ON A WARM DAY MOJICA GETS HOT

By JIM WELLS

There was a heat advisory on Saturday as the area got a taste of what typically doesn’t occur until the depths of summer in the Twin Cities, yet even what Minnesotans refer to as oven-like was mitigated significantly by a stiff breeze.

It was warm, 95 degrees at 3 p.m. with a southwest wind of 20 mph and relative humidity in the comfort zone, 36 percent. But it’s all relative, isn’t it!

“I haven’t even broken a sweat,” said trainer Gary Scherer, whose weather at home in Louisiana is not only warmer but considerably more sultry.

“It’s a hot one, eh mate! Absolutely stifling,” said former jockey Mark Irving, a native of England.

Actually, not a bad day at all, especially for trainers, riders and anyone else from southern or southwestern parts of the country. “This is nice,” said Star-Tribune handicapper Johnny Love, who recently moved to Arizona.

It was under those conditions, with temps in the mid 90s and what was called by the chart crew at Canterbury Park a 40 MPH headwind that Stormy Smith kicked off Belmont Stakes day by riding the winner in the first of four stakes races on the card.

Orlando Mojica caught on quickly, grasping early that a rider had to save enough horse for battling that headwind in the stretch, a realization that helped him win two $50,000 stakes and finish second in a third. On this particular day, it was not only weather one could describe as hot.

$32,750 GOPHER STATE DERBY

The winning rider of the first race on the card had the eponymous first name for the day, Stormy.  An exaggeration to be sure, but fitting somehow nonetheless.

Stormy Smith is from Purcell, Oklahoma, where big winds (we call them tornadoes) are quite common, so he had no trouble whatsoever dealing with the big headwind in this quarter horse 400 yard dash.

He was on La Mos Pyc for trainer Lori Harris and owner Thomas Scheckel and hit the wire a head in front of Lil Baby Eagle, who had a neck on Corona Springs, another Scheckel owned horse.

“She left (the gate) good, raced her butt off and ran a good race,” said Smith, who will stay another day in the Twin Cities. He has mounts in five of the Mystic Lake Northlands Futurity quarter horse trials on Sunday.

For the record, Smith’s account of the weather on Saturday was favorable. “I’d rather it hot than cold,” he said. “I’ve turned into a bit of wimp. Got too many (surgical) screws in me.”

     

$50,000 MINNESOTA TURF DISTAFF

The winning horse in this race has been knocking at the door, to paraphrase one of her owners, Tim Rosin. Saturday, the door opened.

With Mojica playing his cards expertly, he kept Some Say So (4-1) at the front of the race, monitoring his fuel reserves expertly, and created a leisurely pace that left plenty in reserve for a winning stretch run, finishing 1 ¾ lengths in front of First Hunter and 2 ¼ ahead of Honey’s Sox Appeal, the even money favorite.

The winning time was 1:29.85 after a half mile in :48.67.

The winner is owned by Wisconsinites Tim Rosin, Patti Miller and Mark Kane, who arrived in Shakopee full of confidence.

“We knew we had a live horse,” said Rosin. “We’ve been very close several times. Two weeks ago we lost (by a head) for $18,000.”

Some Say So made up for that on Saturday, collecting $30,000 as the winning share.

$50,000 DARK STAR CUP

Mojica had the winning strategy in the Turf Distaff, so why not try it again. He put Wings Locked Up at the front of a seven-horse field and kept the five-year-old gelding right there, took charge in the upper stretch and finished ½ length in front of Saturdaynitelites and 1 ½ ahead of Wabel, a ship in from Churchill Downs.

“If you have the lead in this headwind it helps, doesn’t it,” someone said to Mojica. “Yeah, but you have to have the horse,” he said.  For the second straight time, Mojica had just that, finishing in 1:15.72

The win was stiff throughout the afternoon, and readily apparent to horse and rider as they turned into the stretch. “Oh, you could really feel it,” said Mojica. “You had to have a lot of horse.”

The winning trophy was presented in this instance by former Minnesota Twins manager Tom Kelly, who was a personal friend of Dark Star, the radio personality for whom the race is named.

Tom Kelly with Brian Arrigoni

$50,000 MINNESOTA TURF

For a couple of deep breaths, Jenna Joubert and Pennant Fever appeared headed for the winner’s circle at 34-1, a major upset in the making.

An instant later, A P Is Loose does what he generally does under such circumstances. He fired inside the 1/16th pole and finished a neck in front of surging Plenty of Sun who had the same margin on Pennant Fever at the wire.

“Oh, that was close,” said winning owner Joel Zamzow. “A great race.”

