Paychecks Being Decided by Inches… and Photos

Sugar Storm -  07-07-13 - R03 - CBY - FinishIt’s a game of inches (and photo finishes) this summer for the riders in Shakopee where increased purses have expanded the jockey colony and spread out available horses.

Sunday, for instance, there was a different rider in the winner’s circle after each race.

Competition is the name of the game, for mounts of any kind for most and the best mounts for the elite few.

A recent surge has three-time riding champion Dean Butler in front by five wins, with 29 to Lori Keith’s 24. Ry Eikleberry and Alex Canchari, who had a bangup week with seven winners, have 20 apiece. Eddie Martin, jr. and Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens have 18 each. Derek Bell, a six-time riding champion, has 17.

It’s been a competitive, wild race.

“Yes it has,” said Bell.

Take the third race as an example of how every inch counts. Saving ground frequently is the difference. Silver Rock Star and Keith came off the turn several horses wide and made a tremendous run at Sugar Storm and Butler up front. The difference? Not more than an inch, two at the most. Move Keith’s horse even one path nearer to the rail and it’s a different outcome.

“That would have been enough,” she said. “When I made my move I was five wide and then got fanned out.”

Paul Allen’s race call at the finish summed it up:

“It’s so, so tight,” he said. “I think it’s Sugar Storm, but it’s tight.”

Thus, Butler moved five wins in front of Keith.

It’s competitive at Canterbury this summer and the pressure is beginning to show. The hottest story on Sunday was the issue of one jockey taking a poke at another, the result of leftover tensions from the racetrack or elsewhere.

Stevens has put on a couple of textbook riding demonstrations this meet, including the seventh race on June 30 with the ride of the season.

The veteran jock is widely regarded for intuitive ability with horses, an ability to coax out whatever remains in the tank in those final strides, and that was the difference in this particular stretch dual. His horse, Alphabets Tuff Gal, had the lead from the gate, with half length leads at the half-mile and three-quarter poles. Then Alex Canchari and Dolly Peach engaged the leader, taking the lead by a half-length at the stretch call. Yet, Stevens found remaining resolve in his horse and claimed back the lead to win by a head.

Switch back to Sunday afternoon and the second race. Stevens was aboard a Mac Robertson-trained horse named Limo, the only Minnesota-bred in the six-furlong allowance. Whispering, rubbing or any form of persuasion other than the stick were useless in this instance Stevens knew, driving his horse to a win by whiskers over Thatlleavemark and Juan Rivera.

Skeptics who’ve written off Stevens because of age or injuries the last couple of years are eating their words. “He rides as if he’s a lot younger,” said one observer. “You can’t guess his age out there.”

But you can guess this, the observer added:

“Watch for Mac to start making his move now,” she said. “He’s starting to heat up.”

WAS THE GLOVE A WHITE ONE?

Jilique Eikleberry, a press box assistant in charge of player development, underwent surgery at St. Francis Hospital recently. Jilique is married to Ry Eilkeberry, one of Canterbury’s top riders.

Beforehand, her father, Jerry, mentioned that maybe her food would be served by former Canterbury rider and current trainer Luis Canchari, who also works at the hospital as a room waiter. Senor Canchari delivered Jerry’s food when he was hospitalized in the past. Jilique laughed off the possibility.

Sure enough, last Monday night,Canchari, known as Louie the glove during his riding days, arrived with Jilique’s dinner.

“I think he was a little confused at first,” she said. Canchari was familiar with Ry but not his wife.

“He knew Ry and recognized the last name and wasn’t certain who should get the food,” Jilique said.

The matter was quickly straightened out and dinner was served.

The Glove continues to deliver.

RECORDS BY THE HANDFUL

A change in the configuration of the turf course and gate placement for a majority of turf races run at “about” distances – in addition to the recent lack of rain and the subsequent firm turf course – has resulted in several track records over the past few days.

The addition of a the chute late last season and the desire to bring back a distance on the grass (one mile and seventy yards) last used in the early 1990s are partly responsible for a change in the way that “about” distance races have been conducted this year. In fact, when Teletimer – the track’s official timing company – came out to wire the course at the beginning of the meet and reconfigure the timing mechanisms for the one mile and seventy yard distance on the turf, they helped track officials properly realign the starting gate for the start of all “about” distance races. As a result, patrons are likely to see a few more track records over the course of the season… most likely at “about” distances on the lawn.

