BUTLER LEARNED FROM THE BEST

by Jim Wells

It is called the graveyard of champions, but Saratoga Race Track is also the birthplace of hope, where a boy’s dream flashed across his mind in vivid technicolor on his numerous visits there as a youngster.

His father sold programs there as a youngster himself, buying them for ten cents, selling them for a nickel more. Years later, the boy accompanied the father to Saratoga every day of the summer meet, absorbing the sights and sounds, the smells and wonders of the racetrack.

Just two miles from their home on North Broadway, Saratoga was a splendid place for a youngster during those magical days of the race meet each summer.

The jockeys, the colors, the horses. A boy’s paradise and the delivery of a dream that one day he, too, would get a leg up in this colorful world, ride into the winner’s circle and have his picture taken while smiling broadly aboard a handsome, glistening thoroughbred.

Dean Butler knew what he wanted to do even then. From a large Irish Catholic family in Saratoga Springs, he was the catcher on the high school baseball team whose compact size, at 72 pounds, required him to bounce his throws to second base. Yet, he was built perfectly to ride racehorses. An older brother Denis had a similar desire but outgrew his wish, and his father warned it could happen to Dean too.

Is it possible that if you want something badly enough, you can make it happen by an act of will? Maybe so. Size was never an issue. Not even now, at 5-foot-3 and 108 pounds.

The Butler children were eight: Denis, Danny, Debbie, Dawn, Donna, David, Deidre and Dean, in that order.

Their home in Saratoga Springs was just a few doors removed on North Broadway from the stately residences of Ogden Phipps, Penny Chenery, Ralph Wilson and others. Two of Dean’s sisters, Debbie and Dawn, brought Chenery flowers the night before the 1973 Whitney Stakes, but it did not help her Secretariat, whose defeat the next day by Onion added one more illustrious name to the cemetery register.

Daily summer visits to Saratoga as a youngster proved productive later for Butler, opening doors that lead to other doors that opened also. He met riders, trainers and owners, digesting all they had to say, and when the time was right he went to work on the farm for Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg.  Butler’s parents, John and Ellen, asked one thing of him. Finish high school first.  Upon graduation he bolted to California where Van Berg taught him the horse business from the ground up.

“I cleaned stalls, built fencing, mowed the lawn and learned about the horse. Then he started putting me on horses,” Butler said.

An early experience stands out. “He put me in a round pen with a two-year-old filly and said ‘good luck, kid.’ The two of us, horse and rider, learned together.”

As he learned, he got advice from trainers and riders, Mike Smith and Richard Migliore among many others. Shug McGaughey trained for Phipps and gave Butler, now 47, a few chances in New York. He rode his first races at Aqueduct. Smith and Migliore encouraged him to give Suffolk Downs a try, and he rode his first winner there in 1993, a horse named Rexson’s Empress.

His first stakes race was also a win….the Trenton Handicap at Garden State Park, on a horse named Poorbuthonest.  He rode another race with Poorbuthonest and, carrying 107 pounds, finished second to the immortal Cigar, carrying 127 that day, in the Massachussets Handicap.

Butler went on to win four riding titles in Philadelphia and one at Atlantic City. He has won five at Canterbury Park, where he started the 2018 meet second in all-time earnings ($12,617,738), third in all time wins (740) and third for in the money percentage (52.31 percent).

He has ridden for numerous trainers at Canterbury since arriving in 2007; Bernell Rhone, Mac Robertson, Francisco Bravo among them.

“He has a good sense of pace,” said Rhone. “He knows when to speed up a horse or slow it down. And he stays strong because weight is never a problem with him.”

“A lot of people have helped me,” Butler said. “I’ve ridden for good trainers and been very fortunate to have done as well as I have.”

A vital component in his success, he says, has been his agent of nine years, Pete Antonucci, with whom he has more than a business relationship. “We have a friendship, a good one,” Butler said. “It’s almost like family, just a great team.”

And there is actual family, of course. “My parents and everyone else have been so supportive through the years,” he said. “My daughters, Kayleigh and Kendall, and for the last two and one-half years, Danielle Leroux and her daughter Isabella. “They are part of this honor, too,” he said.