Butler, the winning rider, had this to say about A P is Loose. “He knows where the wire is. He’s done that every time I’ve ridden him.”

A P is Loose went off the 3/5 favorite and settled outside in the second flight, tracking pace-setting Pennant Fever, who gave up and then regained the lead.

But A P was running his typical race, picking off one horse when he came to him and then the next, finishing in 1:30.54.

LOVEBERRY DINES IN WHITE HOUSE

Jareth Loveberry started the day as the leading rider at Canterbury with 15 wins, two more than Orlando Mojica and defending champion Dean Butler.

Earlier in the week, you might recall, Loveberry and members of his family had dinner at the White House for a reception honoring Gold Star families, those who’ve lost someone in the military service.

Jareth’s brother, Justin, was killed in Iraq in 2004 returning from a mission. Alerted to a possible explosive, Justin exposed himself to the    IED, saving some of his comrades in the process.

Monday, Jareth, his mother, stepfather, and three brothers were greeted by the President who thanked them and other families in attendance for their sacrifice and enjoyed a stand-up dinner that consisted of multiple entrees. “There was a lot of food, an awful lot of food,” Loveberry reported.

Among the items he recalled were watermelon salad, crab cakes, top sirloin, London broil, lamb chops.

“Oh, yeah, and desserts, too,” he added.

He didn’t gain an ounce. “They were tiny servings,” he explained.

 

The Adventure That Never Happened

rachel v zenyatta

By Jeff Maday

At some point in 2009 Dark Star told Canterbury Park president Randy Sampson that if Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta were to meet on a racetrack that he would take the boss to see the spectacle. Dark’s thinking was that this magnificent match-up, as intriguing as any heavyweight bout, would take place that fall at the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita.

Rachel Alexandra’s owner, Jess Jackson, despised synthetic surfaces and vowed never to race her on “plastic” which ruled out racing’s premier day.

Breeders’ Cup came and went. Zenyatta dispatched the boys in the Classic and remained unbeaten yet had to settle for second in Horse of the Year balloting when Rachel Alexandra was awarded that honor. According to voters, Rachel was more accomplished. In the minds of racing fans however, a championship should be decided on the racetrack not on paper.

Then the news broke in early 2010 that the showdown could in fact happen and very soon at that.  Oaklawn’s owner Charles Cella proposed boosting the purse of the April 3 Apple Blossom Stakes from $500,000 to $5 million should both Rachel and Zenyatta appear in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

The Rachel camp of Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen hemmed and hawed, saying that April 3 was too quick to come back from the mare’s upcoming Fair Grounds race and that she needed more time. Cella obliged by moving the race to April 9 and the game was on. “I’ve never had so much trouble giving $5 million away,” Cella told the Daily Racing Form.

Dark invited me along and the planning for what would be an epic adventure began. Hotel rooms in Hot Springs were at a premium and nearly impossible to find without a significant investment. Working contacts in Arkansas we managed to secure a house outside of town. Photos of the accommodations indicated that this compound was fairly secluded, backed up against what looked like either a lake or a swamp, and suitable for the hi-jinks likely to ensue. It also was large enough to house the entire traveling party which now included Randy’s brother Russ and a limousine driver.

Yes, a limousine driver, because in classic Dark Star fashion we would not fly but rather Dark arranged for a limo to take us from the Twin Cities to Hot Springs and shuttle us around town during the stay.

With everything set, all we needed to do was wait for spring to arrive and it was off to the healing waters of the spas, duck boats tours and the biggest race of the decade.

The prep race for Rachel Alexandra was to take place March 13 at Fair Grounds in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes. The conclusion was forgone. This was to be a coronation of sorts. An easy win for Rachel and then on to Oaklawn to validate the Horse of the Year title.

“New Orleans was a very pro-Rachel town and people would come watch her work in the mornings,” said Eric Halstrom, at that time the man running the racing program at Fair Grounds.  “HRTV had our TV guys film the works and they’d play it later in the afternoon.  When Steve (Asmussen) would school her, always in the afternoon, people would be hanging over the paddock rails watching her. By the time the New Orleans Ladies arrived, the buzz was off the charts. The biggest crowd in decades turned out.  We guessed it at 15,000 in a place that uncomfortably holds 10,000.  No promotion or giveaway…just a huge racing crowd,” Halstrom said.

“When the horses were being saddled it was bedlam.  Literally a dangerous situation with everyone trying to get a close up of Rachel.  Jess Jackson was being mobbed. Steve was all business. There was a $2 million show bet…I’d never seen that number on a tote board.”

Rachel was 1 to 20 in a short field.