Thus far, the records have come too quickly for a rider to savor the occasion long.

Take Eikleberry who set a record on the grass this week and requested a picture for his memorabilia collection.

“It was only a record for a couple of races and another one was set,” he said.

Yes, for sure, it is a fast-paced world.

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.

Video: The Life of a Jockey

Ry Ekleberry 6-13-13Jockeys may be the strongest athletes pound-for-pound in the world. Their task is certainly not easy as they’re required to control a one thousand pound horse running at full speed in the tightest of situations. Rider Ry Eikleberry and his valet talk about what it’s like in the day of a life of a rider and explains what it takes to do the job on a day-to-day basis. Check out the newest episode of Canterbury Spotlight:

Video: Michelle Benson

Like Father, Like Son

BrandonMeier05-26-13If Brandon Meier wins the Kentucky Derby some day or, say, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, there is another lesser race that will command an adjacent spot in his memory.

Riding with the bug in 2008, he was on a horse making the turn for home and came off the fence just enough to let the rider behind him sneak through. He switched sticks and went to work with the left hand, but got beat a nose.

The winning rider grinned and chortled as they were galloping out, “hey, jockey, you probably would have won if you had hit your horse instead of my boot the whole way.”

The winning rider? Randy Meier, Brandon’s father.

Brandon’s rejoinder was swift and succinct. “You’ll think twice about coming up inside me the next time,” he said.

The Meier name is well-known in Chicago where Brandon broke in. Randy Meier is the all-time leading rider at Hawthorne Race Course and Sportsman’s Park and among the top 10 all-time at Arlington International Racecourse.

“He raced for 38 years and won more than 4,000 races,” Brandon said. Father and son shared the same valet at Arlington. “My box was right underneath his,” Brandon said. “He got to school me quite a bit.”

Randy retired after a serious accident 3 and ½ years ago. He broke his neck in a spill, for the second time, and suffered a head injury. Brandon stayed home to take care of him, a process that included five months of speech therapy.

“He’s doing great now. He made a full recovery,” Brandon added. “He’s using his retirement to visit racetracks. He’s already been here.”

During his one stint at Santa Anita in 2009, Brandon participated in the “Jockeys”, the reality show about horse racing on Animal Planet.

Accompanying him in the role was girlfriend Dana Henrichsen, whom he met at Arlington in 2008. Henrichsen was working in the Arlington gift shop. Meier was on a horse riding through the tunnel to the track and spotted her. He pulled off a pair of goggles and autographed them for delivery to the gift shop.

“She didn’t know who I was, but she started watching the races and eventually phoned me,” Meier added.

Dana, who now works weekends in Mr. D’s, a sports bar on the apron level at Arlington, is also a hospital administrative assistant during the week. She was in Shakopee recently to visit her jockey, who is riding at Canterbury Park for the first time. He had never seen the place before and is here after getting a sales pitch from last year’s riding champion, Tanner Riggs. “We’re good friends and he kept telling me how great this place is,” said Meier. “He kept telling me the people are great, very friendly, that I’d like the facility.”

Everything seems to be meeting his expectations.

Meier arrived looking for a fresh start. He has ridden at the Chicago tracks as well as Santa Anita Park, Kenneland , Turfway Park and Churchill Downs.

“I couldn’t seem to stay healthy,” he said. “I’d recover from one injury, ride a bit and get hurt again. I’d just build my business back and get hurt again.”

Sometimes a total makeover, an entirely fresh start, can be just the ticket. “I’m starting to make connections, getting to know some people here,” he said. “I think some doors are starting to open for me.” He wants to begin adding to his one win any time soon.

Brandon, who’ll turn 25 on July 9, has one other race that he’ll never forget no matter what fate has in store for him, no matter how many stakes he might win.

He won the first race of his career on a horse named Houseboat, who threw his head shortly before entering the gate and caught Brandon squarely in the lower face, splitting his lip and chipping or rearranging several teeth.