The honor, of course, is his place in the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

Canterbury Park Hall of Fame to Add Four Members

The Canterbury Park Hall of Fame Committee today announced the Class of 2018 inductees. The four newest members, who will be honored in a Sept. 1 ceremony, include jockey Dean Butler; Minnesota HBPA President and racehorse owner and breeder Jack Walsh; quarter horse breeders Rodney and Sylvia Von Ohlen; and retired Minnesota-bred racehorse Heliskier. These inductees join a group of more than 40 individuals and horses that comprise the best of Minnesota racing.

Butler is a five-time champion jockey at Canterbury Park and is the third winningest jockey at the Shakopee, Minn. racetrack. Growing up just two miles from Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, NY, Butler got his start in the industry attending races with his father. After high school he went on to work for Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg.  As he learned, he received advice from other trainers and riders like Mike Smith and Richard Migliore. Butler began riding at Canterbury Park in 2007.  He has ridden for numerous trainers over the years, accumulating 790 wins and earning purses in excess of $13.8 million for his connections at Canterbury.  “A lot of people have helped me,” Butler said. “I’ve ridden for good trainers and been very fortunate to have done as well as I have.”

Walsh has been associated with Minnesota racing for decades as both an owner and breeder. He was breeding quarter horses in the 70s and 80s but switched to thoroughbreds when Canterbury opened in 1985. Also an astute attorney, Walsh taught Equine Law for years. He has been a Minnesota Thoroughbred Association board member, Minnesota Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association vice president, and is now HBPA president. Walsh has tried cases before the American Quarter Horse Racing Association in Amarillo, Texas, and represented more than 100 horsemen before the Minnesota Racing Commission.

The Von Ohlens are accomplished quarter horse owners and breeders. Rodney and his wife Sylvia, who passed away last May, built a successful breeding operation in Alpha, Minn. prior to Canterbury opening. The Von Ohlens are the second-leading quarter horse owners in Minnesota Festival of Champions history with six winners.  They started the season as second-leading owners in earnings and third in career winners at Canterbury.

Heliskier is a retired thoroughbred that earned many accolades during his racing career including champion two-year-old in 2011; two-time champion sprinter; champion three-year-old colt; and champion older horse. Heliskier is one of only two horses to be named Horse of the Year twice at Canterbury Park, earning that title in 2012 and again in 2013.  The gelding was bred and raised in Minnesota by the late Robert Colvin and is owned by his wife Marlene Colvin. Heliskier retired in 2016 with a career record of 9-2-2 from 19 starts with earnings of $277,918.

The Canterbury Park Hall of Fame was founded in 1995 to recognize people and horses that have made important and lasting contributions to the racing industry within the state. The selection committee consists of representatives of local horsemen organizations, local media, and Canterbury Park.

A Tale of Two Deans

By Noah Joseph

Over the years, many jockeys who rode regularly at Canterbury became fan favorites and etched their names into history. Jockeys like Derek Bell, Paul Nolan, Scott Stevens, Ronnie Allen Jr., Donna Barton, and Chris Valovich all became Minnesota racing legends. However, two that really stand out were two jockeys with the same first name and incredible riding abilities; Dean Kutz and Dean Butler.

Dean Kutz was not only a supreme rider at Canterbury, but also around the Midwest, winning at many tracks in major races, including eight graded stakes wins. Kutz rode at Canterbury Downs through the 80s. He was a patrol judge for most of the inaugural 1985 season before riding his first race on Labor Day. He won his first race at Canterbury on Lassie’s Dutches on September 6. Kutz won his first Canterbury title in 1987 with 158 wins, a Canterbury Park or Downs record, and he won another title 1988 with 146 wins. He rode at Canterbury until the end of the 1989 season. He made occasional appearances at Canterbury Park in the mid to late 90s and early 2000s, and rode for part of the 2002 Canterbury season. Kutz died of cancer in 2004. He’s a member of the Canterbury Hall of Fame.