Randy settled into the couch in the Canterbury press box that afternoon to watch the New Orleans Ladies Stakes. I paced behind the couch in anticipation.

Rachel took the lead but was collared by Zardana as they prepared for the drive. Surely Rachel would kick on. Zardana can’t pass her. Zardana can’t ruin this.

“When they turned for home you could see Rachel was in trouble.  The 15,000 people went dead silent,” Halstrom said.

Zardana did kick on; Rachel did not. Zardana made the final visit of her career to the winners’ circle that day.

“I don’t think we will be going to Oaklawn,” Randy said in a manner that only he could. And with that he left the press box.

“The owner of the Zardana was a guy named Arnold Zetcher and he was very nice and gracious.  He apologized to me for what had happened.  He was happy but knew the ramifications of Rachel getting beat,” Halstrom said.  “The silence lasted while people filed out.  It was the most depressing moment I’ve ever seen at a racetrack.  And watching Rachel being unsaddled and then walked back to the barn was a sad moment because anyone that knew racing knew that she wasn’t the same filly.”

I phoned Dark later that evening to commiserate. The announcement that the big race was off was only a formality, and it did come the next day from Jackson.

Dark took it in stride and we were back at the track early that week, likely playing a Tuesday card at Parx or buggies somewhere.

When spring comes around and Oaklawn is hitting its stride, I think of the race that might have been but more so of what would have been the trip of a lifetime in a limousine to Hot Springs with the great Dark Star and the boss.

 

Dark Star, a Canterbury Hall of Fame member, passed away in 2012.

Dark Star and Trent Tucker
Dark Star and Trent Tucker

BRIGHT SKIES, BIG CROWD AND TOBY KEITH, TOO

Ghost Is Clear winning $75,000 Dark Star Cup
Ghost Is Clear winning $75,000 Dark Star Cup

So how could you ask for a better Father’s Day _ sunshine, steady breezes to dry the track and surrounding area and, for the ladies and his fans, none other than Toby Keith.

            On top of all that, a crowd in excess of 13,000 people.

            Keith, you might recall, has had Country-Western hits that include I Love This Bar, Beer for My Horses and I Should’ve Been a Cowboy.

            He also had horses in both stakes races on the card, the $75,000 Dark Star Cup and the $75,000Northbound Pride Oaks, although the Oaks was taken off the turf because of the wet conditions. Keith’s Bobcat Jim finished second in the Dark Star. Witch Alert finished out of the money in the Oaks.

            That did not seem to affect the fans who gravitated to his vicinity whenever the opportunity arrived after word leaked out about his presence, even though he was dressed so nondescriptly in nylon jacket and Oklahoma cap that his mother might not have recognized him.

            Rider James Graham simulated a long drink from the large glass vase trophy after his mount, Ghost is Clear, was in fact clear at the wire to win the Dark Star Cup. Graham sized up the race as he watched a replay. “Watch him, right there, turn it on when I hit him,” he said. And win the race as a result. The winner is owned and trained by Mike Maker.

            Early in the card, a bystander said to Seth Martinez as he walked past. “Hey, there, the track’s leading quarter horse rider.” Martinez chuckled and walked on.

            Then he rode Ice For The Lady to a win in the Northbound Pride, picking up a nice stakes check for the day, for himself, for trainer Gerald Bennett and owner W. Kenan Rand, Jr.

            A FATHER TO BE WINS ON FATHER’S DAY

            Kool Wagon has about a year left on the race track and then his days will be relegated entirely to breeding. In the meantime, he’s determined to go out with a bang.

            That’s the way it appeared at least in Sunday’s $20,000-added Skip Zimmerman Stakes at 350 yards, a win on Father’s Day for the father to be.

            With Stormy Smith in the irons, Kool Wagon was first out of the gate and first at the wire in 17:77 for Stacy Charette-Hill, yes the defending champion quarter horse trainer from 3013.

            “It helps to have good horses,” Charette-Hill likes to say. “That’s why I did so well here last year. It’s all about the stock.”

            Not much has changed, although the win on Sunday was just her second of the meet – for good reason, but first the details of the race:

Winning rider Stormy Smith was brimming with confidence after the break. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “He broke really well and never looked back.”

            The winner is owned by Michael Pohl, an attorney in Montgomery, Texas.

            Charette-Hill, meanwhile, got a late start with her training this year to help her husband, Randy Hill, through some medical issues. “Sometimes you have to step away from the horses for your family,” she said.

            Thus, she stood in the winner’s circle on Sunday with Hill after claiming her second win of the meet.