He was bleeding profusely as he entered the winner’s circle and getting peppered from all around about his condition, how he felt.

People began asking him what he intended to do with his winning share of the purse.

“I told them the money would help pay for my upcoming visit to the dentist,” he said.

Meier was smiling as he talked, revealing a mouthful of perfectly formed incisors, top and bottom.

Smiling and anticipating a fresh start.

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.

Canterbury Jockeys Make Plans

Some of the trailers are lined up like sentries on the backside, ready to receive their cargo when the meet officially closes on Monday. They have been swept out and lined with fresh straw in anticipation of the awaiting trip, to farms where their cargo will be turned out or to other racetracks where they will be assigned new stalls.

The men and women who have ridden those horses this summer in Shakopee are making plans as well, preparing to take short breaks before engaging in a new meet at another racetrack, in Chicago, Oklahoma or in Phoenix.

Many of the riders who spend their winters riding at Turf Paradise in Phoenix shift their tack to Shakopee in the spring because the two meets dovetail perfectly.

Scott Stevens, for one, is heading home to Phoenix for the first time in the last four years prepared to ride when Turf Paradise begins its meet the first week of October. This is the first Canterbury meet in four years Stevens has been able to complete, and it was a good meet at that. Through Friday’s card he has ridden 27 winners.

Now it’s on to Phoenix.

“I’m anxious for that,” he said. “It’s been a while.” Stevens has been either injured, undergoing therapy or awaiting surgery and unable to ride when the Phoenix meet began for the last three autumns.

But first there is a scheduled trip. “I’m going for a week to Hawaii,” he said.

Sounds great, but it is hard to match the journey Lori Keith plans to take before dusting off her tack for the Phoenix meet. She’s planning on a respite in the South of France where her parents have a restaurant. “For some good food, good wine and fine company,” she said.

And then there is the sad tale of Canterbury Park’s 2012 riding champion, Tanner Riggs, who struggles to maintain his riding weight and is best off staying busy rather than taking a break.

“I think I’ll catch the last three weeks of Arlington and then go to Hawthorne,” he said.

Not much of a vacation, he was told.

“Can’t really take one,” he responded.

Patricia Trimble heads out on Wednesday with her husband, Rusty Shaw, who has spent the summer on injured reserve and is still awaiting surgery. Her five-year-old daughter, Taylor Page, is beginning kindergarten, at a school not far from Turf Paradise.

Nik Goodwin, the 2012 quarter horse riding champion, is headed to Ocala, Fla., where he intends to spend the next few months breaking babies. But first he and his wife will take a trip to Yellowstone National Park, while the boys, four-year-old Layne and one-year-old Hunter, spend some time with grandpa and grandma in Bemidji. “We’re going to fly them up to spend time with my parents,” Goodwin said.

Bobby Walker, Jr. will head home to West Monroe, La. His son Aaron, 13, will begin the eighth grade in either West Monroe or Bossier City. The uncertainty has to do with Walker’s daughter Brittany, a radiology technician, who has agreed to help out if Aaron goes to school in Bossier City where she lives.

Wilson Dieguez will head home to Phoenix, too, for his 12th season at Turf Paradise. He intends to return to Shakopee for a second time next spring. “I’ll be back, for sure, God willing,” he said.

Derek Bell will take a five-day trip to Canada to angle for walleyes but intends to see if he’ll be allowed to ride at Arlington Park, now that the “flag” on his name has been eliminated.

Carlos Castro is bound for Charles Town for three or four weeks and later will give Hawthore a shot.

Adolfo Morales?

He’s a Phoenix native, who’ll take some time off and “gain some weight,” he said facetiously.

Dean Butler, who is likely to finish second this season in the standings after winning three consecutive titles at Canterbury, hasn’t taken any time off since he started in 1992. “If I get days or something,” he said. “Or sick.”

So, it’s off to Remington Park and then home to Tampa Bay Downs for the winter.

About that time, Stevens look up at a television in the jockeys’ lounge with the horses for the fourth race Thursday night parading in front of the grandstand.”Hey, that’s the horse that broke my shoulder last summer,” he said, referring to Proud Kylean, who had Geovanni Franco on her back.

Another reminder for Stevens that it’s been a good summer indeed.

