We’ve heard this one before:
A guy buys a horse with friends. It wins easily. First time out. He ventures into new parternerships. Those horses win maiden starts, too.
Notions take over: Horse racing is a piece of cake. A walk in the park. Like printing money.
The hook is set. Reality will set in slowly, over time.
A chuckle rises in Barry Butzow’s throat as he recalls just such a start to horse racing, what seems like a lifetime ago, in 1985. Canterbury Downs had made its debut. Racing had arrived in Minnesota.
Those early years typically included ownership in horses with multiple partners, some hard to recall. “Kathy Walsh trained for us,” he said, “and then at the end, her brother, Jim, took over.”
He laughs about it today, now that he’s buried hip deep in the sport and sees clearly through the mirage under which it all began.
Yet, he and his wife, Joni, are committed at a level not imaginable back then, deeper than ever, owning, breeding, racing. They might be at the races on a Saturday night in Shakopee, and on a plane the next morning, headed for a track in Kentucky or to check on their breeding operation there. Their commitment extends further.
They have been active in money raising efforts for injured riders at Canterbury Park, the Leg Up Fund, and previously in the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund, as well as Doc Bowman’s program to repurpose racehorses after their careers are finished at Canterbury Park, in addition to another effort in Louisiana for retired horses there. They have made numerous donations to causes aligned with racing.
You are either in the sport or you or not is the way they see it.
“It’s not just the horses but the people,” Joni said. “The people on the backside, the jockeys, the trainers, the whole community. We’re tried to get involved with all of them. It’s a community.”
Their love of racing as a couple started with a devotion to one another after meeting 22 years ago. “Our first date was at the track,” Joni said. The hook was set.
Today they own some 60 horses, 11 of them racing at Canterbury this summer and others at any of several tracks, their mares at a broodmare farm in Paris, Kentucky.
The racing season starts for them at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, shifts to Oaklawn in Arkansas, then to Kentucky and Canterbury They have horses at Canterbury, Saratoga and three places in Kentucky, shipping some of the out-of-state runners to Shakopee at times for stakes races.
Sometimes Butzow says he has to check his trucking bills to determine where this or that horse is located at a given time. A suggestion is offered that someday, perhaps, horses will be shipped from here to there by Amazon, by drones. Outlandish, of course, but not moreso some days than this all-consuming sport itself.
None of this was on the horizon in 1992 when Butzow got out of the sport altogether. Canterbury went dark in 1992, and for the next two years there was nothing. “I rode with it through the peak and then the Ladbroke era, and got out entirely,” he said.
Then, in 1995, Canterbury Park arose, like a Phoenix from the ashes of the Downs, and Butzow was interested once more. He credits Kathy and Dion Kissoon for rekindling his interest. “They got us back into it,” he said.
Their were partnerships with the Kissoons in a number of successful thoroughbreds, Nidari, Balin, Tez Tarak, and Balin among them.
Kathy Kissoon recalls an instance in which Joni put her skills as a nurse anesthetist to use in the equine field.
“Balin had gotten kicked and was hurt,” she said. “The walkers were too close together and another horse kicked him.”
When Balin’s owners came to see him, they discovered that there was puss running out of a shoulder and he hadn’t been treated. They took him home.
“Joni showed up with a pump so we could flush the wound and then clean it and applied some antibiotics.”
Barry added to the memory list. “I remember Joni and Kathy jumping in the truck and taking a horse in a trailer to Hawthorne Park in Chicago,” he said.
There was a slight pause as he considered that specific situation, two women from Minnesota driving to Hawthorne in Cicero, Ill., on the edge of the Windy City.
The partners celebrated together in the winner’s circle several times, as well as on another more personal occasion.
“We went to their wedding in 2003,” Kathy added.
They bought horses together, attended sales and the Butzows began learning about the industry, the business of buying, owning and racing.
“The Kissoons were wonderful mentors,” Joni said. “They taught us so much about racing.”’
Eventually, the inevitable occurred.
The Butzows’ interest in the game began to conflict at times with the interests of their partners.
“What happened is that they just outgrew us,” Kathy said. “Those things happen in this business.”
As partners, they had used several trainers, Bernell Rhone, Justin Evans, Jaime Ness among them. On their own, the Butzows were with the most consistent champion trainer in Canterbury history for 14 years, Mac Robertson. “Now, we’re mostly with Joe Sharp, ” Barry added.
The list of names continues to grow, but foremost in the Butzows’ memories are Sir Tricky, Picko’s Pride, Bryan’s Jewel, Hamazing Destiny, Firstmate. There are others, of course, and, as the Butzows continue to demonstrate, there are more to come.
On Saturday evening they will be inducted into the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame
by Jim Wells