            A fellow approached Jerry Livingston after the race with the news that the first race winner might blow the Zimmerman result right out of the headlines. Livingston had earlier saddled the winner of the card’s first race, Leadore with Marcus Swiontek up to force a three-way tie for second in the quarter horse trainer standings with his third win of the meet.

            BULLDOGS TAKE THE STAGE

            The first  running of the bulldogs got a response not unlike that afforded the wiener dogs when they race each year.

            It goes without saying that there is a distinctive difference in appearance between the two breeds even if they run at about the same clip.

            But wiener dogs don’t drool as if they’ve  just seen a dripping tenderloin.

            Nonetheless, the bulldog owners are every bit as enthusiastic about their animals. The Jordans of Shakopee were hoping for a first place finish from their dog, four-year-old Pork Chop but had to settle for also ran.

The Jordans primed Pork Chop before the race with a few chicken treats, hoping that would provide the difference.

            Ah, well, maybe prime rib next time.

            Then there was 1 ½-year-old Bella from St. Clout, owned by Adam Stevens and Lacey Hoffner. “I think she got third or fourth,” Adam said afterward.

Many of the jockeys left their lounge to watch the races, including Scott Stevens, who tried to enter his 10-year-old bulldog, Angus, when he arrived at Canterbury this spring.

            “The entries were already closed,” he said.

            At that disclosure it was mentioned to Stevens that perhaps that might preclude a career later as a trainer. “Ha,” he said. “Good point.”

Yeah, You Know…

SignsealndeliverIt was the kind of day Dark Star would have approved of without qualification. It was all about him.

From the large gathering in the President’s suite, assembled In his honor, to the absurdly large congregation in the winner’s circle after the race named in his honor, which was preceded by countless stories about him and a video tribute immediately before the $50,000 Dark Star Cup put together diligently by TV production manager Jon Mikkelson, film clip by film clip, from nearly 30 years of footage about the Dark Man.

George Chapple was in his glory.

Many of his friends were on hand, including Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist and KSTP radio host Patrick Reusse, who presented the winning trophy.

The only glitch in the entire day was that the favorite did not win, meaning Dark, who always took the chalk, would have had a second place horse.

“Oh, yeah, he would have had the three horse,” said paddock analyst Angela Hermann.

“Absolutely,” said another.

The three horse was Southern Dude who was part of a very swift early pace that set up the finish perfectly for someone eyeing the action up front, namely Signsealndeliver, ridden to perfection by Ry Eikleberry, who moved two in front of Lori Keith in the rider standings.

The winner shipped in from Arlington Friday night to the barn of Corey Jensen and was ridden by Eikleberry, who performed his due diligence before the race and put the information he learned to use.

Eikleberry had not laid eyes on the horse before he rode him, so he watched films, just as a defensive back might study an opposing receiver’s tendencies.

“I noticed that he didn’t mind splitting horses,” Eikleberry said.

Which is precisely what he did, taking advantage of the swift pace set by Southern Dude and Absolutely Cool to split those two in the final 1/16th, winning by a length over the Dude. The favorite was coming off a third place finish in a graded stake at Churchill Downs. Third was Absolutely Cool out of the Valorie Lund barn, a neck back of the favorite.

The winning time was 1:15.66 after fractions of 22.35, 44.61 and 1:09.04.

The winner paid $11.80, $4.40 and $3.

Which leaves us with a final Dark Star story now that the inaugural running of his race is done.

His buddy Reusse was chuckling over a framed certificate sent to Dark and now part of Canterbury press box memorabilia.

It was sent to the Dark Man from the American Lung Association, a certificate of appreciation for “outstanding service toward improving community health in the prevention and control of lung diseases and their causes.”

It was an award greatly appreciated by the Dark Man, who was a heavy smoker.

MINNESOTA STALLION BREEDERS’ & NORTH CENTRAL QUARTER HORSE DERBY

There was nothing surprising about the winner of the Minnesota Stallion Breeders’ and North Central Derby, with its $22,300 purse.

The Amber Smith-trained BP Painted Lady, the 4-5 favorite, did her thing and outclassed the field under Cody Smith.

She was the favorite for good reason, having posted the fastest qualifying time in the trial and having banked the most money of the 10-horse field, reduced to nine after Fly Eyeann became a gate scratch.

What wasn’t expected was the ambush from an inside horse that winning rider Cody Smith thought momentarily might spell his horse’s doom.

Outlaw Memories, ridden by Eikleberry, broke from the No. 2 hole and made an immediate right hand turn, pushing the two horses next to her, Hastabealeader and CC Tres sideways toward the favorite.

“I saw that happening and thought they might hit us,” said Smith. “Luckily we ran free (of the trouble).”

