Festival Roots Run Deep

4080_MnFestivalOfChampions_REVISED_7.9Many of the same people have been part of this from the start and still celebrate this annual toast to the Minnesota thoroughbred and quarter horse, an idea spawned when international corporate interests were intent on changing the shape of horse racing in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Festival of Champions is an afternoon devoted exclusively to horses bred in the Gopher state by Minnesotans who’ve invested their time, money and energy into the continued improvement of an industry once destined for oblivion by outside business interests.

The Festival highlights a day on which Minnesota breeders and owners annually parade forth the best occupants of their barns to take a shot at prize money set aside exclusively for them and their kind – the Minnesota thoroughbred and quarter horse.

It is old history now that the first of these annual affairs began in 1992 as a response to the corporate intentions of the Ladbroke Racing Corp., then owners of Canterbury Downs, to shut down live racing in Minnesota.

It is old history that Minnesotans were laughed at when they suggested staging the first Festival on their own and that the results of 1992 convinced many of them to stay involved in the industry.

Their names fill the record books and the historic accounts of the 1992 Festival of Champions:

Thanks were extended to the numerous sponsors of the event in the racing program that day from the presiding board of directors: Gordon Bredeson, Allen Burdick, James Druck, Joe Friedberg, Gerry Herringer, Kathy Kissoon, Phillip Maas, Randall Sampson and Dale Schenian. Co-directors of the event were Steve Erban and Dan Mjolsness.

The very first winner was a 2-year-old colt by Aferd from Time Requested. His name was Request the Flag and he was ridden that afternoon by Canterbury Park Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens, who rode four winners on the card. Owned by Bob Kessler of Skywood Farm and trained by Casey Hannum, Request the Flag won the Turf Sprint at 7 and 1/2 furlongs.

The next trip to the winner’s circle was taken by Northern Injun, a 2-year-old colt by North Pole from Indian Jennie, owned by John and Murray Valene, trained by Richie Scherer and ridden by Roger Gomez. The event? The Northern Lights Futurity, offering an estimated purse of $50,000. Gomez had another winner in the Sprint Classic at six furlongs, Silver Me Timbers, owned by Jan Chumas and trained by Mike Duschane.

Stevens’ next winner had unmistakable connections to what became the future of the racetrack and racing in Minnesota. “That’s the one I remember best,” he said.”Bold Sharokee.”

And why not! Bold Sharokee, owned by Paul Sampson, whose family would take control of the racetrack, and trained by Mike Biehler, won the $50,000 Northern Lights Debutante. “That horse was a home-grown,” Stevens recalled.”I had gone to Canada and won on her right before that. We broke her right there (at Malkersons). They had babies from Kentucky there, too, and I kept saying that this Minnesota-bred was the best one of the bunch.”

Good enough in 1992 to be Canterbury’s Horse of the Year.

So, the horses names go in the record books, and their owners, trainers and riders continue what they do, in many cases no different today than in 1992. In some cases quite different.

“Dale Schenian and Randy Sampson were horse owners back then,” Stevens added.”Now they own the racetrack.”

Along with numerous other investors whose names were part of that 1992 delegation determined to keep racing alive in Minnesota.

The Festival record book makes note of them:

Art and Gretchen Eaton are still breeding and racing and lead all owners in number of Festival wins with 10. Curtis Sampson, without whom Canterbury might be tumbleweed and memory, is right behind with eight wins, followed by Kissoon Thoroughbreds (7) and Almar Farm (6). Schenian is there, too, tied with Cam Casby and Anthony Didier with four wins apiece.

Hall of Fame quarter horse owners Bob and Julie Petersen lead their category with eight winners. Cam and Sylvia Casby are next with five, and then James Murray with four. Doug Hoseck and Rodney Van Ohlen have three apiece.

For the record, the other winners in the inaugural Festival were Belle of the Night, who defeated future Canterbury Park Hall of Fame horse Northbound Pride in the Distaff Classic. Belle of the Night was owned by Joseph Sand, ridden by Donna Barton and trained by Todd Hoffrogge. Canterbury Park Hall of Fame runner Timeless Prince, running for Lester Partners, ridden by Barton and trained by Joey Ruhsam, won the $40,000 Championship Classic, defeating fellow Hall of Fame runner Blair’s Cove.

The leading Festival rider of all time is Derek Bell who has 24 wins. He is sidelined by injuries and will not add to that total this year. Next is Stevens with nine wins and five chances to increase his total this time.

Stevens’ other winners on that grand afternoon in 1992 included Mark of Strength, owned by Sharon and Gordy Bredeson. A 2-1 morning line selection, Mark of Strength was the winner of the Turf Marathon, run at 1 7/8 miles. Stevens was also aboard Stillwater Sally in the Turf Route for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles, a horse owned by Marnee Grefe and trained by Bill Bethke.

