Heliskier Rose To The Top

by Jim Wells

They purchased the land 50 years ago and at various times it teemed with horses, but now when she looks out the back door there is only one. He is lord of a spacious paddock and moves slowly from place to place, grazing as he does, easy-going and amiable as always in retirement.

Every so often that friendly disposition becomes animated at the sound of a truck or car pulling into the driveway, on the off chance a tasty peppermint awaits.  On such occasions, he might show a flash of the quickness that once made him a winner at Canterbury Park, a brief glimpse of the swift turn of foot that made him a champion sprinter.

He is Heliskier, a two-time Horse of the Year in Shakopee, a  son of Appealing Skier from Plana Dance, bred, raised and broken by Robert Colvin and owned by his wife, Marlene, this Minnesota-bred gelding and dominating sprinter in Shakopee for three seasons plus.

Robert “Bun” Colvin was 73 years of age when he broke Heliskier, still vibrant and the total horseman he had been for 50-plus years. He died suddenly, of an aortic aneurysm, shortly after telling Marlene this particular colt had the intelligence and wherewithal to be the best they had raised in five decades.

Of course, he had told that to her about other yearlings, but this time his insight and horse sense, the acuity acquired from a lifetime as a rider, owner, breeder and trainer, would prove to be spot on.

Now, Marlene, Heliskier and the cats hold down the farm she and Bun purchased a few miles outside of Mitchell a decade after they were married as teenagers in South Dakota.

They followed the racing circuit for many years, throughout Nebraska, Arizona, even Nevada at one time, before heading to the new venue in Minnesota, Canterbury Downs, in 1985. Their presence on the scene is documented on the first day of pari mutuel racing. Their horse, Sultan’s Gold, finished third in the first race run in Shakopee, behind a winner named Faiz. The Colvins were in Shakopee nearly every year thereafter with their horses, and Bun as trainer until the years began demanding he turn over the conditioning to someone else.

Fifty years is a long time in human terms, even longer in the equine equivalent.  Generations come and go in the horse world over the span of a human lifetime, and those lineages are documented and spoken of in reverential tones by the men and women who govern them.

Heliskier’s dam, for instance, was Plana Dance, one of only two horses to win the Princess Elaine Stakes twice. And her son Heliskier was named Horse of the Year twice at Canterbury, in 2012 and again the next year. Only one other horse, Hoist Her Flag, has been so honored twice.

Heliskier was by Appealing Skier and retired in 2016 with a career record of 9-2-2 from 19 starts with earnings of $277,918. All but four of those races were at Canterbury Park, where he was 9-2-1 from 15 starts and earned $266,968.

Heliskier won seven consecutive starts to inaugurate his career, five of them stakes races, under Hall of Fame rider Derek Bell, who is reminded daily of him. Bell has a picture of Heliskier in the living room of his home in Indiana. “I think about him every day, how much fun he was to ride” Bell said. “He was a big powerful machine. All he did was run his guts out.”

Trained by Mac Robertson, Heliskier was the king of the barn. “Every trainer has a leader of the stable, and he was that for two years,” Robertson recalled. “That’s a long time for a horse to go undefeated.”

Heliskier’s presence was a boon to attitude in the barn as well. “Whenever there is an undefeated horse in the stable, it’s just fun to walk past and look at him,” Robertson added.

Ultimately, Heliskier, not unlike certain NFL running backs, might have been too good for his own body, too fast for his own limbs. “Sprinters that run that fast are hard to keep around,” Robertson added. “Wish he could have lasted longer, but he had bad knees and could only train so hard.”

The naming process is an important part of connecting horses to their lineage, by choosing names that reflect those of their sires or dams. In Heliskier’s case, it was part bestowal of a moniker that honored his sire, Appealing Skier, and the Colvins’ nephew, Dr William Hemminger, an equine veterinarian from Louisville, Ky., who spent time with his aunt and uncle as a youngster.

Hemminger is taken with a sport known in Canada as helisking. Skiers are transported to the top of a mountain by helicopter; they ski down, and return again. Hence, a name for the best horse in the Colvins’ long history of racing and breeding.

And now a place to honor him and his achievements, in the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

Streak Begins? (Heliskier Update)

Blues Edge - Fast Forward Medical Derby - 06-29-13 - R03 - CBY - FinishTrainer Bernell Rhone was asked about a horse he handled last year named Gold Brew, the first horse in his career to win six consecutive races.

“I’ve stopped some winning streaks,” Rhone quipped Saturday afternoon, “but, yes, that was the first horse to win that many in a row for me.”

Gold Brew was back in Rhone’s barn to start the meet this spring, but is now in a Hugo pasture owned by Wayne Scanlan.

Rhone has six of Scanlan’s horses this meet but Gold Brew is not among them. “We brought him back this year but he has a hot tendon,” Rhone explained.

Rhone didn’t end any streaks on Saturday but he started a new one with a horse named Blues Edge, sired by Scanlan’s stallion Obstacle from his mare Auser Blue.

Scanlan is a North Dakota native with horse racing in the family bloodlines. His grandfather, Wayne D. Branch, was a trainer of note in the West, at Long Acres, Golden Gate, Turf Paradise and such and recently elected to the Washington Hall of Fame.

Scanlan’s mother kept those bloodlines going by marrying his father, a cowboy from Miles City, Montana, and they wound up in North Dakota.

“A native of North Dakota just like Bernell,” Scanlan of himself Saturday after the third race.

