Creative Art Has A New Muse

BY JIM WELLS

The leading racehorse this summer at Canterbury Park, as we speak, is eight years old, not very big and the subject of numerous transactions at the claiming box.

He has been mostly an honest fellow if not always successful, with peaks and valleys on his resume, and he has corresponding life details with horses who’ve achieved great things. Creative Art is an undersized gelding competing in middle age, as did a famous horse of just such description. But the similarities with John Henry end there.

Still, not many horses are the subject of the tugs-of-war Creative Art has undergone in claiming races, particularly since he is not a burgeoning star or an up-and-coming three-year-old.

This smallish fellow of quarter-horse dimensions (he’s about 15-2)  has been claimed five times since the first week of May in 2017 and eight times during a productive career that began five-plus years ago as an Illinois-bred at Hawthorne Race Course.

He is 16-13-12 from 70 career starts with earnings of $388,689, and is having a bang-up summer meet in Shakopee, where he is 3-for-3 with earnings of $59,400 to lead the local stables not quite halfway through the meet. London Legacy also is 3-for-3 but has earned less, $34,200.

So, it would seem, Creative Art is honest and productive, but that did not appear to be the case when Shawn Davis claimed him halfway through the 2017 season, a year in which he was 2-0-6 in 18 starts.

Was he injured, aging, tired….did Davis see something others did not?

“I could tell there was nothing wrong with him,” he said.

Davis has a keen eye in such matters. He has been a rancher most of his life, was a three-time world champion saddle bronc rider and is in the Cowboy Hall of Fame. He has been around horses, ridden horses and trained horses for a major part of his 77 years. He is also the master producer of one of the annual feature attractions in Las Vegas, Nev., known as the National Finals Rodeo, the Super Bowl of rodeo.

So, when he looked at Creative Art and decided there was nothing wrong with him he was right.

Nothing physical, anyway.

Yet the horse’s previous handlers apparently decided something was wrong, perhaps something mental because they made an unusual decision.

They gelded him.

At seven years of age

“That seems very rare to me,” said Davis.

“Yes, I’d say it’s very rare, almost unheard of,” said trainer Jason Pascoe.

Yet, the results in 2018 speak for themselves. He is 3-1-3 from 7 starts.

Different environment, different racetrack?

Possibly.

He did run fourth, third, third, second, third at Turf Paradise after Davis claimed him back from Robertino Diodoro for himself and Frank Bemis of Omaha in mid December.

Yet, the horse has been lights out at Canterbury Park, and Davis is looking now for another spot for him after his solid win on June 23 in the Dark Star Cup.

That win came after a near disaster for Bemis and his wife, Connie, whose new car was demolished when they were T-boned at an intersection during the drive from Omaha, an accident that put the two of them in the hospital overnight in Windom.

Frank Bemis (third from right) and Shawn Davis (second from right) in winner’s circle after Dark Star Cup victory

Bemis was determined to attend the Dark Star Cup nonetheless, but without a rental car agency in the Windom area, he had to call Davis, who headed south 120 miles on June 23, returning in time for the race that night.

Bemis has been in horse racing for 60 years, racing horses since he was 20 years old at Aksarben and other spots in Nebraska. “I haven’t had a year since without a horse,” he said. Canterbury’s arrival in 1985 gave him a new location to run, along with Prairie Meadows in Iowa. He has raced a handful of horses in the Claiming Crown races whose inception and first first few runnings were in Shakopee.

“I wish Canterbury would get them back,” he said. “Canterbury is a great place and we’ve never been treated better than we were by Nat Wess (the Claiming Crown guru) during the times they were held there.”

Bemis was cut and bruised on his arms, face and neck as he stood in the winner’s circle after Creative Art won for a third consecutive time since his transfer north from Phoenix.

Bemis made the rounds with his doctors (with more to come) since returning to Omaha after the accident but plans to be in Shakopee next Friday when another of his horses, Consumerconfidence will run. Consumerconfidence set a track record for 7 ½ furlongs on the grass at Turf Paradise last winter, cutting a full second off a time that had stood for 14 years.

Davis, meanwhile, is also looking for another spot to send Canterbury’s leading thoroughbred, Creative Art, chasing his fourth win of the meet.

“He loves to train. He can’t wait to get out there,” Davis said.

Notes from the Weekend

Canterbury newcomers Cecily Evans and Justine Klaiber both rode their first winners at this track on Saturday. Klaiber got her first win in the 2nd race on the quarter horse Jess A Chance for trainer Randy Weidner.

