Vergara (Finally) Arrives in Shakopee

Daniel Vergara 6-13-13An owner once refused to let Daniel Vergara ride his horse because he found the jockey’s handshake unimpressive. A bit too lifeless.

Then again, horses seem to like Vergara’s hands because they are gentle, imbued with finesse.

Vergara, a native of Mexico City, has been in the United States for the past two decades, riding in California, north and south; in Canada, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, at Finger Lakes, and Turf Paradise the last several years.

“He has soft hands, very soft hands,” said trainer Dan McFarlane, a Phoenix regular in Shakopee for the first time.

Take that Mr. Horse Owner.

Vergara was nearly predestined to ride horses for a living, growing up as he did with an older brother, Juan, riding for a living.

After traipsing the length of California and the breadth of the U.S., Vergara has settled in Phoenix, where his wife, Lola, and children Daniel, 17, and Angie, 15, and he have a home minutes from the track.

He has ridden for several trainers in Phoenix but probably most frequently for Valorie Lund last winter and is trying Canterbury for the first time at her suggestion.

Vergara is the reason agent John Everly is back in Shakopee this summer after handling the books of Lori Keith and Geovanni Franco here last year.

Vergara and Everly have worked together several times over the past few years, primarily in Arizona.

Everly was serving as the assistant racing secretary at Turf Paradise when Vergara approached him near the end of the meet. “I knew Canterbury was in the back of his mind,” Everly said. “He had heard a lot of good things about it and the increase in pots here was the final push.”

Indeed.

Vergara had gotten a sales job on Canterbury some time ago.

“Scott Stevens started telling me to come here about nine years ago,” Vergara said.

Thursday night Vergara was riding a horse engaged in a duel to the wire against Eddie Martin, Jr.. Chuck Costanzo, Martin’s agent, was watching the race on the apron level of the grandstand. “That kid can ride,” he said. “He gives Eddie everything he wants all the time.”

Martin’s horse, March Twelth, won the race but Costanzo had made the point.

Everly describes his rider as a “polished veteran. That’s the term I like to use,” he said.

Watching the same race Thursday was Lund. As she watched the two horses and their riders dueling, she sized them up this way:

“Daniel prefers to sit and finish. He’s a finesse rider,” she said. “Eddie, he has that wicked stick.”

Everly, for his part, seems pleased to be back in Shakopee for the current meet.

He had been the racing secretary in Prescott, Az., at one time but attempts to reopen the track failed recently.

“The people who bought the place didn’t quite have the money to get it going,” he said. That left the summer open. Then Lund provided the business in Shakopee they needed to make the move possible.

“She’s the big reason we decided to come here,” Everly said.

Vergara’s only concern with moving his tack to Shakopee was establishing additional business in barns he had never visited before. Although Lund assured him of some mounts, he believes that a rider often needs more than one barn to make a meet productive.

“Sometimes a trainer or an owner decides not to use you for whatever reason,” he said. “A trainer might like you but the owner doesn’t.”

Sometimes for the oddest of reasons and perhaps to their own regret, over something as simple as, say, the nature of a handshake.

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.

A Very Gray Kinda (Month) Day

Prophet SongThe fourth race on Saturday’s card summed up the afternoon and most of the meet this spring/summer/fall at the same time. Very, very gray.

The race drew an 11-horse field that included four grays.

Four grays in one race? When is the last time you’ve seen that?

Racing operations analyst and tote board messiah Andrew Offerman had an immediate response.

“Rillito Park,” he said. “They always closed the meet there with a race in which a horse had to be gray or roan to enter.”

Even track president Randy Sampson does not recall a previous meet that got under way with as much rain as there’s been this season… and very little sunshine, the X-factor that impacts attendance for better or worse.

“I don’t remember another season like this one,” Sampson said. “Not with rain this consistently, nearly every day. And the forecast is for more.”

Saturday’s card included rain for a brief time.

“It’s every day, every day. I’m sick of it,” said trainer Larry Donlin in a raspy voice. Donlin isn’t only sick of it, he’s just plain sick.

When there hasn’t been an appreciable amount of rain on a given day, ominous storm clouds have done their best to scare away otherwise willing patrons and to keep the jockeys, valets and trainers guessing throughout the course of the day.

Saturday was no different – overcast, dark, foreboding.

“Well it hasn’t rained yet anyway,” said Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens after winning the first race on the card, his first of two winners Saturday.

A bystander remarked to Stevens that even a blind man should have been able to pick his horse. After all, Scott Stevens on a mount named Scotts Gap.

“That’s the reason I took the mount,” a grinning Stevens said, adding to a valet nearby, “hey I’m not kidding.”

Later, Stevens, known for his ability to get the most out of horse and have enough left to finish strongly, ran into a horse with more in its tank in the final strides and finished second to fast-closing Storming the Gates and the meet’s leading rider, Lori Keith.

Keith has been having a bang-up meet. She’s riding good mounts and riding the best of her career at the same time.

Incidentally, that race was the fourth and Stevens was riding a 3-year-old Holy Bull filly named Sentiment Gray.

Even Oracle, Canterbury’s handicapper supreme, a person of extreme even temperament, was knocked off his game on Saturday, although weather had nothing to do with it. The pressbox soda machine was out of diet Mountain Dew. “He might have a meltdown,” said pressbox boss Jeff Maday.

The Oracle is prepared for nearly any eventuality, however, and would likely survive the most dire of circumstances. He later produced a diet Mountain Dew, opening it slowly. “I squirreled it away in my briefcase from yesterday,” he explained.

Just like that an overcast day was sunny again for at least one individual.

Also on hand to watch a friend’s horse run Saturday was one of Canterbury’s newest Hall of Fame inductees, Sheila Williams, and her granddaughter, Kianna, who will undergo knee surgery at Mayo Clinic soon.

Williams was enthralled with the finish of the second race, along with numerous others on hand, and anxiously awaited the outcome of a photo finish between Prophet’s Song and What A Score in race two (photo above).

The finish was so tight that everyone, including announcer Paul Allen, had to await delivery of the photo. “I think the inside has it, but maybe not,” said Williams. “What do you think Kianna? I’ll bet it’s the outside horse, but maybe not.”

How close was it?

“Well, if Paul Allen isn’t leaning one way or the other,” said Williams, “it’s probably a dead heat.”

It was Prophet’s Song and Martin Escobar by – as the photo showed – no more than the tip of her nose.

On an otherwise ordinary, gray day there was this additional bit of sunshine:

Daniel Vergara, moments before mounting Gadsden Purchase in the seventh race, responded to a question.

“Is Sophia a relative?” he was asked.

Vergara broke into laugher as he was given a leg up.

Perhaps he was still laughing when Allen made this comment midway through the race. “Bizet is moving up and Gadsden Purchase is losing ground.”

Allen had a chuckle himself when reminded later that we gained ground, parts of Arizona and New Mexico, with that particular purchase.

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.