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.

Photo Credit: Coady Photography

Canterbury Jockeys Make Plans

Some of the trailers are lined up like sentries on the backside, ready to receive their cargo when the meet officially closes on Monday. They have been swept out and lined with fresh straw in anticipation of the awaiting trip, to farms where their cargo will be turned out or to other racetracks where they will be assigned new stalls.

The men and women who have ridden those horses this summer in Shakopee are making plans as well, preparing to take short breaks before engaging in a new meet at another racetrack, in Chicago, Oklahoma or in Phoenix.

Many of the riders who spend their winters riding at Turf Paradise in Phoenix shift their tack to Shakopee in the spring because the two meets dovetail perfectly.

Scott Stevens, for one, is heading home to Phoenix for the first time in the last four years prepared to ride when Turf Paradise begins its meet the first week of October. This is the first Canterbury meet in four years Stevens has been able to complete, and it was a good meet at that. Through Friday’s card he has ridden 27 winners.

Now it’s on to Phoenix.

“I’m anxious for that,” he said. “It’s been a while.” Stevens has been either injured, undergoing therapy or awaiting surgery and unable to ride when the Phoenix meet began for the last three autumns.

But first there is a scheduled trip. “I’m going for a week to Hawaii,” he said.

Sounds great, but it is hard to match the journey Lori Keith plans to take before dusting off her tack for the Phoenix meet. She’s planning on a respite in the South of France where her parents have a restaurant. “For some good food, good wine and fine company,” she said.

And then there is the sad tale of Canterbury Park’s 2012 riding champion, Tanner Riggs, who struggles to maintain his riding weight and is best off staying busy rather than taking a break.

“I think I’ll catch the last three weeks of Arlington and then go to Hawthorne,” he said.

Not much of a vacation, he was told.

“Can’t really take one,” he responded.

Patricia Trimble heads out on Wednesday with her husband, Rusty Shaw, who has spent the summer on injured reserve and is still awaiting surgery. Her five-year-old daughter, Taylor Page, is beginning kindergarten, at a school not far from Turf Paradise.

Nik Goodwin, the 2012 quarter horse riding champion, is headed to Ocala, Fla., where he intends to spend the next few months breaking babies. But first he and his wife will take a trip to Yellowstone National Park, while the boys, four-year-old Layne and one-year-old Hunter, spend some time with grandpa and grandma in Bemidji. “We’re going to fly them up to spend time with my parents,” Goodwin said.

Bobby Walker, Jr. will head home to West Monroe, La. His son Aaron, 13, will begin the eighth grade in either West Monroe or Bossier City. The uncertainty has to do with Walker’s daughter Brittany, a radiology technician, who has agreed to help out if Aaron goes to school in Bossier City where she lives.

Wilson Dieguez will head home to Phoenix, too, for his 12th season at Turf Paradise. He intends to return to Shakopee for a second time next spring. “I’ll be back, for sure, God willing,” he said.

Derek Bell will take a five-day trip to Canada to angle for walleyes but intends to see if he’ll be allowed to ride at Arlington Park, now that the “flag” on his name has been eliminated.

Carlos Castro is bound for Charles Town for three or four weeks and later will give Hawthore a shot.

Adolfo Morales?

He’s a Phoenix native, who’ll take some time off and “gain some weight,” he said facetiously.

Dean Butler, who is likely to finish second this season in the standings after winning three consecutive titles at Canterbury, hasn’t taken any time off since he started in 1992. “If I get days or something,” he said. “Or sick.”

So, it’s off to Remington Park and then home to Tampa Bay Downs for the winter.

About that time, Stevens look up at a television in the jockeys’ lounge with the horses for the fourth race Thursday night parading in front of the grandstand.”Hey, that’s the horse that broke my shoulder last summer,” he said, referring to Proud Kylean, who had Geovanni Franco on her back.

Another reminder for Stevens that it’s been a good summer indeed.

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.

Photo Credit: Coady Photography

One Mystery Solved?

Maybe, just maybe, a five-year struggle came to an end for Derek Bell on Thursday, and he can resume his life on the racing circuit.

