Love the Nest Impressive in $100k Northern Lights Futurity

Jockey Eikleberry wins twice on MN Festival of Champions Night

Love the Nest, a 2-year-old colt trained by Joel Berndt and owned by Robert Lothenbach, powered to an impressive 7 1/4 length victory in Wednesday’s Northern Lights Futurity, one of six $100,000 statebred thoroughbred stakes on Minnesota Festival of Champions Night at Canterbury Park. Love the Nest broke quickly from the gate under Ry Eikleberry and battled between horses through a fast 21.66 second first quarter mile. The prohibitive favorite took control at the quarter pole and discouraged Doctor Oscar, second in the wagering at 5 to 2, who moved in from off the pace. The well-regarded colt pulled away in a final time of 1:10.27 for six furlongs.

“When he broke so clean I was very confident,” Berndt said, “and then turning for home I saw Oscar on the outside and I thought it’s a horse race. Very happy he kept on and it looks like he can go a little further.” Love the Nest paid $3.20 to win. “He’ll be a nice 3-year old,” Berndt said, not yet willing to commit to another race this year.

Eikleberry also rode Drop of Golden Sun to a win in the $100,000 Crocrock Sprint

Drop of Golden Sun

Championship, this time coming from five lengths back. He passed pacesetter Mr. Jagermeister in deep stretch to win by 3/4 length. Drop of Golden Sun is owned and trained by Tony Rengstorf. He paid $11.00 to win.

Mac Robertson added to his record 37 Festival victories by winning two more, both for owner John Mentz of Lakeville and both with Roimes Chirinos aboard. Cinco Star won the Blair’s Cove Turf Championship by a length and a half and Clickbait the scratch-depleted three-horse Bella Notte Distaff Sprint by 9 3/4 lengths. Each was a prohibitive favorite with Clickbait paying $3.20 and Cinco Star $3.40.

The stakes portion of the 12-race card began in the fifth race with 2-year-old She’s My Warrior racing gate to wire under Alonso Quinonez. She’s My Warrior is trained by Tim Padilla who co-owns the filly with Pete Mattson of Prior Lake. Breaking from the rail, she jumped to the lead, was challenged by favorite Honey Bella, but quickly increased her advantage, in the end winning by 3 3/4 lengths. “We weren’t going to get trapped down there behind other horses,” Padilla said after the race.

Rush Hour Traffic

Rush Hour Traffic provided a mild upset in the Princess Elaine Distaff Turf Championship. Unchallenged for the lead, the 4-year-old filly went gate to wire with Ruben Fuentes riding for trainer Gary Scherer and owner Sugarland Thoroughbreds LLC. She returned $12.60. Ready to Runaway, trained by Robertson, finished a nonthreatening second.

“She’s a strong filly,” said Scherer who did not expect Rush Hour Traffic to go to the front. “Once she broke good [Fuentes] was committed to stay just stay where he was at. It worked out well.”

The card concluded with the $62,900 Minnesota Quarter Horse Futurity and the $60,550

Jess Rocket Man

Minnesota Quarter Horse Derby. Jason Olmstead trained the winning favorites of both races. In the Futurity, Olmstead trainees finished first through fourth with Relentless Courage a length the best. Luis Valenzuela rode for owners Paul Luedemann and Tom Maher. In the Derby, Jess Rocket Man was simply too much, covering 400 yards in 19.870 second, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Western Reserve. Edwin Escobeo rode the winner for Lunderborg LLC.

Total handle was $1,884,984, the second largest total in the 28 renditions of the Festival of Champions.

Hawthorne Meet Opens Friday With 35 Days Through Dec. 27

Hawthorne Race Course did not run a Spring meet in 2020 as the facility underwent a facelift that will eventually accommodate slot machines. The Chicagoland racecourse will however run a Fall season beginning this week with a Friday through Sunday schedule into December when the race week slims down to Saturday and Sunday only, through Dec. 27. A total of 35 days with maiden special purses of $22,000 and bottom level maiden claimers offered $8,200.