Much like Kutz, Dean Butler came to Canterbury and instantly became a favorite. He made his first Canterbury appearance in 2006, and won his first ever Canterbury mount on Squall Line on May 6, 2006. He won three consecutive riding titles from 2009-2011 and two more titles in 2013 and 2016. He’s ridden some of the best horses in Canterbury Park history such as Glitter Star, Chick Fight, Nomorewineforeddie, Hold for More, and Sky and Sea. He’s ridden for top trainers who ship to Canterbury such as Bill Mott, Michael Stidham, and Michael Tomlinson. He’s third in the rider standings currently with 38 wins, and he’s also a surefire future Canterbury Hall of Fame member.

Oracle’s All-Stars : Canterbury Park’s First-Half Review

By The Oracle

Last week we passed the halfway point of the 70-day Canterbury Park live racing season.  Here is a look inside-the-numbers- at what has transpired on the race track so far in 2018.  The following statistics are for thoroughbred races only.

The Odds:

Favorites are winning 37% of the thoroughbred races at Canterbury Park so far in 2018.  This is right on par with the national average, and one percentage point above the 2017 Canterbury meet.  The claiming category has been the most formful so far this year, yielding 45 winning favorites from 114 races (39%).  However, this category also unleashed the highest priced thoroughbred winner of the meet ($69.00) on May 25 when veteran campaigner Aroney prevailed by a nose at 33-1 over 29-1 second place finisher Ragged Edge.  This 10-year-old gelding making his 94th career start was trained by Tony Rengstorf and ridden by Israel Hernandez.  Congratulations to those connections!

Historically, turf racing at Canterbury Park has yielded a lower percentage of winning favorites than races on the main track.  This is holding true this year, as favorites on the turf are winning at a 34% rate compared to 38% winning favorites on the dirt.

Regarding extreme longshots, there have been nine 20-1 and up winners this year.  Of those nine, five were in turf races and four were on the main track.  This is significant as there are many fewer turf races run than dirt races.  Look for longshots on the Canterbury turf course!

The Jockeys:

Looking at the top ten jockeys in the standings so far, the All-Star performer for best return-on-investment (ROI) was Chad Lindsay.  Chad is currently tenth in the standings with 13 wins, and he is returning an impressive $1.29 for every dollar wagered on his mounts.  Lindsay has truly been a longshot rider this meet, as 7 of his 13 wins have come at odds of 8-1 or higher.  Chad was also aboard 3 of those 20-1+ longshot winners this meet as described above.  Horses like that definitely help the ROI!  In a statistical oddity, Lindsay is winless from 7 tries when riding the favorite.  Still, an excellent first-performance from Chad Lindsay.

Dean Butler is also having an excellent meet from an ROI perspective.  Returning from an injury suffered last season, Butler is currently third in the jockey standings with 32 wins.  He is showing a flat bet profit on his mounts, which returned $1.12 for every dollar wagered.  Considering what a known commodity Butler is around Canterbury Park, this is some very good work over the first half of the season.  Butler also is showing an excellent 52%-win rate (14/27) on favorites so far this meet.

Dean Butler

The Trainers:

The top ten trainer list had three trainers showing a positive ROI at the midway mark.  Tim Padilla got the All-Star award with 11 wins from 54 starts, achieving an ROI of $1.31 for every dollar wagered.  He has been dominant in routes on the main track (9/20, ROI = 3.15), and has also had good success in maiden special weight races (3/16, ROI = 1.96).  Minny O’Prado fit both profiles in her maiden victory at 17-1 back on June 14.

Miguel Angel Silva has also had a very good first half, winning 21 races with an ROI of 1.13.  His best category was maiden claiming races, winning with 6 of 26 runners (ROI = 1.55) including a 17-1 winner named Ginger Rose on May 26 in a maiden claiming race on the turf.  Silva has been remarkably consistent on both surfaces, winning at better than a 20% clip on both turf and dirt so far this meet.

David Van Winkle is the third trainer showing a flat bet profit over the first half of the meet.   His 8/48 record is good for ninth in the current standings.  He has been strong in sprints on the main track, winning 4 of 19 starts with an ROI of 1.44 for every dollar wagered.