John Alderman’s A Bit of a Gent won the 400-yard North Star Derby. Jim Olson’s Mor Mors Joy won the $40,000 Stallion Breeders Futurity. Shane Pollard was in the saddle on both.

Those were the names of the first winners on a list added to each summer since 1992, a list that will get additional names once again today.

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.

Remembering Dark Star

On the morning before the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes, the racing community at Canterbury Park said goodbye and paid its respects to a man who would not only have been present but at his boisterous best if fate had not intervened.

There was after all the disappointing defection of a horse pointed toward the Triple Crown. That would have drawn a comment or two of outrageous nature from the fellow in question here.

There was the heat and early morning humidity enveloping the assembled group in the paddock. Even his best friend, Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Radio 1500, made reference to the distaste for such weather by the fellow in question.

One story followed after another about the fellow in question, George Chapple or, as the world knew him, Dark Star.

What was revealed about Dark Star, who died June 1 at age 66, was right out of a George Roy Hill production.

What became quite clear during the proceedings to honor Dark Star’s life was that if you thought you knew him, you really didn’t. If you thought you had seen it all, you really hadn’t.

The long-held contention that Dark was one-of-a-kind proved to be not nearly adequate as a description for the man.

As the stories unfolded from one friend after another, it became obvious that we clearly underestimated his talents for pulling off a scam.

More on that matter later.

Click Here to Watch Video From WCCO TV

Kevin Gorg and Paul Allen agreed, for different reasons, that Dark would have been all over Union Rags in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, the on Saturday.

“He always bet the favorite,” Allen said.

“That was his Derby horse. He would have wanted to prove he was right,” said Gorg.

On Saturday, the Dark Man got his winner.

Just as Dark’s friends and acquaintances got a glimpse of him theretofore not seen during the morning tribute to the man.

Eric Halstrom, the former Vice President of Racing at Canterbury Park and now the GM of the Fairgrounds in New Orleans, told the story that still had loose ends until he, Joe Friedberg and Reusse conferred.

In a nutshell:

During a recent visit to New Orleans, Dark and Halstrom were strolling the French Quarter when the Dark Man stepped into a furniture story. Dark disappeared somewhere in the store moments later. Meanwhile, a man collapsed on the floor near Halstrom.

Long story short:

Dark appears moments later claiming to be a fellow named Dr. Herman Brown. “Stand aside,” Dark said to the small gathering around the man, which included Halstrom. The Dark Man, meanwhile, begins his ministrations which included asking the man if he is diabetic.

Then the paramedics arrive, rescuing the Dark Man from what would have become a tough situation. He tells them that he has diagnosed the man in a diabetic shock. They go with it and it turns out he is right. The storeowners are impressed and inquire of Dark the Doctor what they might do to repay him.

The Dark Man chooses a $700 table he has been eyeing in their store, for a young niece he wants to surprise and asks that it be shipped.

Halstrom has no idea where the table was shipped, until Saturday when he’s speaking with Friedberg. “I know where it was shipped – to Reusse,” Friedberg said.

Not until Saturday was the full story told. The table was shipped to Reusse, and Dark later picked it up.

Friedberg added the story of how he represented Dark in an insurance case. The Dark Man claimed that a baseball card collection worth more than $300,000 had been stolen from the trunk of his car at the Minnesota State Fair.

Friedberg was still asking himself Saturday why a man would leave such a valuable item in the trunk of his car at the state fair. Nonetheless, legitimate questions be damned, Dark won his insurance claim and collected $285,000.

Perhaps he used some of that money, to put a steam room into the apartment he rented. Which raised a question of a different sort from Reusse.

“What man in his right mind,” Reusse wondered, spends $37,000 to install a steam room in a rented apartment?”

Dark Star, that’s who, a man who would have had the Belmont winner on Saturday.

MINNESOTA STALLION BREEDERS’ AND NORTH CENTRAL QUARTER HORSE DERBY

Amber Blair refuses to read a word of any kind about a horse she trains before a race. She will check it out afterward upon returning to the barn.

Whatever she reads about a 3-year-old gelding she trains named Painted Lies will pretty much match what happened on the race track Saturday afternoon.

The overwhelming favorite in the 400-yard race, Painted Lies streaked to the wire under Cody Smith just in front of fast closing Feature Dreamgirl and Explosive Guns, in a winning time of 20.339.

Blair’s only concern before hand?

“Bad luck,” he said. “I’m very superstitious.”

The winning owner Tom Maher of Pierre, S.D., was as excited about the agreement between Canterbury Park and Mystic Lake as he was his horse’s victory.

