running lanes of winners to date. Three racing cards likely won’t provide any revealing answers.

What is known after three days of racing is this:

Francisco Arrieta, who had a bang-up winter meet at Turf Paradise, claiming the riding title by more than 100 wins, has picked up in Shakopee where he left off in Phoenix. Certainly, he benefited from his association with Robertino Diodoro, who easily won another training title at Turf Paradise. Yet, his riding skills were on full display in the fourth race on Saturday, when he held off challenges from Tapsolute and Top of the Page, to win aboard Izzy the Warrior, Arrieta’s leading sixth win of the meet.

Eddie Martin, Jr., returned to Shakopee after an absence of three years, and is off to a swift start at Canterbury Park. He was aboard Sink the Bismarck in race one Saturday, his third winner of the meet.

Yet, set all of that aside this early in the meet, which has attracted another strong jockey colony that includes former Canterbury riding champions Dean Butler, Ry Eikleberry, Leandro Goncalves and Jareth Loveberry.

The training ranks are equally balanced.

Diodoro and perennial winner Mac Robertson, who tied for the title last season, return with loaded barns. Former champions Dave Van Winkle, Bernell Rhone and Troy Bethke will command large stables as will a host of other contenders _ Miguel Silva, Joel Berndt, Francisco Bravo, Valorie Lund and Tim Padilla.

Veteran players will understand this caveat as well: Few things true today will be valid next week, and fewer still in June or July.

Canterbury Stalwart Bruce Riecken

By Katie Merritt

Trainer Bruce Riecken grew up in Nebraska where he began his career training race horses, but he’s been bringing his string here to Canterbury Park since Ak-Sar-Ben Racecourse in Nebraska closed in 1995. Both Bruce’s father and his uncle were trainers, so Bruce grew up going to the track and learning the ropes from them.

“I always knew I wanted to train,” he said, “Either that or be a teacher and track coach,” he added, having been a competitive and successful runner as a teenager.

Riecken got his trainer’s license in 1984 and bought a couple of his own horses to get started. As is often the case, success was not immediate and he briefly debated getting his jockey’s license. “I wasn’t doing that well, and I was only about 120 pounds and galloping a lot of horses at the time,” he explained, “So I was trying to get my weight down and try to ride but I would jump off a horse and get a little dizzy, so I said the heck with it!” Fortunately, Bruce persevered with his training career, and it wasn’t long before his uncle sent Tony Didier, a new owner that was looking to get into the game, his way.

Over the years, Bruce has been very successful as a trainer, and much of that success has come with Didier, who he still trains for almost 30 years later. When asked who his favorites are, Bruce immediately responds with Rock N’ Fire, who won a couple stakes at Canterbury as well as an allowance at the prestigious Keeneland Racecourse, and Nomorewineforeddie, a five time stakes winner at the Shakopee track, including wins in the Minnesota Sprint Championship for three consecutive years; both horses were owned by Didier. Another less-obvious favorite that Riecken trained was a horse named Frostee that Didier purchased from a bottom-level claiming race at Ak-Sar-Ben. When they claimed him, the horse had a bowed tendon, so Bruce gave the horse close to a year off.

“We got probably 50 more starts out of him and he won like 12 races for us,” Bruce remembered with a smile, adding, “We got lucky and never lost him. He did quite well for us!” Clearly it doesn’t matter if it’s a stake horse or a claiming horse in the Riecken barn – he loves them all.

Bruce’s barn usually consists of about 15-20 runners, and this summer is no different, with 17. At the conclusion of Canterbury’s summer meet, he will pack up his stable and head to Kentucky for the fall meets at Keeneland and Churchill before heading to Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, his winter home for the last 12 years. Before he began spending his winters there, he would stay in Kentucky until it was time to return to Canterbury, running his horses at Turfway Park.