Bell has been conducting an unending battle since being ruled off the track at Tampa Bay Downs along with several other riders in January of 2007 for undisclosed charges.

Those charges were later dropped and Bell was cleared of any wrongdoing, yet he was still prohibited from riding at Tampa Bay, in Kentucky and Arlington Park among other sites.

He has basically ridden only at Canterbury Park, Hawthorne Race Course and in Indiana in the years since.

His name was flagged whenever it came up in racing offices across the nation and he was unable to have that flag removed or to find its source. After riding at Gulfstream Park several years ago, he was told the flag had been removed, but it had not. Whenever he tried to find the source of the flag in the time since, he ran into dead ends.

Finally on Thursday, with the assistance of Terri Hoffrogge, who is filling in for Tiffany Leggett in the horsemen’s bookkeeping office, the flag was removed. She was of the opinion that the matter simply kept falling through the tracks whenever someone attempted to handle it.

Apparently, one office would pass it on to the next without results.

Bell was cautiously hopeful that this final element will open the way for him to resume riding at racetracks from which he has been excluded, including such places as Delaware and Oaklawn Park.

“We’ll see,” he said, pleased with Thursday’s accomplishment but still uncertain about what to expect. He said he has already inquired about riding again at Tampa Bay Downs but was turned down.

This development accompanies a letter he received shortly before the Shakopee meet informing him that the case had been closed.

Hoffrogge said that Bell came into her office a couple of days ago and asked if she would look into the matter for him. So, she talked to his attorney and began making calls to determine where things had fallen through the cracks.

She tracked the origination of the flag down to Pennsylvania. It took more than a single call but Hoffrogge finally made contact with the Pennsylvania Racing Commission and the flag was removed.

That news in and of itself puzzled Bell. “I’ve never ridden in that state,” he said. “I don’t know how that happened.”

Nonetheless, Bell was clearly pleased with the news on Thursday. He will leave when the local meet concludes on Monday for a five-day fishing trip to Canada with renewed hope that he will be riding at a track of his choice this autumn.

“We’ll see,” he said. “This has been going on for a long time, way too long. Hopefully, it is done now.”

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.

Photo Credit: Coady Photography

One Mystery Solved?

Maybe, just maybe, a five-year struggle came to an end for Derek Bell on Thursday, and he can resume his life on the racing circuit.

Bell has been conducting an unending battle since being ruled off the track at Tampa Bay Downs along with several other riders in January of 2007 for undisclosed charges.

Those charges were later dropped and Bell was cleared of any wrongdoing, yet he was still prohibited from riding at Tampa Bay, in Kentucky and Arlington Park among other sites.

He has basically ridden only at Canterbury Park, Hawthorne Race Course and in Indiana in the years since.

His name was flagged whenever it came up in racing offices across the nation and he was unable to have that flag removed or to find its source. After riding at Gulfstream Park several years ago, he was told the flag had been removed, but it had not. Whenever he tried to find the source of the flag in the time since, he ran into dead ends.

Finally on Thursday, with the assistance of Terri Hoffrogge, who is filling in for Tiffany Leggett in the horsemen’s bookkeeping office, the flag was removed. She was of the opinion that the matter simply kept falling through the tracks whenever someone attempted to handle it.

Apparently, one office would pass it on to the next without results.

Bell was cautiously hopeful that this final element will open the way for him to resume riding at racetracks from which he has been excluded, including such places as Delaware and Oaklawn Park.

“We’ll see,” he said, pleased with Thursday’s accomplishment but still uncertain about what to expect. He said he has already inquired about riding again at Tampa Bay Downs but was turned down.

This development accompanies a letter he received shortly before the Shakopee meet informing him that the case had been closed.

Hoffrogge said that Bell came into her office a couple of days ago and asked if she would look into the matter for him. So, she talked to his attorney and began making calls to determine where things had fallen through the cracks.

She tracked the origination of the flag down to Pennsylvania. It took more than a single call but Hoffrogge finally made contact with the Pennsylvania Racing Commission and the flag was removed.

That news in and of itself puzzled Bell. “I’ve never ridden in that state,” he said. “I don’t know how that happened.”

