An International Track Man

BarajasOccasionally, Javier Barajas would spot something, stop his pickup truck, step onto the track and retrieve an item only his well-trained eyes could see. “It’s amazing,” Barajas said. “I’m really blind as a bat.”

Barajas, Canterbury Park’s new track superintendent, has the eyes of a predatory bird in situations like this, however, or maybe it’s the experience he began accumulating at age 13, working at his father’s elbow at Arlington International Racecourse, learning how to read a racetrack.

A clod of dirt doesn’t sit quite right. A harrowed line appears broken. There are many signs. Something about the lay of the dirt doesn’t appear natural and catches his eye.

Barajas was making the rounds of Canterbury’s dirt track on Wednesday morning in preparation for Friday night’s season opening card and stopped several times to retrieve what turned out to be pieces of plastic from a snowmobile, leftover from the winter season. Another time a plastic bag flapping against a fence support got his attention. “Things like this have a tendency to spook horses,” Barajas said, retrieving the bag.

Barajas is fastidious about this approach to his work. A missed stone or rock in the soil might spell disaster for a horse galloping over the track, thus he demands such diligence of himself and the men he oversees. “If I ever find someone left a rock on the track deliberately, saw it and didn’t remove it, he no longer works for me,” he explained.

Barajas does not fit the definition of a taskmaster. He is affable, jovial and has a good sense of humor. Miffed as a boy because his father took him away from hot-walking horses to work the turf track at Arlington, Barajas secretly wished to one day become a track superintendent so he could oversee his dad, a thought he defines quite differently today.

“Be careful what you wish for,” he said.

Barajas’ experience tending racetracks and the surrounding grounds goes back to his boyhood in Chicago. He was born in Mexico but moved to Illinois at age five after his dad landed a job tending the turf course at Arlington Park. Tending racetracks has pretty much occupied his life since he was 13 years old. He has worked Retama in Texas, the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and Golden Gate Fields in northern California. “Very nice there,” he recalled. “It’s true, you do leave your heart in San Francisco.”

Barajas, 50, comes to Canterbury Park directly from Meydan Race Track in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates where he recently oversaw conditioning of that track for the World Cup, the richest race in all of horse racing. It was a stressful assignment for numerous reasons, not the least of which was the crew he had to direct.

Thursday morning he stopped here and there at Canterbury to give instructions to one of the men he oversees.  A few quick words and the instructions were complete in each case. That was not the case in Dubai.

“No,” he said. “It was different there.”

Quite different. Language barriers abounded. His crew consisted of people from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Nepal, Indonesia. An interpreter was necessary on a daily basis. “Very stressful,” he said. He has encountered nothing of the kind at Canterbury. “I am forgetting my Spanish, though,” he said with a chuckle.

During the 2008 and 2009 racing seasons, Barajas actually worked two tracks a week, commuting between Arlington in Illinois and the Fair Grounds in Louisiana. “I’d work three days at Arlington and four in New Orleans,” he explained.

Barajas has done the groundwork for four World Cups, actually setting up the race courses at Meydan when it replaced the former track there in 2009. His intentions are to return when the Canterbury meet ends in September, “if something else doesn’t come along.” His wife, Sylvia, and daughter, Liz, who will graduate high school this spring, are in Dubai, but intend to return to the U.S. Javier, meanwhile, is only a six-hour drive from his mother, near Chicago, and his son, Roberto, who is about to complete community college and head to the University of Illinois. Roberto has worked the turf course at Arlington, too, the third generation of the Barajas family to do so.

Javier had stern words for Roberto about the profession, however. “If you tell me you want to become a race track superintendent, I’ll punch you in the nose,” he said. Roberto intends to see stars another way. He plans to study astronomy.

Javier chuckles when he recalls his father, George, working for him at Arlington. He would use a third person to communicate to his dad. “We were always butting heads,” he recalled. Father and son liked different things about racing.

“My father wouldn’t watch the races. He’d say he hated horses, that they always tore up the nice turf course he had prepared for them,” Javier replied. “He worked on that course for 35 years.”