Even though Bruce has been training for decades, he is still always learning, and can still say that he loves what he does. “My favorite part about training is probably working with the young ones and watching them develop, trying to keep them under control, keep their minds good,” he said with a smile. But like most horsemen, Bruce will tell you it’s really the animals that keep him happy at his job – “It’s just the horses themselves,” he explained, “I just love the animals.”

Tony Didier Has Had Some Runners

By Katie Merritt

Owner Anthony Didier, a Nebraska native, has been a fan of horse racing his whole life. He grew up in Davidson, Nebraska, about 30 miles from Columbus and 70 miles from Omaha, so he frequented the racetracks there as often as he could. He saved up money for years, and in 1989, he decided he wanted to use that money to buy a racehorse.

Didier approached trainer Herb Riecken at Ak-Sar-Ben Racecourse to find out how to get involved.  “I went to him for advice to get started in racing and he said, ‘Well I have a horse for you that I’ll sell you that will be a good start for you,'” Didier explained. “I said will ‘you train him’ and he said ‘No, but I have a nephew that’s just starting and he’s going to be really good.'” The horse’s name was Dr. Ralph, the nephews name was Bruce Riecken. Didier bought the horse, put him in Bruce’s shedrow, and Dr. Ralph won his first two starts for him. “I was hooked!” Didier laughed.

Almost thirty years later, Didier still sends all of his horses to Bruce Riecken to train and the pair have had quite a bit of success together. Coming here for the last 20 years, since Ak-Sar-Ben closed, they have racked up several stakes victories. Didier’s homebred, Rock ‘N Fire, won the Minnesota Classic Championship Stakes and the Victor S. Myers Jr. Stakes in 2006, and Cubfanbudman won the Minnesota Derby in 2008. The best horse Didier has had thus far is the sprinting superstar Nomorewineforeddie. ‘Eddie’ won five stakes here at Canterbury Park, including wins in the Minnesota Sprint Championship for three consecutive years.

Didier loves the thrill that being an owner and watching his horses run gives him, and he’s been fortunate to have some horses that have provided many exciting moments over the years. “When you win, there’s not another feeling like that,” he said. After the Canterbury meet, his horses go to Churchill, then Keeneland, before they spend the winter at Oaklawn. Though he still lives in Nebraska, Didier comes to Shakopee every couple weeks to watch his horses race and hopefully get a picture taken in the winner’s circle. “Canterbury is like my second summer home,” he beamed, “I love it here, it’s a great place!”

A Minnesotan Invades the Bluegrass

When Canterbury concludes, where do our state-bred horses go? One very talented youngster named Jelloshotsforjill has made her way to Kentucky and will race against open company for the first time on Saturday.

Keeneland’s third race is a non-winner of two allowance for a $52,000 purse with eight entrants. Jelloshotsforjill drew post position number six, and is set at six to one morning line. What’s odd about this? In a world where speed figures rule, the filly with the highest lifetime Beyer is the fifth choice.

In her only career start, Jelloshots’ took a field of nine wire-to-wire and registered an 84 for a Beyer. While in most circumstances that would spell instant favorite, either the fact that she earned it at Canterbury or the fact that she was foaled in Minnesota have made her a mid-priced entity. Her final time, too, for five and one half furlongs was far faster than her competition. The favorite Flying Rapunzel (Kentucky-bred) is one for three lifetime with a second, racing each time as the favorite. While her win was on polytrack, it also registered a lower speed figure (79) and came with slower fractions throughout at seven furlongs. Of course, Wayne Catalano (20% on the year) and Julien Leparoux (17%) as your trainer and jockey will automatically lower your morning line, but with their current winning percentage together (13%) and ROI ($0.65), five-to-two seems a little light.

Yes, she comes out of a graded stake but she took a thumping that day. With very comparable maiden races, the value lies with Jelloshotsforjill. If you think I’m being defensive by stating her state-bred status raises her price, just take a look in the family tree.