Nonetheless, Bell was clearly pleased with the news on Thursday. He will leave when the local meet concludes on Monday for a five-day fishing trip to Canada with renewed hope that he will be riding at a track of his choice this autumn.

“We’ll see,” he said. “This has been going on for a long time, way too long. Hopefully, it is done now.”

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.

Photo Credit: Coady Photography

If the Glove Fits…

Contrary to what you’ve heard previously, you can go home again. Not only that, but you can arrive on a triumphant note with everything just short of blaring trumpets.

Alex Canchari did just that Friday night. He came home and rode the winning horse in the fifth race, at the same racetrack where his father rode, at the same racetrack where he worked the concession stands from the time he was 14 years of age, selling tacos and making friends of just about everyone who knew him.

“All the kids loved him,” said track president/CEO Randy Sampson. “He has a smile a mile wide whenever you see him.”

Sampson began receiving text messages and phone calls shortly after Canchari brought in Rack Daddy for leading trainer Mac Robertson.

“We’re happy as can be to see him here, someone who started out here as a kid working the concession stands and now he has come back as a rider,” Sampson continued.

Alex used to accompany his dad, Luis ‘The Glove’ Canchari, to Canterbury Downs, watching the races, hanging out on the backside, dreaming a boy’s dreams.

He grew up in the shadow of the race track, in Shakopee, attended high school there through his sophomore year and then graduated with online courses while galloping horses for Moises Yanez and Brian Williamson in Chicago.

His riding career got under way there, then shifted to East Coast tracks, then to the south, at Oaklawn Park, then back East.

But yes indeed that was Canchari, now 18, on Friday night steering an erratic Rack Daddy across the finish line, just a couple of miles from where he grew up dreaming of becoming a jockey one day, seeing the racetrack lights at night as he fell asleep.

“I wanted to become a jockey from the time I was a little boy,” he said in the jockeys lounge afterward. So, he practiced every chance he got. He had a practice horse at home, on which he learned the rudiments of the trade before going to the real thing.

“My dad helped me a lot. I was about 13 years old and he would tell me how to relax a horse. He told me to watch the New York and the California riders for tips on what to do.”

On June 2 this year Canchari amazed himself with a win at Belmont Park on a horse named Dr. Wesley.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he recalled. “I was riding in a race against all my idols – Javier Castellano, John Velasquez, Ramon Dominguez, David Cohen, Eddie Castro and Rosie Naprovnik, all in the same race.”

He rode against his idols and he won the race.

Canchari arrived home five days ago, having driven from New Jersey with his mother, Ann. He had planned to come home all along to visit his sister, Ashley, who was pregnant and about to give birth, but the details of the trip changed suddenly three weeks ago.

He had been riding at Belmont and Monmouth parks and drove to Delaware Park to work a horse, a single horse, but he was injured during the work, breaking a bone and tearing a ligament in his left shoulder.

“It was next to the growth plate and the orthopedic surgeon told me no horses for two weeks,” Canchari related. “I started working some here five days ago.”

Canchari left Chicago for the East early this year after making contact with a stable that put him on mounts in Philadelphia, Monmouth and Belmont Park and also worked some horses at Saratoga.

Alex left New York to give Oaklawn Park a try in January, second guessing himself the entire way. “I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing,” he said. “I took a big risk going there.”

He didn’t second guess the decision long. Canchari rode winners on his first two mounts in Arkansas, on opening day, Jan. 13.

There wasn’t much risk coming home, to where he is known so well. He had four mounts, although one scratched, on Friday’s card, has mounts in the Princess Elaine and Hoist Her Flag stakes today for Robertson and has mounts in every race on Sunday.

His Chicago connections obviously stretch all the way to Shakopee. “I rode in Chicago for Mac’s dad,” Canchari explained. “I rode before for Charlie Smith, too.”

About that time, Adolfo Morales stepped into the silks room where Canchari was carrying on his conversation and gave him a congratulatory fist bump, recognition of the bugboy’s first win on the home turf.

Canchari’s first professional mount came last Dec. 26 in Chicago and through Friday night’s card he has won 30 races from 319 mounts. His bug will be extended by three weeks, because of his injury, to next March.

And now that he’s here, Canchari’s plans are to stay through the end of the meet. He has an agent, Jodie Sinclair, and, of course, there is a very recently arrived niece, Nova Ley.