After dueling in the early parts of the Quarter Horse dash, Jess a Chance took charge late to win the race by ¾ of a length. Evans crossed the wire first later in the card, in the 8th race aboard Emily’s Entourage for last year’s leading trainer Mac Robertson. Emily’s Entourage drew clear from the rest of the field to win the race by a decisive 3 ½ lengths.

Jockey Betty Jo Williams made a return to the saddle last weekend after a 5 year hiatus. Williams has 109 wins, 131 seconds and 152 thirds from 1,070 starts. In 2011 she was a finalist for the Canadian Sovereign Award for leading apprentice rider. A couple of serious injuries and later becoming a mother have kept Williams from riding, but she has decided that she is ready to make her comeback here at Canterbury Park this summer.

Thursday night racing, more popularly known as Buck Night, returns this week with a 6:30 p.m. post.  Admission is just one dollar and there are several $1, $2 and $3 food and beverage specials throughout the facility.

Entries will be taken Wednesday for the Saturday program that will include three $50,000 stakes races. Two are new, the Minnesota Turf and the Minnesota Turf Distaff, and one, the Dark Star Cup, honors a Canterbury Hall of Famer, the late Dark Star.

Dark Star was a fixture at Canterbury beginning in the mid-eighties. He never missed an opportunity to promote Minnesota horse racing on his long running WCCO AM radio program as well as on KFAN where he worked until passing away five years ago.  He hosted the replay show, The Canterbury Report, which was the longest running sports show in the Twin Cities, for two decades.

Many friends will gather Saturday to remember Dark Star, including former Minnesota Twins manager Tom Kelly, who will present the trophy to the winning connections of the Dark Star Cup.

Post time Saturday is 1:45 p.m.

Saturday is also Belmont Stakes day. Advance wagering is available as follows for both the Friday and Saturday Belmont programs.

Available Thursday, 6/8/17:

Advance wagers for Friday’s Belmont card (race 11 is the Belmont Gold Cup)

Advance wagers for Saturday’s Belmont card (race 11 is the Belmont Stakes)

Thursday’s Belmont card

Belmont Gold Cup/Belmont Stakes Double Wager (race 11 on Friday and race 11 on Saturday)

New York Stakes/Metropolitan Handicap Double Wager (race 9 on Friday and race 9 on Saturday)

 

Available Friday, 6/9/17:

Advance wagers for Saturday’s Belmont card (race 11 is the Belmont Stakes)

Friday’s Belmont card (race 11 is the Belmont Gold Cup)

Belmont Gold Cup/Belmont Stakes Double Wager (race 11 on Friday and race 11 on Saturday)

New York Stakes/Metropolitan Handicap Double Wager (race 9 on Friday and race 9 on Saturday)

 

Available Saturday, 6/10/17:

Saturday’s Belmont card (race 11 is the Belmont Stakes)

Advance wagering on Canterbury races is always available one day in advance.

AN AFTERNOON OF SURPRISING WINNERS

Plot Twist
Plot Twist

BY JIM WELLS

A horse named Plot Twist confounded the experts, another called Inconclusive was anything but and a third called Creator, in another surprise, produced a very nice return for his believers in races miles apart on Saturday but immediately juxtaposed nonetheless by the magic of television.

Plot Twist started the proceedings by capturing the $75,000 Dark Star Handicap at 36-1. Inconclusive made the finish quite conclusive in the $75,000 Northbound Pride Oaks, and Creator at 16-1 manufactured a nice return for anyone who backed him in the Belmont Stakes. The first two races were the feature attractions for a crowd of 9,270 at Canterbury Park on Saturday. The third, of course, was simulcast from Belmont Park.

Neither Plot Twist nor his connections had ever been in Minnesota before. Inconclusive hadn’t either but his owner lives here, and Creator got help from a stablemate named Gettysburg, ostensibly in the race to set the pace for Exaggerator, another stablemate who won the Preakness Stakes. Sometimes the best laid plans work out, just not the way expected.

 

$75,000 DARK STAR HANDICAP

 

Could the winner of this race have been any more appropriate?

A horse named Plot Twist doing just that to the legacy of the race’s namesake? In a total plot reversal, the 4-year-old gelding, at 36-1, was a winner that the Darkman would never have wagered on himself?

“Nope, he always bet the chalk,” said any number of individuals who knew the man.

None of that was relevant to the owner and to the trainer of the winner, who have been in Minnesota and at Canterbury Park for the first time in their lives since only last Sunday. Owner Raymond Gross, Jr., and trainer Tina Rodriguez-Guzman have been partners in this business for the past 22 years but had never had a horse run in a stakes race until Sunday.