There was a certain irony to the ambush since the inside three horses are all trained by Bob Johnson. So, too, was the No. 6 horse, so the Johnson clan had the favorite and eventual winner sandwiched.

It didn’t matter. BP ran a straight course and finished in 20:257.

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.

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.

Remembering Dark Star

On the morning before the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes, the racing community at Canterbury Park said goodbye and paid its respects to a man who would not only have been present but at his boisterous best if fate had not intervened.

There was after all the disappointing defection of a horse pointed toward the Triple Crown. That would have drawn a comment or two of outrageous nature from the fellow in question here.

There was the heat and early morning humidity enveloping the assembled group in the paddock. Even his best friend, Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Radio 1500, made reference to the distaste for such weather by the fellow in question.

One story followed after another about the fellow in question, George Chapple or, as the world knew him, Dark Star.

What was revealed about Dark Star, who died June 1 at age 66, was right out of a George Roy Hill production.

What became quite clear during the proceedings to honor Dark Star’s life was that if you thought you knew him, you really didn’t. If you thought you had seen it all, you really hadn’t.

The long-held contention that Dark was one-of-a-kind proved to be not nearly adequate as a description for the man.

As the stories unfolded from one friend after another, it became obvious that we clearly underestimated his talents for pulling off a scam.

More on that matter later.

Click Here to Watch Video From WCCO TV

Kevin Gorg and Paul Allen agreed, for different reasons, that Dark would have been all over Union Rags in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, the on Saturday.

“He always bet the favorite,” Allen said.

“That was his Derby horse. He would have wanted to prove he was right,” said Gorg.

On Saturday, the Dark Man got his winner.

Just as Dark’s friends and acquaintances got a glimpse of him theretofore not seen during the morning tribute to the man.

Eric Halstrom, the former Vice President of Racing at Canterbury Park and now the GM of the Fairgrounds in New Orleans, told the story that still had loose ends until he, Joe Friedberg and Reusse conferred.

In a nutshell:

During a recent visit to New Orleans, Dark and Halstrom were strolling the French Quarter when the Dark Man stepped into a furniture story. Dark disappeared somewhere in the store moments later. Meanwhile, a man collapsed on the floor near Halstrom.

Long story short:

Dark appears moments later claiming to be a fellow named Dr. Herman Brown. “Stand aside,” Dark said to the small gathering around the man, which included Halstrom. The Dark Man, meanwhile, begins his ministrations which included asking the man if he is diabetic.

Then the paramedics arrive, rescuing the Dark Man from what would have become a tough situation. He tells them that he has diagnosed the man in a diabetic shock. They go with it and it turns out he is right. The storeowners are impressed and inquire of Dark the Doctor what they might do to repay him.

The Dark Man chooses a $700 table he has been eyeing in their store, for a young niece he wants to surprise and asks that it be shipped.

Halstrom has no idea where the table was shipped, until Saturday when he’s speaking with Friedberg. “I know where it was shipped – to Reusse,” Friedberg said.

Not until Saturday was the full story told. The table was shipped to Reusse, and Dark later picked it up.

Friedberg added the story of how he represented Dark in an insurance case. The Dark Man claimed that a baseball card collection worth more than $300,000 had been stolen from the trunk of his car at the Minnesota State Fair.

Friedberg was still asking himself Saturday why a man would leave such a valuable item in the trunk of his car at the state fair. Nonetheless, legitimate questions be damned, Dark won his insurance claim and collected $285,000.

Perhaps he used some of that money, to put a steam room into the apartment he rented. Which raised a question of a different sort from Reusse.

“What man in his right mind,” Reusse wondered, spends $37,000 to install a steam room in a rented apartment?”

Dark Star, that’s who, a man who would have had the Belmont winner on Saturday.

MINNESOTA STALLION BREEDERS’ AND NORTH CENTRAL QUARTER HORSE DERBY

Amber Blair refuses to read a word of any kind about a horse she trains before a race. She will check it out afterward upon returning to the barn.

Whatever she reads about a 3-year-old gelding she trains named Painted Lies will pretty much match what happened on the race track Saturday afternoon.

The overwhelming favorite in the 400-yard race, Painted Lies streaked to the wire under Cody Smith just in front of fast closing Feature Dreamgirl and Explosive Guns, in a winning time of 20.339.

Blair’s only concern before hand?

“Bad luck,” he said. “I’m very superstitious.”

The winning owner Tom Maher of Pierre, S.D., was as excited about the agreement between Canterbury Park and Mystic Lake as he was his horse’s victory.