When Canterbury Downs opened in 1985 Scanlan’s father, Joe, pointed the way if horses were to be a part of his future, getting a piece of land north of Hugo. Wayne was introduced to the state at the University of Minnesota, where he studied veterinary medicine. “They don’t have (a veterinary school) in North Dakota,” said Scanlan.

Scanlan has 25 or more horses on his place in Hugo, including his sire and mares. He once raced a horse at Canterbury called The Pilot. His mares have included Play N Fare, by The Pilot, and Desert Star. If asked how many horses exactly, Scanlan shakes his head and says “too many. You’ll have to ask my wife.”

The Scanlans lost Play N Fare three years ago, a blow to future plans. She was not only a favorite but “she was going to become the foundation mare for our next generation,” he said.

Play N Truth, her last foal, ran well out of the money on last Thursday’s card.

There was some satisfaction nonetheless after Blues Edge (above), with Dean Butler up, recorded the second win of the meet for Scanlan, finishing in front of Somerset Ballerina in the third race.

Scanlan is a practicing veterinarian but other than his own horses he restricts his business to dogs and cats.

“Not other people’s horses,” he said. “I want to continue being able to walk upright, to have the use of all my limbs. Caring for other people’s horses is an accident waiting to happen.”

THE WET SUMMER NO LONGER DRY FOR THIS OWNER

Jack Walsh was lamenting the long, dry meet he has experienced this wet, wet summer during Saturday’s card. “I haven’t won a race the entire meet,” he said.

He made the statement after the third race on the card in which his Somerset Ballerina finished three lengths behind Blues Edge in the claiming sprint.

Lo and behold, the skies parted, the sun shone forth and Silver Somerset, with Brandon Meier up, ended the dry spell in race No. 8…at 20-1 odds nonetheless.

HELISKIER DOING JUST FINE

Canterbury Park’s 2012 Horse of the Year is back in training and appears fine, but no decision has been made regarding his next start.

“I think he is all right,” said owner Marlene Colvin. “He’s back in training.”

We’re going to take our time with him just to make sure everything is all right. That’s what (trainer) Mac Robertson said we should do. He said that’s what Bun would do and I agree.”

Heliskier

Bun Colvin is Marlene’s late husband and Heliskier is the last horse he broke for the track

Marlene said that Heliskier has stood in the gate and has been galloping after losing for the first time in his career last time out. Heliskier was racing against open company for the first time but was out of the race at the break when he went head first into the dirt, scraping his nose and head badly.

“Bun always said to do what is best for the horse. He was walked a few days (after the accident) to make sure there was nothing serious wrong. So far, everything sounds all right,” Marlene said.

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.

Heliskier Returns Saturday

HELISKIERDerbyFinishJust how good is Heliskier? We could find out in Saturday’s seventh race, the $50,000 10,000 Lakes Stakes, perhaps his toughest test ever. Heliskier is trained by Canterbury’s perennial leading conditioner Mac Robertson.

As a two year old, Heliskier broke his maiden in hand and galloped on the Northern Lights Futurity field, winning by 10 lengths. The following summer the Minnesota-bred gelding became Canterbury’s Horse of the Year in 2012 by impressively winning all four of his starts. In his last out in the Minnesota Derby, Heliskier handily drew off from the others by 13 lengths.

In all but one of his starts, Heliskier has been the heavy favorite and is 6/5 in the morning line for the upcoming race. In fact, he was so dominant in his past races that a west coast gambler was compelled to bet $200,000 to win.

Will Sugar Business go back to his front running style to battle for the lead with Heliskier or will Freedom First be the late closer to pull an upset? The 10,000 Lakes Stakes has drawn a field of nine promising Minnesota breds to go the 6 furlongs alongside Heliskier but each one will be looking to run down the favorite.

With connections like Robertson and Derek Bell aboard, it is hard to go against Heliskier. Undefeated and looking to show Canterbury his true potential Heliskier will no doubt turn heads this Saturday.

Here’s Heliskier winning last year’s Victor Myers Stakes (start at the 2:45 mark):

Photo: Coady Photography

Heliskier Returns Saturday

HELISKIERDerbyFinishJust how good is Heliskier? We could find out in Saturday’s seventh race, the $50,000 10,000 Lakes Stakes, perhaps his toughest test ever. Heliskier is trained by Canterbury’s perennial leading conditioner Mac Robertson.

As a two year old, Heliskier broke his maiden in hand and galloped on the Northern Lights Futurity field, winning by 10 lengths. The following summer the Minnesota-bred gelding became Canterbury’s Horse of the Year in 2012 by impressively winning all four of his starts. In his last out in the Minnesota Derby, Heliskier handily drew off from the others by 13 lengths.

In all but one of his starts, Heliskier has been the heavy favorite and is 6/5 in the morning line for the upcoming race. In fact, he was so dominant in his past races that a west coast gambler was compelled to bet $200,000 to win.

Will Sugar Business go back to his front running style to battle for the lead with Heliskier or will Freedom First be the late closer to pull an upset? The 10,000 Lakes Stakes has drawn a field of nine promising Minnesota breds to go the 6 furlongs alongside Heliskier but each one will be looking to run down the favorite.

With connections like Robertson and Derek Bell aboard, it is hard to go against Heliskier. Undefeated and looking to show Canterbury his true potential Heliskier will no doubt turn heads this Saturday.

Here’s Heliskier winning last year’s Victor Myers Stakes (start at the 2:45 mark):

Photo: Coady Photography