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.

Photo Credit: Coady Photography

If the Glove Fits…

Contrary to what you’ve heard previously, you can go home again. Not only that, but you can arrive on a triumphant note with everything just short of blaring trumpets.

Alex Canchari did just that Friday night. He came home and rode the winning horse in the fifth race, at the same racetrack where his father rode, at the same racetrack where he worked the concession stands from the time he was 14 years of age, selling tacos and making friends of just about everyone who knew him.

“All the kids loved him,” said track president/CEO Randy Sampson. “He has a smile a mile wide whenever you see him.”

Sampson began receiving text messages and phone calls shortly after Canchari brought in Rack Daddy for leading trainer Mac Robertson.

“We’re happy as can be to see him here, someone who started out here as a kid working the concession stands and now he has come back as a rider,” Sampson continued.

Alex used to accompany his dad, Luis ‘The Glove’ Canchari, to Canterbury Downs, watching the races, hanging out on the backside, dreaming a boy’s dreams.

He grew up in the shadow of the race track, in Shakopee, attended high school there through his sophomore year and then graduated with online courses while galloping horses for Moises Yanez and Brian Williamson in Chicago.

His riding career got under way there, then shifted to East Coast tracks, then to the south, at Oaklawn Park, then back East.

But yes indeed that was Canchari, now 18, on Friday night steering an erratic Rack Daddy across the finish line, just a couple of miles from where he grew up dreaming of becoming a jockey one day, seeing the racetrack lights at night as he fell asleep.

“I wanted to become a jockey from the time I was a little boy,” he said in the jockeys lounge afterward. So, he practiced every chance he got. He had a practice horse at home, on which he learned the rudiments of the trade before going to the real thing.

“My dad helped me a lot. I was about 13 years old and he would tell me how to relax a horse. He told me to watch the New York and the California riders for tips on what to do.”

On June 2 this year Canchari amazed himself with a win at Belmont Park on a horse named Dr. Wesley.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he recalled. “I was riding in a race against all my idols – Javier Castellano, John Velasquez, Ramon Dominguez, David Cohen, Eddie Castro and Rosie Naprovnik, all in the same race.”

He rode against his idols and he won the race.

Canchari arrived home five days ago, having driven from New Jersey with his mother, Ann. He had planned to come home all along to visit his sister, Ashley, who was pregnant and about to give birth, but the details of the trip changed suddenly three weeks ago.

He had been riding at Belmont and Monmouth parks and drove to Delaware Park to work a horse, a single horse, but he was injured during the work, breaking a bone and tearing a ligament in his left shoulder.

“It was next to the growth plate and the orthopedic surgeon told me no horses for two weeks,” Canchari related. “I started working some here five days ago.”

Canchari left Chicago for the East early this year after making contact with a stable that put him on mounts in Philadelphia, Monmouth and Belmont Park and also worked some horses at Saratoga.

Alex left New York to give Oaklawn Park a try in January, second guessing himself the entire way. “I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing,” he said. “I took a big risk going there.”

He didn’t second guess the decision long. Canchari rode winners on his first two mounts in Arkansas, on opening day, Jan. 13.

There wasn’t much risk coming home, to where he is known so well. He had four mounts, although one scratched, on Friday’s card, has mounts in the Princess Elaine and Hoist Her Flag stakes today for Robertson and has mounts in every race on Sunday.

His Chicago connections obviously stretch all the way to Shakopee. “I rode in Chicago for Mac’s dad,” Canchari explained. “I rode before for Charlie Smith, too.”

About that time, Adolfo Morales stepped into the silks room where Canchari was carrying on his conversation and gave him a congratulatory fist bump, recognition of the bugboy’s first win on the home turf.

Canchari’s first professional mount came last Dec. 26 in Chicago and through Friday night’s card he has won 30 races from 319 mounts. His bug will be extended by three weeks, because of his injury, to next March.

And now that he’s here, Canchari’s plans are to stay through the end of the meet. He has an agent, Jodie Sinclair, and, of course, there is a very recently arrived niece, Nova Ley.

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.

Photo Credit: Coady Photography