Maher has been coming to Shakopee since 1985 and was enthralled by the agreement.

“I’m delighted with it,” he said. “It is really something that the Sampsons made the deal, thinking of us horsemen first. I’m really impressed with 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.

Remembering Dark Star

On the morning before the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes, the racing community at Canterbury Park said goodbye and paid its respects to a man who would not only have been present but at his boisterous best if fate had not intervened.

There was after all the disappointing defection of a horse pointed toward the Triple Crown. That would have drawn a comment or two of outrageous nature from the fellow in question here.

There was the heat and early morning humidity enveloping the assembled group in the paddock. Even his best friend, Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Radio 1500, made reference to the distaste for such weather by the fellow in question.

One story followed after another about the fellow in question, George Chapple or, as the world knew him, Dark Star.

What was revealed about Dark Star, who died June 1 at age 66, was right out of a George Roy Hill production.

What became quite clear during the proceedings to honor Dark Star’s life was that if you thought you knew him, you really didn’t. If you thought you had seen it all, you really hadn’t.

The long-held contention that Dark was one-of-a-kind proved to be not nearly adequate as a description for the man.

As the stories unfolded from one friend after another, it became obvious that we clearly underestimated his talents for pulling off a scam.

More on that matter later.

Click Here to Watch Video From WCCO TV

Kevin Gorg and Paul Allen agreed, for different reasons, that Dark would have been all over Union Rags in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, the on Saturday.

“He always bet the favorite,” Allen said.

“That was his Derby horse. He would have wanted to prove he was right,” said Gorg.

On Saturday, the Dark Man got his winner.

Just as Dark’s friends and acquaintances got a glimpse of him theretofore not seen during the morning tribute to the man.

Eric Halstrom, the former Vice President of Racing at Canterbury Park and now the GM of the Fairgrounds in New Orleans, told the story that still had loose ends until he, Joe Friedberg and Reusse conferred.

In a nutshell:

During a recent visit to New Orleans, Dark and Halstrom were strolling the French Quarter when the Dark Man stepped into a furniture story. Dark disappeared somewhere in the store moments later. Meanwhile, a man collapsed on the floor near Halstrom.

Long story short:

Dark appears moments later claiming to be a fellow named Dr. Herman Brown. “Stand aside,” Dark said to the small gathering around the man, which included Halstrom. The Dark Man, meanwhile, begins his ministrations which included asking the man if he is diabetic.

Then the paramedics arrive, rescuing the Dark Man from what would have become a tough situation. He tells them that he has diagnosed the man in a diabetic shock. They go with it and it turns out he is right. The storeowners are impressed and inquire of Dark the Doctor what they might do to repay him.

The Dark Man chooses a $700 table he has been eyeing in their store, for a young niece he wants to surprise and asks that it be shipped.

Halstrom has no idea where the table was shipped, until Saturday when he’s speaking with Friedberg. “I know where it was shipped – to Reusse,” Friedberg said.

Not until Saturday was the full story told. The table was shipped to Reusse, and Dark later picked it up.

Friedberg added the story of how he represented Dark in an insurance case. The Dark Man claimed that a baseball card collection worth more than $300,000 had been stolen from the trunk of his car at the Minnesota State Fair.

Friedberg was still asking himself Saturday why a man would leave such a valuable item in the trunk of his car at the state fair. Nonetheless, legitimate questions be damned, Dark won his insurance claim and collected $285,000.

Perhaps he used some of that money, to put a steam room into the apartment he rented. Which raised a question of a different sort from Reusse.

“What man in his right mind,” Reusse wondered, spends $37,000 to install a steam room in a rented apartment?”

Dark Star, that’s who, a man who would have had the Belmont winner on Saturday.

MINNESOTA STALLION BREEDERS’ AND NORTH CENTRAL QUARTER HORSE DERBY

Amber Blair refuses to read a word of any kind about a horse she trains before a race. She will check it out afterward upon returning to the barn.

Whatever she reads about a 3-year-old gelding she trains named Painted Lies will pretty much match what happened on the race track Saturday afternoon.

The overwhelming favorite in the 400-yard race, Painted Lies streaked to the wire under Cody Smith just in front of fast closing Feature Dreamgirl and Explosive Guns, in a winning time of 20.339.

Blair’s only concern before hand?

“Bad luck,” he said. “I’m very superstitious.”

The winning owner Tom Maher of Pierre, S.D., was as excited about the agreement between Canterbury Park and Mystic Lake as he was his horse’s victory.

Maher has been coming to Shakopee since 1985 and was enthralled by the agreement.

“I’m delighted with it,” he said. “It is really something that the Sampsons made the deal, thinking of us horsemen first. I’m really impressed with 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.