Trainer Profile: Larry Donlin

By Katie Merritt

Trainer Larry Donlin grew up in Nebraska, and still calls Grand Island, where his house conveniently sits across the street from Fonner Park, home.

He started training there more than four decades ago, in 1972, and many years later made Canterbury his summer stopping point for the meet. Over the years, he has trained at many other tracks – Hawthorne, Oaklawn, “I’ve been pretty much everywhere!” he grins – but around 2010, he decided to cut back on traveling, and only runs at the Canterbury and Fonner meets, which leaves him with a couple months off at the end of the year. “We’ve got grandkids and great-grandkids all over the country and you’ve got to see them sometime!” he said with affection, pointing out how it can be difficult to balance business and family in the racing industry, a job that is often 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Larry grew up in racing, as his uncle and grandfather were both trainers. His father served in the infantry overseas during WWII, during which time Donlin lived with his grandfather and got a good taste of what training racehorses was like. His first job, however, was not in the racing industry. When his father returned from the war, he started working on a bread route, which Larry eventually did as well. “I worked on the bread route for five years, and I was looking for a way out. I was looking for a way to get to the racetrack,” Donlin explained, “Then a guy hired me to be supervisor of a meat company and that was a really good job, but when I got the opportunity to go, I just left!”

That opportunity was a racehorse. He had owned a racehorse or two while he was working the other jobs, and had them in training with his uncle, but he decided to claim one and train it himself in the early 70’s. “The first horse I claimed, I had him for about seven months and won seven races with him. He won in Grand Island, Omaha, Lincoln – wherever I took him he won!” Donlin remembered with a smile. After that, his barn slowly started to grow. “You win a few – that’s how I built up,” he said matter-of-factly. Several years after starting his training career, he had a horse named Incredible LS who won the President’s Cup at Canterbury Park in 1985. “He really got me started,” Donlin remembered, crediting Incredible LS with putting him on the map and attracting higher quality horses to the barn.

This year, Donlin has 14 horses under his care at Canterbury Park – a smaller number than in years past, but he doesn’t mind. “It’s a good way to slow down,” he said with a smile, adding, “And it’s hard to find help anymore if you’ve got 40 horses.” Though he has been training for decades, he still enjoys his job, and shows no signs of wanting to retire any time soon. “If you retire, what’re you going to do? Go home and sit in a chair? Go home and die?” he laughed, “You’re used to seven days a week, four in the morning, get up and go,” he explained, his love for the job evident in his words.

Donlin may say he’s slowing down a bit, but his horses are still winning at almost 15% and in the money 40% of the time this year, a testament to what he learned in his early years from the “old-timers” of the sport. He would be the last one to tell you he knows it all, though. “It can be a humbling business. You can think you’re real smart, but you find out you’re not in a real hurry,” he said with a knowing smile, adding “You can stay in it though, that’s what’s good.”

A Very Gray Kinda (Month) Day

Prophet SongThe fourth race on Saturday’s card summed up the afternoon and most of the meet this spring/summer/fall at the same time. Very, very gray.

The race drew an 11-horse field that included four grays.

Four grays in one race? When is the last time you’ve seen that?

Racing operations analyst and tote board messiah Andrew Offerman had an immediate response.

“Rillito Park,” he said. “They always closed the meet there with a race in which a horse had to be gray or roan to enter.”

Even track president Randy Sampson does not recall a previous meet that got under way with as much rain as there’s been this season… and very little sunshine, the X-factor that impacts attendance for better or worse.

“I don’t remember another season like this one,” Sampson said. “Not with rain this consistently, nearly every day. And the forecast is for more.”

Saturday’s card included rain for a brief time.

“It’s every day, every day. I’m sick of it,” said trainer Larry Donlin in a raspy voice. Donlin isn’t only sick of it, he’s just plain sick.

When there hasn’t been an appreciable amount of rain on a given day, ominous storm clouds have done their best to scare away otherwise willing patrons and to keep the jockeys, valets and trainers guessing throughout the course of the day.

Saturday was no different – overcast, dark, foreboding.

“Well it hasn’t rained yet anyway,” said Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens after winning the first race on the card, his first of two winners Saturday.

A bystander remarked to Stevens that even a blind man should have been able to pick his horse. After all, Scott Stevens on a mount named Scotts Gap.

“That’s the reason I took the mount,” a grinning Stevens said, adding to a valet nearby, “hey I’m not kidding.”