David Van Winkle

Summary:

That’s a brief look at how the favorites fared and who the top jockeys and trainers were over the first half of the Canterbury Park live meet from an ROI perspective.  Notice that most of the leading riders and trainers from a win perspective do not show up high on the ROI list.  The public tends to overbet the leading jockeys and trainers so it pays to keep an open mind.  Good luck in the second half of the meet!

Hardboot Ships from California for Mystic Lake Derby

Trainer Michele Dollase has what she considers a pretty good California bred 3-year-old colt but nowhere to run him at home. That 3-year-old is Hardboot, winner of the $100,000 Silky Sullivan at Golden Gate Fields in April, and most recently second in the $200,000 Snow Chief Stakes, both restricted to state breds and both on the grass.

There are no races for him early at the upcoming Del Mar meet so the trainer began to consider broadening the horizons. She inquired of trainer Doug O’Neill who having a similar situation last year opted to go East. Dollase asked how he thought a Cal bred might stack up in the East or Midwest and his reply was “you won’t know unless you try.”

So Hardboot boarded an airplane that arrived in Kentucky Monday with his connections intending to run him Saturday in the $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby at Canterbury.

Dollase’s son accompanied Hardboot and they are currently at Keeneland with her sister Aimee who is an assistant for Muck Ruis. Dollase reports that Hardboot “jogged fine” at Keeneland and had a “good work Saturday here.”  ‘Here’ being San Luis Rey Training Center in Bonsall, CA where Dollase trains the two horses she races for Silver Creek Stables, Hardboot and his full sister Lady Espionage, and where she also oversees another three dozen horses for various trainers and owners. She gets many of the top 2-year-olds ready before they move to Santa Anita or Del Mar.

Before leaving for Canterbury she will work 30 or so horses at San Luis Rey on Friday morning. Hardboot is expected to van to Shakopee late Thursday, along with other horses stabled in Kentucky that are participating in Saturday’s Northern Stars Racing Festival.

“We’re having fun with him,” Dollase said of Hardboot. “He ran a good race in the Snow Chief.” Hardboot is a late runner who can, according to Dollase, “fall asleep” at the back of the pack. When he did get rolling in the Snow Chief it was simply too late. “He makes a run. He has a pretty good kick,” she said, adding that he “needs a target.” That target could be Minnesota-bred sprinter Mr. Jagermeister who is expected to enter Wednesday as well.

Jockey Geovanni Franco, a former Canterbury rider who is making a name for himself on the Southern California circuit, is often at the training center so Dollase learned more from him about Canterbury’s turf course and also found that Dean Butler is a top rider here. One thing led to the next and Butler should be aboard Hardboot Saturday evening in Canterbury’s richest race of the season.

And if the Dollase name sounds familiar, it should. Michele is the daughter of Wally Dollase, a legend in our sport for several decades, who raced at the pinnacle of this game recording multiple graded stakes victories.

The Mystic Lake Derby, at one mile on the turf, is one of five stakes races on Saturday’s 10-race card that begins at 6:00 p.m.

Belmont’s Size Makes It A Rider’s Race

BY JIM WELLS

It is one-of-a-kind, the only racetrack in the United States with such vast dimensions, awe-inspiring if not intimidating to anyone who has not dealt with its sweeping turns and long straightaways.

Its forbidding size can swallow a horse and rider whole if he’s not prepared, doesn’t calculate its differences and transfer them to what he asks of his mount.

It is the Green Monster of racetracks and has brought great horses and riders to their knees when they haven’t understood its idiosyncrasies.

Belmont Park.

Differences? A mile and 1/8 is a one-turn race at Belmont. A mile race begins in front of the grandstand on Canterbury Park’s mile oval. It begins near the start of the backstretch at Belmont.

“The turns are so big, way bigger than on a mile track,” said former Canterbury riding champion Scott Stevens, who has raced there. “The half mile pole sits where the 3/8ths is on a normal (mile) track.”

Thus, the Belmont Stakes is often referred to as a rider’s race and Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith, of course, finds himself the center of attention in that regard, paired as he is with Justify and a chance at the Triple Crown.

Smith won the first riding title at Canterbury Downs in 1985 while serving out his apprenticeship, was second to Sandy Hawley in 1986 and rode only half of the meet the following year, when he began testing other, larger venues on the East and West Coasts.