Opening day has eight races, five on dirt and three on a turf course that can be used for several weeks yet if Mother Nature cooperates.  First post is 3:10 p.m. A total of 87 horses were entered for an average field size of 10.87. Combine that with large handle and the betting opportunities abound.

A number of Canterbury trainers migrated to Hawthorne including leading trainer Joel Berndt,

Joel Berndt

Larry Sterling, Jr., and Gary Scherer. Karl Broberg also is trying Hawthorne. Bernell Rhone and Tony Rengstorf have Saturday entries. Berndt will likely saddle several for Canterbury leading owner Robert Lothenbach. Nine horses that last raced at Canterbury are entered Friday including three from Mac Robertson’s barn that now run under father Hugh Robertson’s name.

Jockeys that most recently worked in Shakopee that are named to ride Friday include Francisco Arrieta and Roimes Chirinos. They join jockeys Julio Felix, Constantino Roman and Jareth Loveberry. All three spent part of the meet at Canterbury before leaving for an abbreviated Arlington Park race meet.

Canterbury Racebook will offer wagering on Hawthorne’s entire meet.

Racing News

The Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia announced Tuesday that the second running of the $20 million Saudi Cup will take place Feb. 20, 2021 at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh. Maximum Security won the inaugural event but JCSA officials have withheld the winner’s share of the purse as they await results of charges of doping leveled on trainer Jason Servis by the FBI.

Joel Berndt Sizzling in the New Year

Joel Berndt has experienced the highs and lows, the ups and downs, of a thoroughbred racehorse trainer during a career that began in 1991 at Fonner Park.  As in all sports there is a premium on winning; but in racing a high hit rate is very difficult to attain when you face multiple opponents, all with the same goal, in each contest.  Berndt’s 15 percent career win rate puts him in the upper class of conditioners.

He finished 2018 with a December that saw his charges hit the board in 14 of 20 starts. Five wins. Five seconds. Four thirds.  Berndt began the New Year with two losses and then came the magic beginning with a win in 10th race on January 11 at Delta Downs. He saddled three on the 12th. All winners. Wednesday night two more were entered and both won. Six in a row.

“I know I’ve won three in one day before but I don’t know if I have ever won even three in a row,” Berndt said.  “It’s been a lot of fun. Who in the world wouldn’t want to win six in a row!”

Berndt will spend the winter at Delta before readying to ship north to Canterbury Park once again. “We’re having fun. Making some money,” he said.  The South Dakota native could have 30 Minnesota-breds here in 2019 and maybe another 20 head as well.

Check out Delta Downs tonight as Berndt has two entered beginning with race six where Ensign is 8 to 1 on the morning line.

For more on the trainer, read a Q & A from the 2016 racing season.



The connections in horse racing are sometimes astounding as well as confounding and on a strange afternoon at the racetrack some of that played out during a card that featured exceptional stakes racing and some mind-boggling vignettes as well.

Highlights are simple to point out: The two $100,000 stakes on the card, The Lady Canterbury and the Mystic Lake Mile, arguably the best in many years and among the best ever. Granted, the Mile was only run for the fifth time on Sunday, but the Lady Canterbury made its 25th appearance.

Mingled with heart-pounding finishes in those races and heart-warming stories to go with them were the unceremonious unseating of four riders during the card. One at the start of the fifth race resulted in a loose horse whose interference with the remaining field caused stewards to declare it a non-race.

Those episodes were balanced by some of the finest racing yet this summer in two exceptional stakes events that included parallels with the past and unexpected, much appreciated phone calls to the winner’s circle.

Sweet Tapper


Think back to 1990 and the Kentucky Derby, trainer Carl Nafzger and Minnesotan Frances Genter celebrating their Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled, trainer and owner featured in a heart-warming video that played over and over again on sports networks across the nation. It was the biggest win at that point for a woman involved in racing for decades.  Trainer and owner were later inducted into the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

Now, shift to the winner’s circle at Canterbury Park on Sunday and  a 4-year-old filly named Sweet Tapper, a 4-year-old daughter of Tapit owned by Lorie Michaels of Wayzata, whose celebration included a phone call from none other than Carl Nafzger.

