BY JIM WELLS
For a couple of moments on Sunday, the past became the present, history became real time, and one of the grand dames of Minnesota racing history was alive on the track.
The long gray tail floated behind her in a steady breeze, and her rivals saw only clods of damp earth and her behind. She was first out of the gate and no one even drew abreast as she glided easily to the finish line under Victor Santiago.
A five-year-old gray mare named Puntsville floated through swift fractions to win the 25th running of the $50,000 Hoist Her Flag Stakes, named for the gray Canterbury Park Hall of Fame mare. Although perhaps a shade darker, Sunday’s winner bore striking resemblance to the two-time Canterbury Downs horse of the year.
“We were just saying that,” said Canterbury Park President/CEO Randy Sampson. “She’s a big good looking gray mare.”
Hoist Her Flag won 17 times from 43 starts in Shakopee and was named the outstanding horse on the grounds in 1987 and again in 1989.
Puntsville at 5/2 finished 3 ¼ lengths in front of 6/5 favorite Thoughtless and another 4 ½ head of Malibu Princess after setting all the fractions: 22.02, 44.79, 57.01 and 1:09.87.
“She’s very quick,” said Santiago, who had ridden the winner in nine of her previous 10 starts. “I was just praying to God that we would get a good quick jump.”
She did just that, and the race essentially was over.
The theme of the afternoon was hope and there were plenty of things covered under that umbrella. Hope that the sun would make an appearance, that the rain would hold off until the card was complete. There was, as always, hope at the windows as patrons placed their wagers, hope right up until a winner hit the finish line.
Despite iron-gray skies throughout the afternoon, there was plenty of pink throughout the premises on annual Fillies Race for Hope day, dedicated to the understanding, treatment and hope for eradication of breast cancer.
The feature event on the card annually is the Hoist Her Flag Stakes.
Messages promoting the theme of the day could be found throughout the grounds. The tote board from time to time advised the crowd that “Early Detection is Key.” There was a thank you message from the Fillies Race for Hope committee.
Valets to the riders wore shirts celebrating the occasion. The outriders and pony horses and their riders were festooned in pink accouterment, wraps, tack and other related items.
Raffles, drawings and donations contributed to the fund that supports this endeavor.
Patrons could be found in pink slacks, hats, dresses, shoes accompanied in some cases by pink purses. Employees in the Coady photography studio, the finest enterprise of its type in all of racing, wore pink suspenders and ties, did Shawn Coady and Senor Oscar Quiroz, who also helped work the gate at times without sullying his shirt or pink tie.
Coady was moved early in the day to loan his bowtie to a forgetful member of the Fourth Estate who arrived prepared to attack the day in conventional attire.
Pressbox magistrate Jeff Maday’s black suit was nattily set off with fashionably muted pink tie and cufflinks. Breast cancer survivors assembled in the paddock to offer thanks and encouragement in pink western hats and other attire.
A debate ensued over the true color of the dress worn by pressbox assistant Katie Merritt. Was it really pink or closer to coral?
Ultimately, it didn’t matter. It was in keeping with the colors and the spirit of the day.