It is different for Javier and you can hear it in his voice whenever he talks about the great horses he’d been around during his long, eventful career. “Secretariat, Cigar,” he said. “But my favorite was John Henry. He had such a heart.”

Barajas had never been to Canterbury Park or Shakopee before taking the job here, and got a true Minnesota reception upon his arrival. “The first week of April and it snowed. From 95 degrees to 25 degrees and I had to plow snow.”

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.

An International Track Man

BarajasOccasionally, Javier Barajas would spot something, stop his pickup truck, step onto the track and retrieve an item only his well-trained eyes could see. “It’s amazing,” Barajas said. “I’m really blind as a bat.”

Barajas, Canterbury Park’s new track superintendent, has the eyes of a predatory bird in situations like this, however, or maybe it’s the experience he began accumulating at age 13, working at his father’s elbow at Arlington International Racecourse, learning how to read a racetrack.

A clod of dirt doesn’t sit quite right. A harrowed line appears broken. There are many signs. Something about the lay of the dirt doesn’t appear natural and catches his eye.

Barajas was making the rounds of Canterbury’s dirt track on Wednesday morning in preparation for Friday night’s season opening card and stopped several times to retrieve what turned out to be pieces of plastic from a snowmobile, leftover from the winter season. Another time a plastic bag flapping against a fence support got his attention. “Things like this have a tendency to spook horses,” Barajas said, retrieving the bag.

Barajas is fastidious about this approach to his work. A missed stone or rock in the soil might spell disaster for a horse galloping over the track, thus he demands such diligence of himself and the men he oversees. “If I ever find someone left a rock on the track deliberately, saw it and didn’t remove it, he no longer works for me,” he explained.

Barajas does not fit the definition of a taskmaster. He is affable, jovial and has a good sense of humor. Miffed as a boy because his father took him away from hot-walking horses to work the turf track at Arlington, Barajas secretly wished to one day become a track superintendent so he could oversee his dad, a thought he defines quite differently today.

“Be careful what you wish for,” he said.

Barajas’ experience tending racetracks and the surrounding grounds goes back to his boyhood in Chicago. He was born in Mexico but moved to Illinois at age five after his dad landed a job tending the turf course at Arlington Park. Tending racetracks has pretty much occupied his life since he was 13 years old. He has worked Retama in Texas, the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and Golden Gate Fields in northern California. “Very nice there,” he recalled. “It’s true, you do leave your heart in San Francisco.”

Barajas, 50, comes to Canterbury Park directly from Meydan Race Track in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates where he recently oversaw conditioning of that track for the World Cup, the richest race in all of horse racing. It was a stressful assignment for numerous reasons, not the least of which was the crew he had to direct.

Thursday morning he stopped here and there at Canterbury to give instructions to one of the men he oversees.  A few quick words and the instructions were complete in each case. That was not the case in Dubai.

“No,” he said. “It was different there.”

Quite different. Language barriers abounded. His crew consisted of people from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Nepal, Indonesia. An interpreter was necessary on a daily basis. “Very stressful,” he said. He has encountered nothing of the kind at Canterbury. “I am forgetting my Spanish, though,” he said with a chuckle.

During the 2008 and 2009 racing seasons, Barajas actually worked two tracks a week, commuting between Arlington in Illinois and the Fair Grounds in Louisiana. “I’d work three days at Arlington and four in New Orleans,” he explained.

Barajas has done the groundwork for four World Cups, actually setting up the race courses at Meydan when it replaced the former track there in 2009. His intentions are to return when the Canterbury meet ends in September, “if something else doesn’t come along.” His wife, Sylvia, and daughter, Liz, who will graduate high school this spring, are in Dubai, but intend to return to the U.S. Javier, meanwhile, is only a six-hour drive from his mother, near Chicago, and his son, Roberto, who is about to complete community college and head to the University of Illinois. Roberto has worked the turf course at Arlington, too, the third generation of the Barajas family to do so.

Javier had stern words for Roberto about the profession, however. “If you tell me you want to become a race track superintendent, I’ll punch you in the nose,” he said. Roberto intends to see stars another way. He plans to study astronomy.