The trainer of record for the winner is Ian Wilkes, once an understudy to Nafzger who is trying his best to retire without complete success.

Michaels and her husband, Bob, have been in racing for about a dozen years but celebrated the biggest win of their racing involvement on Sunday, their first stakes victory.

“It was absolutely wonderful. I couldn’t be any happier,” Lorie told Nafzger.

She gave this victory to her husband. “It’s his father’s day gift,” she said.

It was a victory, too, another victory, for jockey Orlando Mojica, who won two stakes races and finished second in a third last weekend.

Sweet Tapper,8-1, was hemmed in along the rail coming out of the turn, but his rider was not concerned. “I had plenty of horse and I found an opening inside.”

Just in time. Mojica made his bid from there and caught Insta Erma, the even-money favorite, at the wire by a neck, finishing in 1:35.88. Seeking Treasure at 6-1 was next, 1 ¼ lengths further back.



Local trainer, local rider, owner a neighbor from South Dakota.

That connection provided the winner for the fifth running of the mile, an aptly named Hay Dakota, a Kentucky-bred son of Haynesfield.

The race included 5/2 Majestic Pride, last year’s Horse of the Year and One Mean Man, winner of the 2016 Mystic Lake Derby and the 2-1 favorite.

Hay Dakota, meanwhile, was sent off by the crowd of 14,150, at 6-1. Sixth out of the gate in the eight-horse field, Hay Dakota under Denny Velazquez tracked the leaders from the second flight, came four wide on the turn and made his bid from there, finishing a head in front of Majestic Pride and another half length in front of Way Striking, finishing in 1:35.37.

Asked how his heart held up during the stretch run, winning trainer Joel Berndt seemed more concerned about his vocal cords. “It’s my voice,” he said. “I was riding the race from the quarter pole on. If you recall, I lost the Mystic Derby last year by a neck.” By that, he meant that Hay Dakota had finished third in the race, a neck out of second place and another nose from first.

Moments earlier Sunday, Canterbury Hall of Fame trainer Doug Oliver had been to the winner’s circle to visit old friends. He once trained for old friends. He once trained for Alice Mettler of Wall, S.D., owner of Hay Dakota.


The Fiscal Cliff, a 4-year-old Pyc Paint Your Wagon colt, had his way with nine rivals in Sunday’s opening stakes race, named for a long-time contributor to Minnesota’s horse industry.

Bet too much against Sunday’s winner and a person might end up falling off a fiscal cliff himself.

Eighteen races. First or second seventeen times. Eleven wins. A Grade II winner and runnerup in races at Remington Park.

He could have spotted his competition a length or two and still won this race, although he needed a rare reminder from his rider after shifting his weight in the gate and not breaking cleanly.

Not that he needed the tap as everything turned out. The Fiscal Break appeared to do all that was necessary under the circumstances.

“He didn’t break real well. Couldn’t get hold of the ground,” said owner Thomas Lepic of Iowa City, Iowa. “We rarely touch him, but he did take hold.”

Winning trainer Kasey Willis had even more to celebrate. He also saddled Streakin PR, the second-place horse.

Winning rider Benito Baca told Lepic afterward that his horse didn’t break in a straight line after shifting in the gate but acquired his footing and took charge of the competition, finishing in 17.75 seconds.

Lepic said he will continue training his horse here in preparation for the Bank of America Canterbury Park Challenge on July 4.

Sunday’s race is named for Skip Zimmerman, a quarter horse and thoroughbred owner and breeder who was a charter member of the Minnesota Quarter Horse Racing Association and a member of the HBPA board of directors. Zimmerman died of a heart problem on March 6, 2007.


Odds and Ends from the Weekend plus more to come….