For them, the first time was the charm.

“I’m still shaking,” Rodriguez-Guzman said 10 minutes after the race.

Winning a first stakes race can do that, particularly when you have never won one before and have no idea what to expect running against unknown quantities as she did on Saturday.

What she did understand, however, was that her horse would be a longshot. “They pretty much always are when I win,” she said.

Gross confirmed the fact and provided a bit of background on the matter by divulging that they had a 99-1 winner nine years ago at Retama Park. The horse’s name? One Evil Eye.

Meanwhile, a bit of background: The Rodriguez-Guzman and Gross stable of four horses arrived at Canterbury Sunday night after a three-day trip from Nacasota, Texas and plan to finish out the meet here as sort of a summer vacation.

A winner’s check of around $45,000 is a nice way to start any vacation,  everyone heartily agreed.

With Erik McNeil in the irons, Plot Twist broke in front of only one horse in the seven-horse field and came five wide into the stretch and made a late bid to catch He’s So Zazzy in the stretch drive and prevail by ¾ length. Diamond Joe was next, another 1 ½ lengths back.

A strong finish produced the win and a return of $75.20 on a $2 win ticket.

$75,000 NORTHBOUND PRIDE OAKS

 

Inconclusive
Inconclusive

 

Sometimes a simple adjustment, a modest change in strategy, can produce a winning result.

Take Inconclusive, owned by Carolyn Friedberg of Minneapolis, who has been stalking the pace further back than she did under Denny Velazquez in this race.

“She’s been running too far back,” said trainer Richie Scherer.

Not this time.

Velazquez kept his mount on the rail never more than two lengths behind the leaders and took her out, three wide, near the upper stretch and began an all-out drive to catch Princess Erindelle by a neck at the wire, another neck in front of Frozen Hannah in third.

“Denny rode a great race,” an elated Scherer said.

Joe Friedberg, summoned to the post-race microphone on behalf of his wife, left fuller explanations on the matter to the trainer.

“I didn’t train the horse or ride the horse,” he said.

Scherer and Velazquez handled those duties. “She’s just been two far back in other races,” Scherer said. “And she’d come huffing and puffing trying to catch up.”

That was not the case on Saturday.

All HAIL THE DARKMAN

The running of the Cup unfailingly produces remembrances of its namesake, Dark Star, whose legacy continues to grow as more stories appear about his sometimes rather unusual behavior. Saturday’s running produced this recollection:

A practical joker and prankster, the Darkman typically was up to no good if you turned your back on him. Walk away from your food plate to place a bet and it sometimes had disappeared upon your return. It might reappear in the most unlikely of places, usually none the worse for the wear but sometimes noticeably depleted from its original state. The frequency of a particular joke never lost its robust humor with Dark even though a victim had long since tired of it.

One time in a truly creative moment, the Darkman came up with a doozy. A handicapper in the press box had informed everyone within earshot not to divulge the winner of the Indianapolis 500 that afternoon if they had been privy to the final results. He had set his VCR to record the event and planned to watch the race later that evening.

To the handicapper’s extreme misfortune, the Darkman was among those within earshot. When the handicapper climbed into his automobile in the parking lot after the races there was a note awaiting him under a windshield wiper. Yes indeed…

That was the Darkman.

Dark Star

Field Set for Dark Star Cup

Dark CheeringHis face is emblazoned on the wall in a larger than life photo as you enter the press box, now named in his memory. The photo is from the early days of Canterbury Downs and he is dressed to fit a specific role, that of racetrack regular, man about town, high roller, someone riding life on the edge.

The right hand is raised in a fist, the other hand sunk deep into the pocket of his trousers anchored to a trim lean body by suspenders that flank the perfectly chosen tie, with an unbuttoned sport coat supporting an intense look of support for – what else could it have been – his horse.

From appearances, the picture might have been taken in a studio, captured for the ages in the instant after a photographer said ‘say cheese’ or, also likely, taken moments after the man noticed a camera pointed his way. It is hard to tell what’s real and what is not.

After all, the man in question here is Dark Star.

Also known as George Chapple.

Handicapper, sports expert, a bon vivant full of bons mots.

On Saturday, Canterbury Park will feature the $50,000 Dark Star Cup, a 6 and 1/2 furlong sprint for three-year-olds and older. During its five previous runnings, from 1985 through 1989, this race was known as the Chaucer Cup, a nod to literary royalty that was part of the glorious presentation that attended those heady first years of Minnesota racing.