Later, Stevens, known for his ability to get the most out of horse and have enough left to finish strongly, ran into a horse with more in its tank in the final strides and finished second to fast-closing Storming the Gates and the meet’s leading rider, Lori Keith.

Keith has been having a bang-up meet. She’s riding good mounts and riding the best of her career at the same time.

Incidentally, that race was the fourth and Stevens was riding a 3-year-old Holy Bull filly named Sentiment Gray.

Even Oracle, Canterbury’s handicapper supreme, a person of extreme even temperament, was knocked off his game on Saturday, although weather had nothing to do with it. The pressbox soda machine was out of diet Mountain Dew. “He might have a meltdown,” said pressbox boss Jeff Maday.

The Oracle is prepared for nearly any eventuality, however, and would likely survive the most dire of circumstances. He later produced a diet Mountain Dew, opening it slowly. “I squirreled it away in my briefcase from yesterday,” he explained.

Just like that an overcast day was sunny again for at least one individual.

Also on hand to watch a friend’s horse run Saturday was one of Canterbury’s newest Hall of Fame inductees, Sheila Williams, and her granddaughter, Kianna, who will undergo knee surgery at Mayo Clinic soon.

Williams was enthralled with the finish of the second race, along with numerous others on hand, and anxiously awaited the outcome of a photo finish between Prophet’s Song and What A Score in race two (photo above).

The finish was so tight that everyone, including announcer Paul Allen, had to await delivery of the photo. “I think the inside has it, but maybe not,” said Williams. “What do you think Kianna? I’ll bet it’s the outside horse, but maybe not.”

How close was it?

“Well, if Paul Allen isn’t leaning one way or the other,” said Williams, “it’s probably a dead heat.”

It was Prophet’s Song and Martin Escobar by – as the photo showed – no more than the tip of her nose.

On an otherwise ordinary, gray day there was this additional bit of sunshine:

Daniel Vergara, moments before mounting Gadsden Purchase in the seventh race, responded to a question.

“Is Sophia a relative?” he was asked.

Vergara broke into laugher as he was given a leg up.

Perhaps he was still laughing when Allen made this comment midway through the race. “Bizet is moving up and Gadsden Purchase is losing ground.”

Allen had a chuckle himself when reminded later that we gained ground, parts of Arizona and New Mexico, with that particular purchase.

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.

Boneafide Cat Does it Again

Boneafide Cat stamped herself as the most likely favorite for the Claiming Series Championship winning her second qualifying race in Thursday night’s opener at Canterbury Park. Adolfo Morales was aboard for the victory for Larry Donlin and owners Metzen, Kaplan & Strangis.

The victory marked Boneafide Cat’s third consecutive victory at Canterbury Park this meet. She was claimed out of the race by trainer Troy Bethke for new owner West Stables LLC in a three-way shake. The victory vaulted her into a tie for the leading point earner throughout the qualifying races with 16 points. Here is a list of the top eight point earners through the qualifying races:

Boneafide Cat – 16 Points
Rasin a Delight – 16 Points
Gracias – 14 Points
Mighty Tizzy – 12 Points
Havasu -11 Points
Polite and Cozy – 7 Points
Lovely Tak – 7 Points
Dakota Song – 4 Points

 

The $25,000 Final will be contested on Thursday, August 2. At this point, Boneafide Cat (winner of the first and third qualifying races) and Gracias (winner of the second qualifying races) appear to be the most likely favorites. The Championship will be run at a distance of 5 and 1/2 furlongs and is only open to those that ran in two of the three qualifying events.

For more information on the Canterbury Claiming Series, and for complete standings, check out the Canterbury Park webpage.

The 2012 Canterbury Claiming Series is sponsored by Continental Diamond.

This blog was written by Canterbury Park’s Live Racing and Digital Media Coordinator Andrew Offerman. Offerman has served in this role since returning to Minnesota in 2010 after earning his Master’s Degree from the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program.

Boneafide Cat Does it Again

Boneafide Cat stamped herself as the most likely favorite for the Claiming Series Championship winning her second qualifying race in Thursday night’s opener at Canterbury Park. Adolfo Morales was aboard for the victory for Larry Donlin and owners Metzen, Kaplan & Strangis.