Hold for More was victorious in this weekend’s running of the $50,000 10,000 Lakes Stake.

He rated for the early parts of the race behind the three pacesetters, Cupid’s Delight, Bourbon County and Smooth Chiraz, before swinging four wide at the top of the stretch to overtake them all and win by a convincing 2 ½ lengths under jockey Orlando Mojica. The money earned by Hold for More catapulted him into second position behind reigning leader Crocrock for the title of All-Time Leading Money Earner at Canterbury Park. Hold for More is currently $16,502 behind Crocrock. Though Mojica is currently ranked third in the jockey standings by wins, he is second by money earned with $163,672, behind leading rider Alex Canchari’s $218,965. Hold for More paid $11.80 to win.

The $50,000 Lady Slipper was won by wagering favorite Honey’s Sox Appeal. The 4-year-old filly is trained by Mac Robertson and ridden by leading rider Alex Canchari. Mac Robertson has now won the race four times. Thunder and Honey, the older half-sister to Honey’s Sox Appeal, was third in the Lady Slipper. They are both out of the broodmare A J’s Honey.

There were three impressive Minnesota-bred three-year-old winners over the weekend, and all will likely be pointed toward the Minnesota Derby. Hot Shot Kid, owned by Warren Bush, trained by Mac Robertson and ridden by Alex Canchari, won the second race on Friday night by ¾ of a length as the heavy wagering favorite. This allowance victory comes just after a Maiden Special Weight win at Oaklawn Park. Mines Made Up won the 6th race, a Maiden Special Weight, on Friday night by an easy 6 ½ lengths, much the best in the 10-horse field. The 3-year-old bay gelding is owned by Lothenbach Stable, trained by Joel Berndt and ridden by Denny Velazquez. Grand Marais, also ridden by Denny Velazquez, easily won the last race of the card on Saturday, also a Maiden Special Weight, by a widening 6 ¾ lengths. The 3-year-old chestnut colt is owned and trained by Gary Scherer. The Derby, which will be run on July 29, is already looking like it could shape up to be a very exciting and competitive race.

Jockey Nik Goodwin is another win closer to the 1,000 win milestone, after winning the 5th race on Paschal for trainer Dan McFarlane on Saturday afternoon. He now has 997 wins and rides in the 2nd, 4th and 6th races on this Friday night’s card.

There will be four days of live racing for the first time this meet over Memorial Day Weekend. Post time for the first race on Friday will be 6:30 PM, Saturday at 12:45 PM, Sunday at 12:45 PM and Monday (Memorial Day) at 12:45 PM. Monday will not only feature live horse racing at Canterbury Park, but also the Annual Running of the Bulldogs. There will be 48 bulldogs running in five races that will take place in between the live horse races.

Quarter Horse racing at Canterbury Park begins on Saturday, May 27 with the 400-yard Gopher State Derby Trials for three-year-olds.


by Katie Merritt

Katie Merritt is a senior at the University of Kentucky and currently an intern in the Canterbury Park Press Box. Before returning to school she galloped at several tracks around the country, but spent the majority of her time working for Carl Nafzger and Ian Wilkes.

Hay Dakota wins G3 Commonwealth Turf Stakes


Trainer Joel Berndt, a regular at Canterbury Park over the past years, won the first graded stakes race of his career when Hay Dakota stormed down the middle of the turf course Saturday evening at Churchill Downs, getting up to win the grade three $100,000 Commonwealth Turf Stakes by a neck at odds of 29 to 1 with another Canterbury connection, jockey Denny Velazquez, aboard.

“I wanted to add that to my resume,” Berndt said Sunday of the graded stakes win. “I was confident last night. He overcame a rough start. Denny did a great job.” He had reasons to be based on Hay Dakota’s troubled summer in Shakopee.

Berndt, originally from South Dakota, has been training for 25 years. He began his career at Fonner Park in Grand Island, NE in 1991 but moved to Chicago, where he had spent much of his youth, in 1993 and now calls the Windy City home.