George ‘Dark Star’ Chapple was part of it. It is possible he was present for each of the Chaucer Cup’s five runnings. Even if he wasn’t, he was.

His hijinks and practical jokes are the stuff of press box legend at Canterbury. People occasionally found the dinner missing that only moments before they placed on the table in front of them. A desk drawer might be left open purposely where a person would clearly run into it, inflicting intense pain to an upper thigh. Notes of a dubious nature might be left beneath the windshield wipers of a press box regular. On one occasion a young press box intern mistakenly seated herself upon the copy machine only to have her bottom half photographed for widespread distribution.

Such is the stuff of press box legend. But the Dark Man’s lasting legacy to racing was his nonstop support of the sport in whatever capacity he worked. The Dark Man might know absolutely nothing about a given subject, but could sell it nonetheless. Racing he sold, every chance he got: As a handicapper at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, as a WCCO radio host or as a guy at the races, at Canterbury Downs and then Park, living the role.

Dark Star was born George Chapple on April 20, 1946. He joined a pantheon of great race horses on June 1, 2012, among them “Dark Star,” the upset winner of the 1953 Kentucky Derby.

It is said that every racetrack has its special characters. Dark Star was one of Canterbury’s.

It is probably no coincidence that the Chaucer Cup, now the Dark Star Cup, produced some dandies.

In 1985, a horse name Taylor’s Special, trained by Bill Mott, owned by William Lukas and ridden by Pat Day,won the inaugural running of the race. Lukas was Canterbury’s leading owner that inaugural summer. Who was he? The retired president and CEO of Brown-Borman Distiller, located in Louisville, Ky., of course.

The next summer, Forkintheroad secured a place as one of Canterbury’s early stars by winning the second running of the race. Trained by the legendary Jack Van Berg, owned by Minnesota Gordon Molitor and ridden by Jerry Bailey, Forkintheroad nosed out Aggies Best at 12-1 and was later named Canterbury’s Horse of the Year.

Don’s Irish Melody won the first of two consecutive Chaucer Cups in 1987, defeating Superroyale by 3/4 of a length.

The 1988 race (video below) was one of the best in track history after a thrilling stretch run, with the Melody pushing his nose in front of Who Doctor Who at the wire. The final time of 1:14 was only 1/5 second off the world record for the distance at the time. Don’s Irish Melody, the pace-setter, ran the first six furlongs in that race in 1:07 flat, nearly an entire second faster than the current six-furlong track record.

The 1989 Chaucer Cup had its own special touch. Reduced from $150,000 to $75,000 after a dramatic purse cut that summer, the race was nonetheless among the best in track history after Split Rock at 27-1 shifted gears in the final 150 yards and caught Orphan Kist in a dead heat.

Trailing by 14 lengths on the backstretch, by 8 1/2 at the half-mile pole and by five at the quarter pole, Split Rock had the grandstand in a tizzy. Two lengths back was Hoist Her Flag, Canterbury’s only two-time Horse of the Year.

The real winner that day was Dark Star, who had the daily double, the triple and the pick six in addition to the exacta on the Chaucer Cup.

Or maybe not.

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.

Race of the Week – Belmont Stakes

BelmontThe rite of spring for three year old thoroughbreds meets its conclusion this Saturday in the Belmont Stakes. With two strong Triple Crown victories in the books, one would think the winners would scare more runners off – not the case. A nearly capacity gate of fourteen is lined up for the final leg of the Triple Crown, including both the derby and Preakness winner. Before we dig into this year’s edition, a short review of the recent fortune of each in recent history:

Year    Kentucky Derby Winner                   Preakness Winner

2012    I’ll Have Another – Did Not Run *

2011    Animal Kingdom – 6th                          Shackleford – 5th

2010    Super Saver – Did Not Run                  Lookin at Lucky – Did Not Run

2009    Mine that Bird – 2nd                             Rachel Alexandra – Did Not Run

2008    Big Brown – Did Not Finish *

2007    Street Sense – Did Not Run                 Curlin – 2nd

2006    Barbaro – Did Not Run                         Bernardini – Did Not Run

2005    Giacomo – 7th                                      Afleet Alex – 1st

2004    Smarty Jones – 3rd *

2003    Funny Cide – 3rd *

2002    War Emblem – 8th *

2001    Monarchos – 3rd                                  Point Given – 1st

2000   Fusaichi Pegasus – Did Not Run          Red Bullet – Did Not Run

1999    Charismatic – 3rd *

1998    Real Quiet – 2nd *

1997    Silver Charm – 2nd *

1996    Grindstone – Did Not Run                   Louis Quatorze – 4th

1995    Thunder Gulch – 1st                          Timber Country – Did Not Run

1994    Go for Gin – 2nd                                Tabasco Cat – 1st

1993    Sea Hero – 7th                                   Prairie Bayou – Did Not Finish

1992    Lil E Tee – Did Not Run                      Pine Bluff – 3rd

1991    Strike the Gold – 2nd                          Hansel – 1st

1990   Unbridled – 4th                                    Summer Squall – Did Not Run

1989   Sunday Silence – 2nd *

1988   Winning Colors – 6th                           Risen Star – 1st

* Designates horse that won first two legs of the Triple Crown.

So do we run to the run-all-day type in Orb or do you go with the school of thought that says he’s on his way down in his form cycle and hope that Oxbow has another rabbit in his hat? The past five years have been brutal on the three-year-olds as far as trail castoffs, but the rubber match more often than not has gone the way of the Preakness winner. Though this is a small sample and in a lot of cases the Preakness winner ended up being simply a better horse in the long run, it is interesting to note.

Fillies are taken seriously if they jump into the TC foray, as shown by the off odds of both victresses in recent times, Rags to Riches and Rachel Alexandra. Todd Pletcher trained the former and sees this as the best possible spot for his Unlimited Budget and Rosie Napravnik… who am I to disagree? I am obviously very biased in this viewpoint, as I’m usually rooting for a filly to beat the boys… but doesn’t she have as legitimate of a shot as any? She was undefeated prior to the Oaks and took on one of the better editions I can remember in 2013. She didn’t run a bad race; it was just her typical, steady effort. Her cruising speed will benefit her more than an explosive kick, and if Rosie can reason with this filly and get her to relax she has every chance to put another Belmont in the girl’s corner. She did get a little antsy in the Oaks but that kind of crowd will do that to a filly. Hopefully the Belmont crowd doesn’t make her go bonkers…

Obviously Revolutionary will get his share of play off his Derby performance, and if Union Rags can do it why can’t he? This was the hype horse for the Derby whose name hasn’t graced many tongues in the media recently, but only probably due to his price in both races. He’s at a lukewarm 9-2 morning line for the Belmont and should end up a tad lower than that simply based on the visual appeal of his last race. Yes, Borel can carve out a trip for a horse at Churchill but does that necessarily translate to a better race with two extra furlongs to get tired? I’m more intrigued by a horse of his type for his ability to make his own trips, and that isn’t always at the top of the list for my criteria in Belmont selections. A mile and a half is enough time to overcome trouble of most sorts (Unless you’re War Emblem) and getting the best trip in the world is irrelevant if you run out of gas. Honestly, if any of Pletcher’s colts blew him away in the past few weeks the filly would not be in the picture.

One thing’s for sure… Gary Stevens painted a big bull’s eye on his back a few weeks ago. Don’t count any closer out of this edition of the Belmont, and count on a crowded finish.

The Dark Star Cup

Briefly, I’ll address the Saturday feature this weekend – one very dear to me. The Dark Star Cup has a spiffy first lineup, and one surprisingly not overdone with early speed.

Dark Cheering

Midwest has two entered, the speedy Southern Dude appearing to be the stronger of the uncoupled entry. He’s run before against (and beaten) Signsealndeliver, who enters fresh off a score on Illinois Champions Day. He survived an inquiry that day but was deemed best over his former-claimer stablemate, B Two Special.

Both of these will have to deal with another quality Hawthorne invader named I’ll Show Them. He may have captured the best race of them all over Calmer than You and ANOTHER Brueggemann trainee named Catfienated. His record on our main track is spotless and the six and a half furlong distance shouldn’t bother the son of Smarty Jones. The Robertson’s also bring two into the ring, with new face Ismael Grande in to track down the speedy Bet Seattle – winner of the Honor the Hero Stakes on Memorial Day. The winner of the Dowd Mile, Unsaddled Glory also joins the fray and fast-closing Clear to Canada makes his return to Canterbury as well. Dark may have settled in on the favorite given the chance, but that will be a hard role to establish in a field of this depth.

Good luck this weekend – hopefully it brings us all plenty of wings, wagers & winners!

This blog was written by Canterbury Paddock Analyst Angela Hermann. Angela Hermann serves as the Track Analyst for Hawthorne Racecourse in Cicero, Illinois and the summer of 2013 marks her third year in a similar capacity at Canterbury Park.