Jelloshotsforjill has a full three year old brother named Horvat Clan. Horvat Clan is a Kentucky-bred though, and he’s been far better received as a result. The Purim colt has been up for auction twice, each time failing to meet his reserve. As a Keeneland weanling the bidding reached $17,000, and as an Ocala yearling the price reached $27,000. Conversely, his sister was let go at Fasig-Tipton for merely $8,000. Horvat Clan has amassed just over $35,000 in ten lifetime starts, whereas Jelloshotsforjill has already earned over $15,000 with her sole win. The purse in his only win was nearly identical to hers ($24,000 vs. $25,000), which came at Arlington Park against maiden claimers. With such similarities, one would think Horvat Clan would regularly be around six to one…..yet he’s never gone off over five to two since breaking his maiden in May. Keeneland is a different ballgame than Arlington, but if HC had a Minnesota license plate on him perhaps the prices would be a bit more appealing.

What’s the point? Don’t judge a book by its cover. A talented horse does not know where it was born. Don’t be afraid to bet Minnesotans when they head out of state – there’s value to be found, especially at big venues like Keeneland. We may not always win, but when we do it will be for size. We may never see six to one on Jelloshotsforjill at Canterbury if she shows her two year old talent as an older filly. Cheers!

A Minnesotan Invades the Bluegrass

When Canterbury concludes, where do our state-bred horses go? One very talented youngster named Jelloshotsforjill has made her way to Kentucky and will race against open company for the first time on Saturday.

Keeneland’s third race is a non-winner of two allowance for a $52,000 purse with eight entrants. Jelloshotsforjill drew post position number six, and is set at six to one morning line. What’s odd about this? In a world where speed figures rule, the filly with the highest lifetime Beyer is the fifth choice.

In her only career start, Jelloshots’ took a field of nine wire-to-wire and registered an 84 for a Beyer. While in most circumstances that would spell instant favorite, either the fact that she earned it at Canterbury or the fact that she was foaled in Minnesota have made her a mid-priced entity. Her final time, too, for five and one half furlongs was far faster than her competition. The favorite Flying Rapunzel (Kentucky-bred) is one for three lifetime with a second, racing each time as the favorite. While her win was on polytrack, it also registered a lower speed figure (79) and came with slower fractions throughout at seven furlongs. Of course, Wayne Catalano (20% on the year) and Julien Leparoux (17%) as your trainer and jockey will automatically lower your morning line, but with their current winning percentage together (13%) and ROI ($0.65), five-to-two seems a little light.

Yes, she comes out of a graded stake but she took a thumping that day. With very comparable maiden races, the value lies with Jelloshotsforjill. If you think I’m being defensive by stating her state-bred status raises her price, just take a look in the family tree.

Jelloshotsforjill has a full three year old brother named Horvat Clan. Horvat Clan is a Kentucky-bred though, and he’s been far better received as a result. The Purim colt has been up for auction twice, each time failing to meet his reserve. As a Keeneland weanling the bidding reached $17,000, and as an Ocala yearling the price reached $27,000. Conversely, his sister was let go at Fasig-Tipton for merely $8,000. Horvat Clan has amassed just over $35,000 in ten lifetime starts, whereas Jelloshotsforjill has already earned over $15,000 with her sole win. The purse in his only win was nearly identical to hers ($24,000 vs. $25,000), which came at Arlington Park against maiden claimers. With such similarities, one would think Horvat Clan would regularly be around six to one…..yet he’s never gone off over five to two since breaking his maiden in May. Keeneland is a different ballgame than Arlington, but if HC had a Minnesota license plate on him perhaps the prices would be a bit more appealing.

What’s the point? Don’t judge a book by its cover. A talented horse does not know where it was born. Don’t be afraid to bet Minnesotans when they head out of state – there’s value to be found, especially at big venues like Keeneland. We may not always win, but when we do it will be for size. We may never see six to one on Jelloshotsforjill at Canterbury if she shows her two year old talent as an older filly. Cheers!