Hay Dakota raced near the back of the 11-horse field in the 1 1/16th mile Commonwealth. The 3-year-old gelding was fanned 10 wide entering the top of the lane and had more than 10 lengths to make up.

When he began rolling down the middle of the track Berndt “knew we were going to get a check” but those thoughts quickly changed to victory as Hay Dakota was gobbling up ground.  Velazquez urged Hay Dakota on and passed favored Bondurant just before the wire. He returned $60.20 to win.

Hay Dakota raced five times at Canterbury this past summer, breaking his maiden and winning a restricted allowance before finishing third by a neck in the $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby, a race where he had simply too much ground to make up on a course kind to horses near the pace. One Mean Man  won the Mystic Lake Derby and was also entered in the Commonwealth but was no match for the winner and settled for seventh beaten more than three lengths by Hay Dakota.

“We sort of turned the tables on One Mean Man and beat a salty field,” Berndt said.

Hay Dakota raced on Canterbury’s closing day and suffered through a very tough trip where he was stopped more than once. His next start at Hawthorne resulted in a pristine trip and a win in a gallop at 9 to 1.

“Those people that watched him at Canterbury this summer knew the trouble he had,” Berndt said. “Sometimes you know what you have; he just didn’t get trip.” Hay Dakota more than made up for that Saturday at Churchill.

Berndt will now consider the $125,000 Claiming Crown Emerald at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 3 as a possibility. “We will take a look at the nominations and decide. It’s only three weeks away. The good thing is a race doesn’t take a lot out of him. He bounces back quickly. And he really only laid himself down for a quarter mile yesterday.”

Photos courtesy of Coady Photography



CIARAN'S PRIZE - Hoist Her Flag Stakes - 08-14-16 - R07 - CBY - Finish


Western hats, feathered headgear, dresses, shawls, western boots, scarves, even gate passes, added a flourish of, what else, pink to the surroundings Sunday during the sixth annual Fillies Race for Hope, a day devoted to fund raising for and recognition of survivors of breast cancer.

Everywhere you care to look were combinations of pink. Canterbury employees, even the valets, wore pink tee shirts. Patrons spiced it up considerably more, with wide Kentucky Derby-style hats in pink as well as various other unusual combinations.

Even the feature race of the day was resurrected to provide a race featuring fillies only. The Hoist Her Flags stakes was scratched from the original stakes lineup this year but was brought back as an overnight $41,800 sprint and drew a field of 10, reduced to eight after scratches by Broadway Play and Donita’s Ruler.

The prerace conversation included mainly two horses, the bulk of the respect resting on Ball and Chain, a five-year-old daughter of Exchange Rate from I Luv U Nani, sent off at 4/5.

With a record of 6-1-0 from nine career starts, including six consecutive wins, she was tough to overlook and attracted the lion’s share of attention at the windows.

Ciaran’s Prize drew  high respect, as well and was sent off at 5/2, having hit the board 13 times in 21 starts with six wins and most earnings of the starters with $162,943.

That pretty much summed it up in the minds of several prognosticators, who expected those two to fight it out.

As it was, the trainer of Ciaran’s Prize, Joel Berndt, changed plans after Broadway Play and Bonita’s Ruler scratched.

“Without those two, we felt we needed to press the pace a little more,” said Berndt. “You gamble that you’ll have enough horse left if you do, but we did it and it worked.”

Indeed, Ciaran’s Prize, with Orlando Mojica in the irons, ran down the front-running and tiring favorite and finished ½ length in front of 32-1 choice Discreetly Grand, with another half length back to Ball and Chain. The winning time was 1:10.05.

The winning trophy was presented by Hall of Fame inductees Dan and Bev Mjolsness, who owned Hoist Her Flag, the Hall of Fame horse for whom the race is named.

Hoist Her Flag is among the best fillies or mares to race in Shakopee and was a crowd favorite in the  1980s.