Javier chuckles when he recalls his father, George, working for him at Arlington. He would use a third person to communicate to his dad. “We were always butting heads,” he recalled. Father and son liked different things about racing.

“My father wouldn’t watch the races. He’d say he hated horses, that they always tore up the nice turf course he had prepared for them,” Javier replied. “He worked on that course for 35 years.”

It is different for Javier and you can hear it in his voice whenever he talks about the great horses he’d been around during his long, eventful career. “Secretariat, Cigar,” he said. “But my favorite was John Henry. He had such a heart.”

Barajas had never been to Canterbury Park or Shakopee before taking the job here, and got a true Minnesota reception upon his arrival. “The first week of April and it snowed. From 95 degrees to 25 degrees and I had to plow snow.”

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.

Road to Kentucky & Oscar Odds

side_oscarThe Road to Kentucky Handicapping contest continues this week with races from the Fair Grounds plus an additional bonus race – The Fountain of Youth from Gulfstream. Post time and entry deadline is 12:30pm.

We called on racing analyst Angela Hermann for her thoughts on the Derby prep races. Angela is currently serving as analyst at Hawthorne Race Course and will return to Canterbury for the spring and summer.

The Fountain of Youth:

There are some questions to be answered in this race, but certainly not by Violence. Unfortunately, he’s the only Grade 1 or Grade 2 winner entered, and off his smashing CashCall win should end up in the neighborhood of 1-5. Based on his three starts thus far he deserves those puny odds, especially after handling Breeders’ Cup runner-up He’s Had Enough the way that he did. Give Speak Logistics another chance to redeem himself and turn the tables on Falling Sky, as he was shut off cold on the rail while making his move past the latter and raced evenly from that point. He’s Had Enough has shown flashes of talent capable of competing with Violence, but needs to show he can put it together in the afternoon the way he does in the morning. At least his pilot and partner in crime Lava Man join him for the journey east, but 9 lengths are a lot to make up on a horse as sharp as Violence.

The Risen Star:

Contention runs much deeper in the Risen Star, but this capacity cast are an interesting bunch from a pace standpoint. Oxbow could get a very similar trip to the Lecomte but was that race really that good? If your answer is no then the options are many, but not many are stakes proven. Though it wasn’t a fast race, Proud Strike’s maiden win was a blowout from the outside post. He draws the rail for the ‘Star, and if Gary Stevens really does fly out to ride him you know he’ll utilize that ground-saving post while the rest will surely have to cover a bit extra in a fourteen horse field. Code West represents the Baffert brigade, but has lost to a couple of his stablemates in his last three races, and was tooth-and-nail at 1/5 to beat Dr. Spin in his only career win. A piece seems more likely for the son of Lemon Drop Kid. Of course Oxbow will be one to run down, but stretching-out Palace Malice probably won’t let him out of his sights. Give the son of Curlin a big chance in his first try around two turns for Todd Pletcher.

Bombs at the Gate

Last week Golden Gate was the contest track. The perception seems to be that Russell Baze wins every race and the prices are always short. Baze did boot home three winners in the nine-race card. He won the opener paying $2.80. Race two was his at an $11.00 mutuel and he won race 4 and paid $5.40. An average day for The Muscle.

Four races produced winners that paid more than $20 including Dice Flavor in the double-point El Camino Real and ultra-bomber Flying Marine in race three at $90.60.

Last week’s winner, Kimberly Larson, amassed an impressive 2046 points to win the $500 wagering card.

Oscar Odds

Sunday night is the 85th Academy Awards. Oscar pools and side bets are a staple for many Oscar viewers. And why wouldn’t they be?

Success in these pools hinge on nailing obscure categories like Best Makeup, Costume Design etc and Short Film but the major categories draw all the attention.

Argo is the prohibitive favorite for Best Picture at 1 to 7. Voters likely make up for snubbing Ben Affleck in the Best Director category and send it in on Argo. Lincoln is a sneaky mid-priced possibility at 5 to 1 and longshot players lean toward Silver Linings Playbook at 25 to 1.