The victory marked Boneafide Cat’s third consecutive victory at Canterbury Park this meet. She was claimed out of the race by trainer Troy Bethke for new owner West Stables LLC in a three-way shake. The victory vaulted her into a tie for the leading point earner throughout the qualifying races with 16 points. Here is a list of the top eight point earners through the qualifying races:

Boneafide Cat – 16 Points
Rasin a Delight – 16 Points
Gracias – 14 Points
Mighty Tizzy – 12 Points
Havasu -11 Points
Polite and Cozy – 7 Points
Lovely Tak – 7 Points
Dakota Song – 4 Points

 

The $25,000 Final will be contested on Thursday, August 2. At this point, Boneafide Cat (winner of the first and third qualifying races) and Gracias (winner of the second qualifying races) appear to be the most likely favorites. The Championship will be run at a distance of 5 and 1/2 furlongs and is only open to those that ran in two of the three qualifying events.

For more information on the Canterbury Claiming Series, and for complete standings, check out the Canterbury Park webpage.

The 2012 Canterbury Claiming Series is sponsored by Continental Diamond.

This blog was written by Canterbury Park’s Live Racing and Digital Media Coordinator Andrew Offerman. Offerman has served in this role since returning to Minnesota in 2010 after earning his Master’s Degree from the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program.

Beating the Heat

Shortly before the fourth race on Friday, someone draped a wet blanket over Shakopee. The 85 degree temperature had been tolerable earlier with humidity levels close to 30. All of that changed as humidity levels climbed 15 points and the air suddenly stopped moving.

How do you stay cool on a night like this someone asked jockey Tanner Riggs. A bystander responded before the rider could. “You ride real fast and create a breeze,” he mused.

“Look at those flags,” added trainer Larry Donlin. “They’re just hanging.”

Welcome to summer, Minnesota style.

Heat is forecast for the next several days. Riders can attend to their own needs and keep hydrated with extra water intake. How about the horses they ride.

Trainers from Phoenix, and there are several on the grounds, are accustomed to dealing with far more heat than is usual in Minnesota, but there is the element known as humidity that is absent in Arizona.

“The big difference between here and Phoenix is that the humidity is not as bad,” said David Van Winkle, who trains in Arizona fall and winter and returns to Minnesota each spring.

Van Winkle deals with the heat in several ways. “You have to monitor them when they run,” he said. “You have to back off a bit with the training. You need fans in the barns and an ample supply of water at all times.”

Precautions are necessary, particularly immediately after a race, to avoid heat stroke. “You have to be careful with that,” Van Winkle added. “We try to hose the horses down once or twice even before we saddle them. We try to keep them comfortable until the race and then afterwards, too.”

Humid weather can be particularly bothersome because it interferes with a horse’s ability to sweat, just as it does with humans.

Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens said he can lose a pound a race on a night like Friday. Nik Goodwin agreed.

A horse? Some have been known to be down 100 pounds or more the morning after a race, particularly after a route race.

“We give our horses electrolytes in their feed every night,” Van Winkle added. “You can buy it in paste form, too, and give them it orally.”

Trainer Valorie Lund brought a stable to Canterbury from Turf Paradise in Phoenix, too. She was in Des Moines Thursday morning. “The horses were really hot there,” she said. “It was very humid down there.”

Lund says that the humidity takes a bigger toll on horses than simple heat. “Humidity is much harder on them than dry heat,” she said. “Horses take the heat OK if it’s dry. It’s the humidity. They are really a desert animal. In Washington state in the high desert it gets very hot and very cold and they survive it.”

A card at Churchill Downs was cancelled the other night because of the Kentucky heat and humidity. Lund was there two summers ago during a record heat spell. “It was very, very hot,” she recalled. “Their hottest summer on record.”

Lund cautions her help to be extra careful with her horses in the heat. “We keep them well hydrated, as cool as possible. We keep fans on them (in the barn). The minute they pull up after a race I caution my guys to get water on them. The best and fastest way to cool a horse is to hose them on the head and between the hind legs.”

Lund will also have her help dunk a horse’s blinkers in ice water before putting them on. “Blinkers will hold heat, too,” she said.

There are even more ways to cool a horse. “We’ll put menthol in the water and then sponge them with it,” Lund said.

All of the aforementioned measures will be used repeatedly in the coming days. The forecast is hot, hot, hot.

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.

Duke Deluxe Notches 12th Canterbury Win

Trainers like Canterbury Park for their reasons, jockeys for theirs and now it appears that horses, too, like the racetrack for reasons revealed with a simple glance at their PPs. Look no further than Thursday’s first race and the No. 2 horse, an eight-year-old gelding named Duke Deluxe.

