Some Kinda Comeback

Roger%20Buening%207-11-13George Foreman did it, so did Brett Favre and Dara Torres, why not Roger Buening?

We’re talking athletic comebacks and performances after the hair has turned gray or the calendar has turned past 40.

Foreman won a world heavyweight title at 45, Favre fell a game short of the Super Bowl at 40 and Torres was the oldest ever at 41 to make the U.S. Olympic swimming team.

Roger Buening, 48, thought ‘why not’ after landing at Canterbury Park for the first time this year.

“I galloped a couple of horses and the bug bit me,” he said. “I knew it would happen if I came back to the racetrack.”

Buening had not ridden since 2000 following a racetrack accident. He wound up in Florida and was still there when a conversation with Canterbury rider Rusty Shaw lured him north this spring.

Buening arrived in Shakopee eager to gallop horses and work the starting gate. The gallop job fell through soon after his arrival but he knew it was only a matter of time anyway. “I knew he would ride again before he got here,” said Shaw, who has known Buening for years. “He’s won a lot of quarter horse races, and I finished second to him a lot of times.”

Buening had won five races and was on the favorite in a sixth race when his horse went down and he suffered a fractured hip socket racing in Canada 12 years ago. He hadn’t raced since. He hadn’t been at the racetrack since, but the injury had little to do with the respite.

“It wasn’t as bad as it sounds,” he said, “but it gets cold up north. I went to Florida and it was so nice there during the winters that I never left.”

He had a steady job at a farm with a salary and all was well.

“The money was so good that I stayed with it for 12 years,” he said. Then the crash began. “The horse business turned upside down there, the guy sold one of his farms and I got a call from Rusty saying I could gallop here and work the gates.”

The gallop job didn’t work out. “The guy didn’t want to pay me,” said Buening, “but after I had galloped a couple I just knew I was going to ride again anyway.”

There was one not so small concern, however. Buening weighed 155 pounds.

“I had some weight to take off,” he said.

“Oh, yeah, he was pretty big when he first got here,” said Shaw.

Buening shed 30 pounds in the three weeks he worked on the starting gate.

He hasn’t taken long to find the groove again. Getting good mounts has been another matter.

“Everything is pretty much the same. The horse business doesn’t change much, although there’s quite a bit more money now,” he said. “It’s tough picking up good horses, though. Everybody knows the riders who’ve been here and it’s hard to get into a barn. It will come around, though.”

That’s one advantage of age, the knowledge and history one often acquires along the way, the ability to withstand the dry spells.

A native of Missouri, Buening began riding at 16 in Oklahoma. “I rode at Blue Ribbon Downs, all over Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, California, Oklahoma.”

Buening’s wife, Andrea, has thrown her full support behind his decision to climb in the saddle again.

“She was surprised. But she supports me 100 percent,” he said.

Buening was reminded of people like Foreman, who has made a small fortune over the years fighting and endorsing products. Buening doesn’t have any illusions about making that kind of money, although a guy can certainly dream.

Maybe, just maybe… nah, nobody would ever buy a grill with an athlete’s name on 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.

Tales of the Track

Brian Porter Stable 6-29-13Bryan Porter was passing out checks the other day and couldn’t find a payment from a former employer for his newest employee.

The problem was easily solved. Doug Myers is actually Charles Myers. Everyone simply calls him Doug.

Myers is from Louisville, Ky., and arrived in Shakopee with the Bobby Radcliffe barn. When Porter took over the barn a few days ago, Myers decided to stay on as a hotwalker.

Myers is a nephew to former world heavyweight champions Jimmy Ellis, his mother Mary’s brother, and grew up hanging out in the gymnasiums of Louisville, influenced by the boxing world and the horseracing world of his grandfather and father simultaneously.

His father was a jockey who turned to exercise riding at Churchill Downs when he outgrew the job, but he died when Doug was seven, a victim of suspicious circumstances never fully explained. “His billfold was missing when he was found,” Myers said. “They later found it in a garbage can.”

So young Doug grew up with a father figure, the future heavyweight champion of the world. “Jimmy was like a father to me,” he said. “He was like a brother, a best friend.”

Myers accompanied uncle Jimmy to the Louisville boxing gyms where a man known then as Cassius Clay was frequently encountered. Ellis and Clay fought twice as amateurs, each winning once. When they met as professionals, Ellis was stopped in 12 rounds by the same man, known then as Muhammad Ali.

Uncle Jimmy was part of what is regarded as the best heavyweight era of all time, an era that included a pantheon of heavyweight greats: Floyd Patterson, Ali, Joe Frazier, Jerry Quarry, Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers, Oscar Bonavena, George Foreman and George Chuvalo.

Ellis defeated Patterson in a controversial decision. He was knocked out for the first time in a title unification fight with Joe Frazier, having held the World Boxing Association title from 1968 to 1970.

“He took me under his wing with his own kids and tutored me,” said Myers. “To this day I have a lot of respect for that. In a lot of ways he made me who I am today, as far as respecting people and doing the right things. He had a lot to do with making my character.”

His uncle is suffering now from boxing dementia. “He has Alzheimer’s,” said Myers. “But this family intends to care for him. He’s not going into a facility. He doesn’t remember much, but he’s at home and at peace.”

Myers says his own boxing days extended only to amateur cards in Golden Gloves tournaments. “I was a flyweight,” he said. “I could throw punches in bunches.”

Myers has been in and out of horse racing jobs the past 15 years or so, taking an assignment as a groom or hotwalker here and there as the spirit moves him.

He has been hot-walking for Porter since joining the barn a few days ago.

“He seems happy with what he’s doing,” said Porter. “I really like him. He’s a class act. He is very positive and likes to motivate the younger guys. He’ll jump in and help out with something even if it’s not under his job title.”

Myers’ own riding experience extends no further than pleasure riding as a youngster. “Uncle Jimmy bought a Tennessee Walker for his wife, but basically I rode it more than anybody. That horse had five gaits and was about 17 hands. He was a big fellow.”

Ellis used to take the kids trail riding, Myers with them. “Jimmy and my dad were real close, too,” Myers said. “They used to rabbit hunt a lot and went to the track. My father liked to play the horses.”

Myers had never been to Canterbury Park before this summer and has mixed emotions about what he’s seen so far. He loves the people and their dispositions. The weather is another matter. “I could do without all this rain,” he said. “It seems to rain all the time.”

Nevertheless, he is pleased to be in Shakopee and working in the Porter barn.

“To me, this is like a vacation,” he said. “Horses are like athletes that have to be trained right. Then, it is interesting to see how things unfold.”

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.