Centura High School is located in rural central Nebraska on the banks of the Loup River and draws its students from Boleus, Dannebrog and Cairo, where it is located.
A recent count put the enrollment for grades 7 through 12 at 250 students, so it is not a large school by any means. So, what are the chances that three of its graduates would wind up at Canterbury Park this summer?
That’s precisely what happened when jockey Chris Fackler decided to drop his tack here for the 2013 meet. Fackler, 23, had never raced in Shakopee before but is now here with two other alumni of Centura – Mark and Chad Anderson, former riders themselves now employed in other aspects of racing.
At one time, Fackler was the toast of Grand Island and Lincoln, where he was known as the Boleus Bombshell while tearing up those tracks, especially during his bug days.
“I never ventured too far from home,” Fackler said.
He had been to Canterbury Park twice before, for about an hour each time. “I visited a friend here in 2009 I think it was,” he said. “And another time I was here to drop off some horses.”
Fackler began riding at age 17 and rode his first winner, a horse named Rahy Royal, at Lincoln in July of 2007.
He had galloped horses for about a month in Fort Piere, S.D., before getting his first mounts there. “It’s a small track and they don’t require much,” he said. “It’s a small track in a small town. They just don’t want riders to fall off and get hurt.”
Fackler has ridden at the Nebraska tracks as well as Beulah Park in Ohio, Remington Park in Oklahoma and in Indiana some, too.
He made the decision to give Canterbury Park a try after working for Mac Robertson in Hot Springs, Ark., last winter. “I found out he was from Nebraska too,” Fackler said. “They cut purses and days a bunch in Nebraska, so I figured I’d follow him to Minnesota.”
The initial meeting with Robertson did not go quite as planned.
“A buddy of mine from Beulah was working for Mac and invited me over,” Fackler said. A debate ensued when Fackler arrived bundled up and looking 25 pounds heavier than his actual weight. “It was cold,” he said.”I had a lot of clothes on and Mac thought I was too big to ride.”
The issue was straightened out and Fackler wound up working horses for the Robertson barn. “It was a big transition from Nebraska, where the horses are not the quality of those Mac had,” said Fackler. “With him the horses come first, and that’s the way it should be.”
Fackler’s interest in racing started young. “I was probably in diapers when I got on my first horse,” he said. His father rode horses years ago and later did some training, yet his friends always thought Chris would outgrow the chance to ride.
“They never thought I’d stay small enough,” said Fackler, who is 5-6 and generally weighs between 106 and 115 pounds.
Fackler arrived in Minnesota with around 500 wins for his career and anxious to make connections with local barns. He has scrounged up only a handful of mounts, however, primarily from the Robertson barn.
Nonetheless, he likes what he’s seen so far of the track in Shakopee.
“I like it,” he said. “These are some of the best crowds I’ve seen. They don’t get crowds like these at Remington and Oaklawn except on special days. The pools aren’t all that big, though, for the size of the crowds.”
Another aspect of Minnesota nice has also caught Fackler’s attention.
“Everybody here seems to love the horsemen. You go out to restaurants, or just people in general, when they find out you’re in racing they give you a lot of respect.”
Fackler is aware that the Anderson brothers, Mark and Chad, are in Shakopee, too. Chad is an agent for Hall of Fame riders Scott Stevens and Derek Bell. Mark is the track clocker and a placing judge. Fackler has a passing acquaintance with the brothers, although there is one other connection. “They’re older than I am,” he said. “But my sister does have a picture of me as a baby and one of them is holding me.”
A small Nebraska world shrunk even more in Shakopee this summer.
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.