Maher has been coming to Shakopee since 1985 and was enthralled by the agreement.

“I’m delighted with it,” he said. “It is really something that the Sampsons made the deal, thinking of us horsemen first. I’m really impressed with it.”

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.

Remembering Dark Star

On the morning before the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes, the racing community at Canterbury Park said goodbye and paid its respects to a man who would not only have been present but at his boisterous best if fate had not intervened.

There was after all the disappointing defection of a horse pointed toward the Triple Crown. That would have drawn a comment or two of outrageous nature from the fellow in question here.

There was the heat and early morning humidity enveloping the assembled group in the paddock. Even his best friend, Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Radio 1500, made reference to the distaste for such weather by the fellow in question.

One story followed after another about the fellow in question, George Chapple or, as the world knew him, Dark Star.

What was revealed about Dark Star, who died June 1 at age 66, was right out of a George Roy Hill production.

What became quite clear during the proceedings to honor Dark Star’s life was that if you thought you knew him, you really didn’t. If you thought you had seen it all, you really hadn’t.

The long-held contention that Dark was one-of-a-kind proved to be not nearly adequate as a description for the man.

As the stories unfolded from one friend after another, it became obvious that we clearly underestimated his talents for pulling off a scam.

More on that matter later.

Click Here to Watch Video From WCCO TV

Kevin Gorg and Paul Allen agreed, for different reasons, that Dark would have been all over Union Rags in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, the on Saturday.

“He always bet the favorite,” Allen said.

“That was his Derby horse. He would have wanted to prove he was right,” said Gorg.

On Saturday, the Dark Man got his winner.

Just as Dark’s friends and acquaintances got a glimpse of him theretofore not seen during the morning tribute to the man.

Eric Halstrom, the former Vice President of Racing at Canterbury Park and now the GM of the Fairgrounds in New Orleans, told the story that still had loose ends until he, Joe Friedberg and Reusse conferred.

In a nutshell:

During a recent visit to New Orleans, Dark and Halstrom were strolling the French Quarter when the Dark Man stepped into a furniture story. Dark disappeared somewhere in the store moments later. Meanwhile, a man collapsed on the floor near Halstrom.

Long story short:

Dark appears moments later claiming to be a fellow named Dr. Herman Brown. “Stand aside,” Dark said to the small gathering around the man, which included Halstrom. The Dark Man, meanwhile, begins his ministrations which included asking the man if he is diabetic.

Then the paramedics arrive, rescuing the Dark Man from what would have become a tough situation. He tells them that he has diagnosed the man in a diabetic shock. They go with it and it turns out he is right. The storeowners are impressed and inquire of Dark the Doctor what they might do to repay him.

The Dark Man chooses a $700 table he has been eyeing in their store, for a young niece he wants to surprise and asks that it be shipped.

Halstrom has no idea where the table was shipped, until Saturday when he’s speaking with Friedberg. “I know where it was shipped – to Reusse,” Friedberg said.

Not until Saturday was the full story told. The table was shipped to Reusse, and Dark later picked it up.

Friedberg added the story of how he represented Dark in an insurance case. The Dark Man claimed that a baseball card collection worth more than $300,000 had been stolen from the trunk of his car at the Minnesota State Fair.

Friedberg was still asking himself Saturday why a man would leave such a valuable item in the trunk of his car at the state fair. Nonetheless, legitimate questions be damned, Dark won his insurance claim and collected $285,000.

Perhaps he used some of that money, to put a steam room into the apartment he rented. Which raised a question of a different sort from Reusse.

“What man in his right mind,” Reusse wondered, spends $37,000 to install a steam room in a rented apartment?”

Dark Star, that’s who, a man who would have had the Belmont winner on Saturday.

MINNESOTA STALLION BREEDERS’ AND NORTH CENTRAL QUARTER HORSE DERBY

Amber Blair refuses to read a word of any kind about a horse she trains before a race. She will check it out afterward upon returning to the barn.

Whatever she reads about a 3-year-old gelding she trains named Painted Lies will pretty much match what happened on the race track Saturday afternoon.

The overwhelming favorite in the 400-yard race, Painted Lies streaked to the wire under Cody Smith just in front of fast closing Feature Dreamgirl and Explosive Guns, in a winning time of 20.339.

Blair’s only concern before hand?

“Bad luck,” he said. “I’m very superstitious.”

The winning owner Tom Maher of Pierre, S.D., was as excited about the agreement between Canterbury Park and Mystic Lake as he was his horse’s victory.

Maher has been coming to Shakopee since 1985 and was enthralled by the agreement.