He has won the most Breeders’ Cup races (26) in history and has two wins in each of the Triple Crown races, among countless other achievements.

“Mike Smith is a real pro, one of the best if not the best,” said five-time Canterbury riding champ Dean Butler. “I’ve always admired him.”

That was Butler’s way of saying that Smith’s talent and experience will serve him well, enable him to deal with whatever challenges he encounters.

At a 1 ½ miles, a sense of pace is crucial. “You have to know how much horse you have under you and how much you have left,” Butler added. “And if you go too slow, there’s a good chance your horse won’t come back to you. You have to be aggressive and patient at the same time.”

Canterbury champ Ry Eikleberry sizes up the race and sees the possibility of what is sometimes known as paralysis through analysis, creating too many scenarios for yourself.

“You don’t want to overthink it too much,” he said. “Obviously, this horse (Justify) has a lot of speed and I don’t think you can change his running style,” Eikleberry said.

Eikleberry’s thought is to let the horse run his race, to do what he’s good at. “Don’t take his tactical speed away,” he explained. The best approach, he says, is simply to let Justify do his thing. There are scenarios, of course, that might take this Triple Crown contender out of contention __ say, if he gets trapped in a speed duel.

Stevens hadn’t seen the past performances but offered this thought on that possibility:

“My concern is that they might send someone out there to kill him off,” he said. “I think he’s the best horse and I don’t know that he has to be on the lead, though.”

Too fast, too early and the long stretch drive might become insurmountable for the frontrunners as they give way to horses closing from behind.

There is another scenario, Stevens points out, should no one challenge Justify and give him early ground.

“He’s the kind of horse that if he gets a big lead we just might have another Secretariat,” he added. (Secretariat won by a record 31 lengths in record time on the dirt of 2:24.) “He might open up so far that nobody can catch him.”

Everything points to a Justify win, his heritage, speed, toughness, heart, talent…so much so that a countervailing axiom has taken hold in some racing minds:

He looks like a sure winner, so he’s bound to lose.  What seems more likely is that Belmont itself will play a role in the outcome.

Sunday News and Notes

Highlights

After kicking off the 70-day live race meet at Canterbury Park on the weekend of the Kentucky Derby, it is only right that we take a look back on a successful start.

-Canterbury is home to a very talented group of jockeys this season. Leading jockeys for this meet include: Ry Eikleberry with a record of 7 wins from 26 starts, Orlando Mojica with 5 for 26 and Dean Butler with 3 for 16.

-Notably, Butler had two wins out of two mounts on Saturday.

-The leading trainers for this meet so far include: Roberto Diodoro,  7 for 18, Miguel Angel Silva, 5 for 17 and Joel Berndt, 3 for 14.

-The current leading owners include: Charles Garvey, whose horses are with Diodoro, 3 for 7 starts, Novogratz Racing Stables, 2 for 5 and Silva Racing, 2 for 10.

Looking Ahead

While the first two weeks were full of fun and excitement, it is time to look ahead at what is to come at Canterbury.

-Entries for Friday night’s races will be posted on Tuesday, May 15 and entries for Saturday which includes the two $50,000 stakes races, the 10,000 Lakes and the Lady Slipper Stakes races will be taken on Wednesday, May 16.

Preakness Day is on Saturday, May 19. Advanced wagering is available Thursday.  The post time for the first live horse race at Canterbury Park is 12:45 p.m. Preakness Stakes is set for around 5:20 p.m. The first 4,000 adults will score a “Sport of Kings” T-shirt. To celebrate the Royal Wedding, there will also be a bride and bride-to-be races on the main track between horse races, which feature participants dashing towards the finish line to score a $1,000 gift card to Continental Diamond.

-Notte Oscura, a 2-year-old out of the multiple stakes winning mare Bella Notte who was purchased for $160,000 in the April OBS 2-year-old in training sale  by Minnesotan Jeff Drown, should arrive in Shakopee soon. The colt by Astrology will be trained by Gary Scherer.  He was the sales topper at the 2017 Minnesota Thoroughbred Association Yearling Sale when the hammer dropped on a $37,000 bid by Paul Schaffer.