Daniel Day Louis is 1/50 for Best Actor. Simple formula: Play Lincoln with Spielberg directing and receive Oscar.

Best Actress is contentious. Jennifer Lawrence is the 1 to 2 favorite while Jessica Chastain is 4 to 1. Chastain won the Golden Globe for Best Actress -Drama. Lawrence won for Best Actress – Comedy/Musical. Chastain’s film, Zero Dark Thirty has some content issues with Hollywood types but it was a superior movie technically and her performance brilliant. Play.

This blog was written by Canterbury Media Relations Manager Jeff Maday. Maday has filled multiple positions including Media Relations and Player Relations Manager since the track reopened in 1995.

Road to Kentucky, Angela at Hawthorne & More

R2KThe $30,000 Road to Kentucky Tournament continues Saturday at Golden Gate Fields. The double point bonus race Derby prep is the $200,000 G3 El Camino Real. Post time is 2:45pm for the nine-race card and entries to this free contest are due before that.

Only three of the nine entered in the El Camino Real are nominated to the Triple Crown – #1 Wildcat Moon, #4 Manando, one of two from the Bob Baffert stable, and #5 Zeewat trained by Jerry Hollendorfer who has won three of the last seven El Camino Reals.

Manando, 9/5 ML favorite, looks like a need-the-lead type who has two victories from five starts and both came when he established a clear lead. Wildcat Moon from the rail likely goes for a run and challenges early.

Zeewat, under Russell Baze, should sit a perfect trip just off the pace, getting a classic Baze ride. The Hall of Fame jockey has won six of the last eight renditions of this prep. The price won’t be huge but he figures to be right there.

Baffert’s other colt, #8 Carving, is worth a long look too. He is a closer that crawled home to win the Real Quiet Stakes but he too will close into the pace if Baffert’s rabbit comes to a halt.

If you are looking for an R2K bomb, how about #3 Counting Days at 30-1 on the line? He was a maiden claimer at Saratoga in his debut and won in his third start, also for a tag, at Keeneland on the synthetic. Carla Gaines took over the conditioning and tried him in a G3 race where he ran a respectable yet non-threatening seventh. He followed that up with a dismal 15-length drubbing in a sprint. He is rested and double digits. This just has the feel of a horse that could get better. You win R2K contests by hitting a bomb in the bonus race. Swing away.

Hawthorne Spring Meet Begins Friday

A sure sign that spring is on the way is the return of racing in Chicago-land. Hawthorne fires up its meet Friday at 1:35pm. Racing at Hawthorne usually attracts large and competitive fields and offers wagering value. Plus you will see several horses and trainers that will be in Shakopee this summer including Clay Brinson and Joel Berndt. Hawthorne offers a pair of 50-cent pick 4s each day as well as rolling $1 doubles and $1 pick 3s.

Canterbury’s track analyst Angela Hermann will be at Hawthorne for the meet offering race analysis on-air and online. You can find her selections each day here.

The Hawthorne meet concludes at the end of April so Angela will be back to Shakopee before the Kentucky Derby and ready for the opener at Canterbury May 17.

Gorg Preposterous?

Canterbury’s former track handicapper Kevin Gorg gets a lot of air-time these days on Fox Sports North and on the radio at KFAN 100.3 FM. During the course of his work day, he talks for a living… after all, he may on occasion stretch or embellish the truth or make it up as he goes along. He is a pro.

That wasn’t lost on Dan ‘The Comman Man’ Cole when yesterday he released the brackets for his annual and brilliant Preposterous Statement Tournament. Cole installed Gorg as a #1 seed in the National Windows region. Have a look here at what statement allowed Gorg to capture the #1 Seed (Hint: It’s a horse racing statement) and get ready to vote online early and often.

Paul Allen, our beloved track announcer, is a Preposterous Statement Hall of Famer, and has numerous entries in this year’s PST including a #2 seed in the Canterbury Park region. He is odds-on each and every day from 9 to noon on KFAN to utter something tournament worthy.

This blog was written by Canterbury Media Relations Manager Jeff Maday. Maday has filled multiple positions including Media Relations and Player Relations Manager since the track reopened in 1995.