“I’m delighted with it,” he said. “It is really something that the Sampsons made the deal, thinking of us horsemen first. I’m really impressed with it.”

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.

In Memory: Dark Star 1946 – 2012

There is a seat in the middle of the pressbox sofa that was his for the past dozen years. A small, white lettered sign on the oval coffee table immediately in front has reserved the spot for him all that time. The table also was host to a smorgasbord of barbecued ribs, prime rib, baked potatoes, pizza or various other dishes, often several at a single time, on days he attended the races.

Pizza boxes, half finished dinners, boxes of sugar coated cereals. They could all be found on the table at one time or another. Upon seeing a banquet laid out in front of him one time, a visitor to the pressbox wondered if anyone else was coming to Thanksgiving Dinner.

The sign, incidentally, said simply, Reserved: Dark Star.

Although the seat, last used on Saturday, might go be unoccupied for days at time, it seemed emptier than usual Friday night.

The mere knowledge that he will not sit there again created a somber atmosphere in the press box he has been part of since the doors opened at Canterbury Downs in 1985.

Dark Star, a voice for Canterbury and Minnesota racing, died Friday at the age of 66.

His name was George Chapple but from his first days as a handicapper for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, he went by the name Dark Star, chosen after the upset winner of the 1953 Kentucky Derby.

From that day forward, anyone who met the man was certain of one thing: They would probably never meet another like him. George Chapple, Dark Star, the Dark Man, Star – he answered to all them – was one of a kind.

“You don’t find characters like him anymore, not in this button down, social media world,” said track announcer Paul Allen, who worked closely with Dark on any number of projects at Canterbury.

A member of Canterbury’s Hall of Fame, Dark Star had a show for several years at WCCO and was a long-time host of the Canterbury Report. He greeted Allen with a typical Dark Star approach upon meeting the new track announcer in 1995.

“Hey California kid. Keep your distance,” Dark told him. “We do things differently here. Welcome aboard.”

Canterbury President & CEO Randy Sampson described Dark as a man who would go out of his way for a friend. “He was always willing to help,” Sampson said.

Yet, Dark’s real legacy was to racing and its spot in the Minnesota sports pantheon.

“Nobody in Minnesota did more to promote or expose racing in this state than Dark,” Sampson said.

“That was his legacy. That was his gift.”

He was colorful, zany, unpredictable and often entertaining.

Andrew Offerman, the social media director in the pressbox, recalled an incident in 2006 when he and Dark Star were assigned to the Trent Tucker celebrity poker tournament at the track.

Offerman was to serve as a greeter at the door. Star was assigned to interview celebrities. Star took the pressbox apprentice under his wing, directing him to his favorite spot for a tuxedo rental.

When the tuxedos arrived on the night of the tournament, Star’s was missing a cinch. “He spent the entire evening with his left hand in his pocket to hold up his pants, while he shook hands with people,” Offerman said. “He interviewed Michael Jordan with his left hand in his pocket.”

Kevin Gorg, Canterbury’s long-time paddock analyst, would forewarn friends about the Dark Man. “You can believe about five percent of what he says, but he’ll keep you entertained for hours on end,” Gorg said.

He was practical joker in the early days of the track, often hiding a handicapper’s dinner plate or sandwich when he turned his back. On one occasion, a disliked colleague announced that he didn’t want to know the winner of the Indianapolis 500 that day. He was filming it for viewing that night. There was a piece of paper underneath a windshield wiper on his car after the races. Yup, it included the name of the Indy 500 winner.

He was a promoter, a talker, a salesman.

“He could jump off a building and talk the concrete below into letting him live,” said track analyst Angela Hermann, who teamed with Dark to win a meet-long press box handicapping contest last year.

“It came down to the final race of the season,” Hermann recalled. “We won by a length.”

Hermann and Dark teamed up to win a pick four via simulcast at Hollywood Park last weekend. Dark would fund many of their enterprises. Hermann would do the handicapping.

Dark loved the horses but he was a lousy handicapper. He talked his way into a handicapping job at the Pioneer Press in the 1980s, claiming he once handicapped for the Los Angeles Times, even though no one there recalled him.

From the basement of the grandstand to the pressbox at the top, Dark Star was a topic of conversation on Friday.

Jockey Derek Bell looked up on his way to the paddock before the third race Friday and said simply:

“This really sucks,” he said.

Jesse Overton, the chairman of the Minnesota Racing Commission, was standing in the paddock and broached the subject.

“It was so sad to hear about Dark Star,” he said. “He really tried to help this place.”

One tweet sized up the Dark Man this way on Friday:

“Wherever he is right now, he’s probably looking for a Racing Form.”