Record Crowd of 17,053 Enjoys 2012 Festival

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

Finally… They Have a Winner

Call it determination, commitment, resilience or just plain stubbornness but a horse named Sol Fire and her owners absolutely refused to throw in the towel – not when she lost her first five races, not when the number reached 10, not 15 not even 19.

Imagine that, you’ve been racing for four years and have yet to break your maiden. Granted, you didn’t race your two-year-old season because of an eye infection, which was just as well because your owners didn’t want to rush you anyway.

Yet, time after time your owners, all 16 of them, have shown up only to leave once again without the result everyone in this game chases – spring after spring, summer after summer.

Until Sunday.

Sol Fire caught fire, shall we say, at the 1/16th pole and left the maiden ranks under Derek Bell, finishing ½ length in front of her nearest maiden rival.

“Hey, Derek, you just proved that old maxim again,” a wise-acre commented. “The 20th time is the charm.”

Bell merely grinned.

The winning owner, all 16 of them, race under the name Stellar Teller, a partnership put together by Jolene Danner of St. Paul, a former teller at Canterbury Park who has a degree in animal production systems from the University of Minnesota. Originally 13 of the owners were actually tellers at Canterbury, the other three shareholders related to one of them. That ownership purity has changed some over the years, however.

Danner, who bred the mare, has a boarding stable in Inver Grove Heights, where, in fact, Sol Fire was foaled and resides during her time off in the winter months.

The boarding stable is home to 16 horses, one steer and two cats, who likely won’t recognize the difference in Sol Fire, now that she’s no longer a maiden, the next time she arrives.

Nonetheless, the winner’s circle was filled with happy people on Sunday who do know the difference.

“This is really neat,” said Danner, who made it clear that although winning was always a goal there was much more to the idea of owning this horse and showing up to see her run.

“We always trusted and respected (trainer) Bruce (Riecken) . We never asked him to drop the horse down. We just went along with his ideas.”

Danner got interested in horse racing, not as you might expect, because she worked at Canterbury, but after the purchase of Dish Network at her home. “I started watching the horse racing network after school and really liked it,” she explained.

She could not say enough good things about the horse her group celebrated on Sunday.

“This is so much fun,” she said. “She loves to run, maybe just not winning. She didn’t like to run past horses, but she loves the attention.”

The group’s patience with their horse might not have survived but for her ability to pay her way. She did, after all, hit the board in eight of her races, four times as a runnerup and another four as the third-place horse.

There was a spell last summer, however…

“She got screwed four times with the No. 11 hole,” Danner said, “and then there was the shutdown… but she had banked enough to take care of the expense.”

On Sunday, the 6-year-old daughter of Shot of Gold from Miss Fatima, proved, once again, that good things come to those who wait.

CHAPLAIN NEEDS SOME CASH

Hey, no need to head downtown to the Guthrie or to Chanhassen for the dinner theater any longer. It’s as near as the backside on one of two nights, July 28 and 29th, for some dinner theater that will benefit the RTCA Chaplaincy.

The Chapel will turn into the Quarter Pole Café those evenings, with dinner served between acts, as a mystery is solved Dinner and the show are a mere $30.

REBA’S SISTER, PAT DAY HERE

Susie McEntire-Eaton and Pat Day will be here for a White Horse Event on Aug. 14. Concerts are scheduled at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., free to the backside but in need of sponsors. Contact Chaplain Ed at 612-396-2033 if you can help.

KEITH SCORES ANOTHER TRIPLE

From time to time, you could hear the words drift through the press box – as long as Lori Keith was riding the race – “she has become so blankety-blank good.”

The words originated with the same fellow who announced after the eighth race – “three wins for the girl.”

It was Keith’s second triple of the meet, increasing her wins to 21, solidly in third place behind Tanner Riggs with 38 wins and Dean Butler with 32.

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