It’s been described in numerous ways, but the tail that floated behind her like a windsock was her trademark, a distinguishing anatomical feature that served as a flag, very often a checkered flag.

She was referred to frequently as the Queen of Canterbury and was twice selected Horse of the Year, winning that honor in 1987 and 1989. She held that distinction alone until Heliskier was voted the track’s top horse in 2012 and 2013.

She broke her maiden at Canterbury Downs in its inaugural season, 1985, competing against top notch competition during a meet that attracted some of the best barns in the nation.

Television racing reporter Donna Barton was in the irons on Hoist for her last six starts and considered her one of the three best horses she rode. Other riders had similar sentiments.

One prominent turf writer expressed this opinion: “When the history of Canterbury Downs is written, the exploits of Hoist Her Flag will occupy an important chapter.”

Those opinions were reinforced by the Thoroughbred Times in 1989 which recognized Hoist Her Flag as one of the top 12 female sprinters in North American racing.

Her career statistics did nothing to detract from that opinion either. The Queen won 19 races, 17 of them at Canterbury Downs, including 11 stakes, and earned $290,849, finishing in the money 33 times from 43 career starts.

On Sunday, it was Ciaran’s  Prize that added her name to the list of winners in this race. On this particular day, it was this five-year-old daughter of Yes It’s  Time that finished in the pink.

Joel Berndt Racehorse Trainer

Joel Berndt 8-4-16 CBY 002

By Megan Johnson

Joel Berndt, a graded stakes placed trainer, has been training horses for 25 years. Joel has had more than 50 starts this meet with 11 wins, one being the MTA Sales Graduate Futurity with Fridaynitestar. Joel currently trains 25 horses at Canterbury and greatly enjoys his summers spent here.

Q: How did you get started in racing?
A: My grandfather and father were trainers. My father managed a thoroughbred farm for the owners of Arlington Park so it’s been a part of the family. I started officially training at Fonner Park in Grand Island, Nebraska in 1991, although before that I did run some horses at the fairs during college but that was more for just experience.

Q: Where do you call home when you’re not at the racetrack?
A: I’m originally from South Dakota but we moved to Chicago for a majority of my childhood and then moved back to South Dakota. After I started training I decided to go back to Chicago in 1993 and I now consider that home.

Q: How many horses do you have here?
A: I have 25 horses here this summer. I’ve found that it is better to just run one barn at a time because I can’t always be in the right place when its needed when there are horses in two places.

Q: What has kept you coming back to Canterbury over the years?
A: I was here at Canterbury with just a couple horses in the early years but I have been coming back periodically in the summers for the past 15 years now. I really enjoy racing here. It’s about the best summer destination you can have. The people are friendly and the employees are very accommodating.

Q: Do you have a favorite memory while training?
A: There’s not a specific race but in general, one my best horses, Silver Bid, was Illinois Sprinting Champion and made $800,000 in earnings. He was one of my favorites.

Q: What is the biggest lesson training has taught you?
A: The number one thing you need to teach yourself as a trainer and the people around you is to have patience and not panic. I think having patience is an important thing to have in any sport but with horses it’s a little different.

Q: Do you have any hobbies outside of racing?
A: I have a lot of hobbies I would love to do but I haven’t had the chance to do. Two are fishing and hunting. I also enjoy football and golf.

Q: What is your favorite type of food?
A: Any type of Mexican food is by far my favorite!

Q: What was it like to win the MTA Sales Graduate Futurity this meet with Fridaynitestar?
A: That was fun! Training every day for almost 30 years is a lot of fun, but that day was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. We bought him as yearling and it was fun watching him develop from an awkward yearling stage to him being very mature and then all the sudden standing in the winner’s circle.

Q: If you weren’t a trainer what would you want to do for a career?
A: I would love to be an NFL scout because I love football. It’s also very similar to looking for new horses in the sales each year.

Q: Do you have a favorite movie?
A: Legends of the Fall with Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins or Apocalypse Now.