And maybe a pizza to go with it.

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.

In Memory: Dark Star 1946 – 2012

There is a seat in the middle of the pressbox sofa that was his for the past dozen years. A small, white lettered sign on the oval coffee table immediately in front has reserved the spot for him all that time. The table also was host to a smorgasbord of barbecued ribs, prime rib, baked potatoes, pizza or various other dishes, often several at a single time, on days he attended the races.

Pizza boxes, half finished dinners, boxes of sugar coated cereals. They could all be found on the table at one time or another. Upon seeing a banquet laid out in front of him one time, a visitor to the pressbox wondered if anyone else was coming to Thanksgiving Dinner.

The sign, incidentally, said simply, Reserved: Dark Star.

Although the seat, last used on Saturday, might go be unoccupied for days at time, it seemed emptier than usual Friday night.

The mere knowledge that he will not sit there again created a somber atmosphere in the press box he has been part of since the doors opened at Canterbury Downs in 1985.

Dark Star, a voice for Canterbury and Minnesota racing, died Friday at the age of 66.

His name was George Chapple but from his first days as a handicapper for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, he went by the name Dark Star, chosen after the upset winner of the 1953 Kentucky Derby.

From that day forward, anyone who met the man was certain of one thing: They would probably never meet another like him. George Chapple, Dark Star, the Dark Man, Star – he answered to all them – was one of a kind.

“You don’t find characters like him anymore, not in this button down, social media world,” said track announcer Paul Allen, who worked closely with Dark on any number of projects at Canterbury.

A member of Canterbury’s Hall of Fame, Dark Star had a show for several years at WCCO and was a long-time host of the Canterbury Report. He greeted Allen with a typical Dark Star approach upon meeting the new track announcer in 1995.

“Hey California kid. Keep your distance,” Dark told him. “We do things differently here. Welcome aboard.”

Canterbury President & CEO Randy Sampson described Dark as a man who would go out of his way for a friend. “He was always willing to help,” Sampson said.

Yet, Dark’s real legacy was to racing and its spot in the Minnesota sports pantheon.

“Nobody in Minnesota did more to promote or expose racing in this state than Dark,” Sampson said.

“That was his legacy. That was his gift.”

He was colorful, zany, unpredictable and often entertaining.

Andrew Offerman, the social media director in the pressbox, recalled an incident in 2006 when he and Dark Star were assigned to the Trent Tucker celebrity poker tournament at the track.

Offerman was to serve as a greeter at the door. Star was assigned to interview celebrities. Star took the pressbox apprentice under his wing, directing him to his favorite spot for a tuxedo rental.

When the tuxedos arrived on the night of the tournament, Star’s was missing a cinch. “He spent the entire evening with his left hand in his pocket to hold up his pants, while he shook hands with people,” Offerman said. “He interviewed Michael Jordan with his left hand in his pocket.”

Kevin Gorg, Canterbury’s long-time paddock analyst, would forewarn friends about the Dark Man. “You can believe about five percent of what he says, but he’ll keep you entertained for hours on end,” Gorg said.

He was practical joker in the early days of the track, often hiding a handicapper’s dinner plate or sandwich when he turned his back. On one occasion, a disliked colleague announced that he didn’t want to know the winner of the Indianapolis 500 that day. He was filming it for viewing that night. There was a piece of paper underneath a windshield wiper on his car after the races. Yup, it included the name of the Indy 500 winner.

He was a promoter, a talker, a salesman.

“He could jump off a building and talk the concrete below into letting him live,” said track analyst Angela Hermann, who teamed with Dark to win a meet-long press box handicapping contest last year.

“It came down to the final race of the season,” Hermann recalled. “We won by a length.”

Hermann and Dark teamed up to win a pick four via simulcast at Hollywood Park last weekend. Dark would fund many of their enterprises. Hermann would do the handicapping.

Dark loved the horses but he was a lousy handicapper. He talked his way into a handicapping job at the Pioneer Press in the 1980s, claiming he once handicapped for the Los Angeles Times, even though no one there recalled him.

From the basement of the grandstand to the pressbox at the top, Dark Star was a topic of conversation on Friday.

Jockey Derek Bell looked up on his way to the paddock before the third race Friday and said simply:

“This really sucks,” he said.

Jesse Overton, the chairman of the Minnesota Racing Commission, was standing in the paddock and broached the subject.

“It was so sad to hear about Dark Star,” he said. “He really tried to help this place.”

One tweet sized up the Dark Man this way on Friday:

“Wherever he is right now, he’s probably looking for a Racing Form.”

And maybe a pizza to go with it.

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.