Family history would seem to dictate as much.
His brother, Chad, Mark’s senior by four years, was a jockey. Their father, Wayne, rode horses for 30 years at racetracks throughout the Midwest. Their grandfather, Irving, was among the top-level riders of his time and rode horses in three Kentucky Derbies, rubbing shoulders, as it were, with some of the historic figures in thoroughbred annals, including Triple Crown champions.
Mark’s future was written on the stable wall, so to speak, despite the fact he swore off horses after the incident at age 12. “I told dad that I wanted to start learning to exercise horses at our farm,” Mark recalled. So he saddled up an old retired thoroughbred racehorse they owned and started riding him around the pasture of the family farm outside Cairo, Neb.
“Something spooked him,” Mark said.”The horse threw me and I landed hard enough on my head that I got an eight-inch scar.”
His decision was immediate.
“I said right there that I was never going to ride horses,” Mark added.
Fat chance, growing up in the Anderson family, right!
Mark was going to change directions, maybe go to college and get a job not associated with animals that could dump you like a bad habit whenever they pleased.
One problem. “I really didn’t care for school all that much,” he said.
Anderson is a new face, sort of, at Canterbury Park. He has ridden here for periods of time in the past but he returned to Shakopee in a far different capacity this summer. Make that capacities.
He is the track clocker during morning workouts and a placing judge during the racing cards.
Anderson got a late start into thoroughbred racing as a jockey, the decision to race ride put on hold after his boyhood experience in the pasture. Nonetheless, he started racing at 20 and just recently retired at age 35, that decision rushed by one day due to an accident at Portland Meadows.
“I was set to retire on Dec. 9 and the accident occurred on Dec. 8,” he said.
Anderson was dueling with another horse at the front end of a race when his horse broke an ankle and went down, and a trailing horse went over the top of him. He took the full impact of hitting the ground on his right shoulder, tearing the labrum. He was held overnight at a local hospital and spent the next four months rehabilitating the shoulder in Portland.
Anderson had planned to gallop horses in Phoenix before heading north to Minnesota, but the injury curtailed that plan. After healing in Portland, he went home to Nebraska for a couple of weeks and was clocking horses at Canterbury Park in early May. His brother Chad is here, too, as agent to Hall of Fame riders Scott Stevens and Derek Bell.
Although he’ll sometimes look down at the winner’s circle after a race, from his office spot at the top of the grandstand, and recall the thrill of winning, he is putting that part of his life behind him. “It can be a low level maiden race or a stake, it doesn’t matter. It always feels good to win,” he said. “It’s a grand feeling.”
What he doesn’t miss is the constant weight reduction and inability to join friends for dinner. “I loved raceriding, always,” he said.”I won’t miss pulling off eight or 10 pounds when I have to, though. I won’t miss constantly watching what I have to eat.”
He would often turn friends down for dinner to avoid the temptation of eating more than intended or the wrong thing. “I always knew I would pay for it the next day when I had to weigh in.”
Now he is able to have a life outside of his occupation, and to consider future changes to his role in racing.
“I want to go to stewards school. That’s something I intend to do at some point.”
Now, as well, he might have more time to delve into some family history, especially concerning his grandfather. “I was a little too young when grandpa was around to get all of the stories,” Mark said.”Chad was a little older and got to hear them.”
All right, then, for the record:
Irving Anderson finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby on a horse named Clodion in 1937, eighth on Bull Lea in 1938 and third on Market Wise in 1941. The winners in two of those races, War Admiral in 1937 and Whirlaway in 1941 were Triple Crown champions.
Bull Lea, of course, became the foundation sire for Calumet Farm, one of thoroughbred racing’s historic operations, and was the sire of Triple Crown champion Citation.
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.