Watch his OBS workout here

-May 27 is Leg Up Day, an event to support injured Canterbury Park jockeys. Aside from live racing starting at 12:45 p.m., the event will also feature a charity raffle and kid friendly activities. Come out to Canterbury Park to help give our jockeys a leg up for when they become injured.

Backside news and Notes April 29, 2018

Horses are gradually filling the stalls on the Canterbury backside with the 70-day race meet just five days away. The May 4 opening night program will feature eight races, with entries for the first day taking place Tuesday.

Saturday’s card has two $50,000 stakes races: The Paul Bunyan and the L’etoile du Nord. Nominations for those races closed Friday. Noms and past performances can be found here.  The first name on the du Nord list is the 2017 Canterbury horse of the meet Amy’s Challenge. The 3-year-old filly however is expected to be entered Monday in either the Kentucky Oaks or the Eight Belles at Churchill.

Trainer Chris Richard will be stabled here this season for the first time. His string, which includes several Minnesota breds owned by Richard Bremer and Cheryl Sprick, is settling into barn A7, which is also where trainer Mike Biehler operates.

Last year’s leading jockey Jareth Loveberry is on site. He was injured in a training accident recently but has fully recovered and has been working horses over the track. He will be represented again this season by Richard Grunder who will also handle the business of Hugo Sanchez.

Ry Eikleberry has returned to the jockey colony. He last rode here regularly in 2015 and won the 2014 riding title. Ry also is one of the top quarter horse riders in Canterbury history. Dean Butler, a five-time riding champ, is also back. Those two share agent Pete Antonucci.

Other riders already signed in by their agents or themselves include Chad Lindsay, Israel Hernandez (who Saturday won the Bossleman Stakes at Fonner and will ride next weekend at Turf Paradise), Leslie Mawing, Orlando Mojica, Patrick Canchari, Lori Keith, and Katlin Bedford. The 2015 leading rider Leandro Goncalves also returns after a two-year hiatus.

New names on the list:  Rilardo Carpio, Francisco Arrieta, Jansen Melancon, Jake Samuels, and Kassie Guglielmino. Santiago Gonzalez, currently riding at Santa Anita, is expected here this week.

Beginning Friday, May 4, opening night of the 70-day horse racing season at Canterbury, Post Time Peach Ale will be flowing at three locations in the Canterbury grandstand as well as the Badger Hill taproom.

Available May 4

2017: A Look Back

By Noah Joseph

Well, it’s that time of the year. Closing weekend is upon us. The 2017 season is almost in the rear-view mirror, and it was a wonderful season. Here’s a look at some of the great moments.

For the fans, there was much to see, and parts of the summer had gone to the dogs. Literally, thousands of fans showed up to watch dogs race, whether it was wiener dogs, bulldogs, or corgis. Extreme Day was an extreme success with camel, ostrich, and zebra races. Also, the Indian Horse Relays were a success in their own right.

This year brought some records along with it, too. Jockey Nik Goodwin got his 1,000th career win. Canterbury Hall of Fame trainer David Van Winkle also got his 1,000th win, and Hold for More became the richest horse in Canterbury Park or Downs history.

There were several new names to make their presence felt in the Canterbury jockey colony. Jareth Loveberry was one of them. In just his first season at Canterbury, Jareth has won 69 races, including one week where he had 13 victories. He is named to ride in 25 of the 26 remaining races. Another jockey, Chad Lindsey, also in his first season at Canterbury, won more than 20 races. The familiar names like Alex Canchari, Dean Butler, and others had successful seasons as well. Leslie Mawing, who rode at Canterbury at the beginning of the century, returned to Shakopee and won more than 40 races.

The racing was top notch as always, especially in stakes competition. Hotshot Kid took his connections on a wild ride, winning the Vic Meyers and Minnesota Derby; Sweet Tapper used her late closing kick to run down Insta Erma in the Lady Canterbury, Puntsville had a dominating score in the Hoist Her Flag running the fastest six furlong time of the meet. The Fiscal Cliff dominated his foes in multiple stakes en route to being one of the best quarter horses to run at Canterbury. Hay Dakota, a Grade 3 winner and local horse just holding on in the Mystic Lake Mile; and Giant Payday’s flying finish in the Mystic Lake Derby.

2017 was a great season for Canterbury fans and horsemen alike. Here’s to 2018 being just the same. To all the Canterbury employees, horsemen, and fans, thank you!

INJURED BUTLER COUNTS HIS BLESSINGS

BY JIM WELLS

The person looking for it can often find it — the light at the end of the tunnel, the sun peeking through a clouded sky, hope in the midst of devastation, a reason to get up when the entire being cries out “stay down.”

Dean Butler latched onto it seconds after hitting the earth with a thud, a split second after his horse went down on June 30 during a turf race. The pain was instant and overpowering, but even in that debilitating state a positive thought crossed his mind.

The pain was excruciating and yet Butler was immediately thankful as he considered his situation.

“I could move everything,” he recalled. “I felt so very fortunate. I felt blessed.”

Blessed?

Yes, if you have been riding racehorses your entire adult life and have taken note of so many others not so fortunate, numerous riders confined to wheelchairs or reduced to walking with crutches after similar incidents. Some have even lost their lives.

That was only the start of what Butler considers a “miraculous” occasion in many respects, an incident that not only was limited in the toll it took but, because of it, led to tests that disclosed a potentially life-threatening condition.

Butler had not hit his head when he fell but doctors wanted to examine him for the possibility of a concussion just the same. The impact of a hard fall can jar the skull and shake the brain. It isn’t necessary sometimes to strike the head and still suffer a concussion.

“The blunt force trauma of hitting the ground that hard is what they worried about,” Butler recalled. So doctors performed a brain scan to alleviate their concerns.

The first scan revealed questions that required a second scan, that time using a dye. That test revealed that Butler had a brain aneurysm.

Many aneurysms, abdominal and cranial, are not discovered until they burst and cause serious repercussions, even death.

“My sister had a frontal hemorrhage,” Butler said, “and she’s lucky to be alive. She had a stroke and it left her with limited mobility in one leg.”

Aneurysms are sometimes congenital, sometimes hereditary, and Butler was advised to share his personal information with other family members. “Especially the first generation,” he said.

He will undergo surgery to correct the aneurysm on September 13 in the Twin Cities. As he recovers from the surgery, his back will have additional time to heal. He doesn’t expect to ride again until the meet at Tampa Bay Downs which begins in late November.

Butler’s life view was altered by the accident and the subsequent discoveries.

He was the leading rider in Shakopee in 2016, when he won a fifth riding title and was in third place, four out of first place and two out of second place, when the accident occurred.

The accident denied him a chance at a sixth title, a chance to pull abreast of Derek Bell, the only rider to win that many in Shakopee. More importantly, it ended his income stream, his ability to bring home a paycheck.

“Canterbury is my big meet (of the year) so I’m getting hurt a little bit financially,” he said. “But if you know these things happen, then you plan for them as well as you can.”

Butler is able to compartmentalize those factors and focus on the essential truths of his situation, that he is alive, healing and will ride again.

He did not have surgery on his back. “It’s just a healing process,” he said. He suffered what he described as a transverse fracture in his L1. “There are little  spindles that branch off from the spine,” he said. “A lot of those were fractured.

It’s still painful at times, but I going to give it time to heal so I don’t have problems later on.”

He knows that it could have been even worse. He and Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens recently visited colleague Paul Nolan, who was paralyzed in a riding accident last April and is fighting to regain the use of his arms and legs.

Nolan’s spine was severely swollen in the accident but nothing was broken so he has hope that with the passage of time he will heal as well.

Butler was struck by Nolan’s upbeat ability to retain his sense of humor under such difficult circumstances and considers himself fortunate, despite all that’s happened to him this summer.

Friday Butler was on his way to Louisville, Ky., to visit his girlfriend Danielle and celebrate her birthday. With him were his two daughters, 10-year-old Kayleigh and six-year-old Kendall. They are due back for the start of school at Forest Lake Elementary next week, so the trip will be short.

He is making the trip with a newly found outlook: Life is good, even when it isn’t perfect.