Duke is mad about Canterbury and here is the proof:

With a late burst from his eight-year-old lungs, Duke ran down Royal Express and won for the 12th time – by, oh, the width of a nostril.

He has 12 career wins, six seconds and eight thirds from 61 career starts.

Not eye-catching numbers for any specific reason, unless you take a closer look at those PPs. Duke has 12 career wins. A 13th, in mid May, came at the Brown County Fair in South Dakota in an unrecognized race and is not included in his Daily Racing Form list of wins.

Twelve wins, all at Canterbury Park. He clearly likes this racetrack. Couldn’t win at six other tracks, only Canterbury.

A gelded son of Touch Gold, Duke Deluxe is tied with four horses for wins at Canterbury behind three other horses. Two Hall of Fame thoroughbreds – Hoist Her Flag, a two-time Horse of the Year, and John Bullit lead the list with 17 wins. Crocrock is next with 14. Sir Tricky, Texas Trio, Day Timer and Stock Dividend also have 12.

Moments after Duke’s win under Nik Goodwin on Thursday, Deb Bonn was on the cell phone from Canterbury to her daughter Amber,20, back in Aberdeen, S.D. Amber is half owner in the horse that the family refers to as “College Fund.”

Amber has jobs at two restaurants to pay her way through beauty college, but her share of the winnings from Thursday’s win will help considerably. “You can quit one of those jobs,” her mother told her.

Randy Bonn, who has been at Canterbury as an owner or trainer every year since 1985, bought the horse for his cousin, Jeff Boon, and daughter, Amber, in Phoenix last March and sent him to trainer Larry Donlin at Grand Island, Neb., for vetting.

They turned the horse out for 60 days, ran him twice in the South Dakota bushes and then debuted him Thursday in Shakopee, where he was sent off at 10-1, despite his history over this racetrack.

Duke Deluxe broke his maiden at Canterbury on June 21, 2007 in his sixth career start and is 12-3-1 from 21 starts in Shakopee.

Bob Lindgren owned him for three wins four years ago. “Bobbie Grissom called me about him,” Lindgren said. “She told me that the horse didn’t like the hard surface in Phoenix, but that he always did well here.”

A bit of an understatement, to say the least.

A GOODWIN HAT TRICK

Call it a blog boost, a blog bounce or merely a coincidence, but Nik Goodwin had a bang-up night on Thursday’s card.

The 36-year-old native Minnesotan was profiled in a blog story this week, and promptly responded by winning three races on Thursday’s card.

Goodwin won the opening race on the card with Duke Deluxe, the fourth race with Supremo Struckgold and the seventh with Thepointman.

He has 11 wins and is tied for fifth in the rider standings.

He leads the quarter horse standings with some amazing numbers. He has 11 wins, six more than any other rider. He has an amazing 11 wins and 12 seconds from 24 starts.

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

As Tough As Nails (With Video)

Say it to anyone around the track and you’ll get an immediate look of understanding or a nod of respect. He works the gate. Stories abound around any racing community about accidents in the gate, about horses stomping, tearing or kicking a member of the gate crew into the next county.

“I’ve seen horses throw a guy around like a ragdoll,” said clerk of scales/jockey room custodian Jerry Simmons, who worked gates throughout the Midwest for two decades.

The most recent, local example of mayhem in the gate occurred on Saturday’s card, in the seventh race. The crew was trying to load the No. 2 horse, Surplus, when the four-year-old delivered a cow-kick into the groin of 25-year-old Jared Harris.

Harris was wearing the mandatory helmet and flak jacket required in Minnesota but it was of little use where he was kicked.

“I guess you’d call that a nice cow-kick,” he said Monday shortly before the fourth race (check out the video below).

Harris was observed in the hospital for three hours on Saturday and then released. He was back at work on Sunday’s card but still applying ice from time to time on Monday to the affected area. “We don’t want any swelling,” he said.

The kick caused Harris to hit the dirt as if he’d been leveled by a shotgun blast, a perfectly understandable result.

“I probably wouldn’t have had to go to the hospital if I’d been kicked in the chest or somewhere else,” Harris said. “But I wasn’t about to take a chance with this. No way was I going to take a chance.”

The dangers of working the gate are obvious to anyone familiar with racing, but the crew Harris is part of pretty much agrees they have the second most dangerous job on the track.

“The riders are No. 1. We’re No. 2,” said Harris.

Danger and injury don’t seem to deter these fellows from their jobs.

“The job is addictive,” said starter Larry Davila, who oversees the crew. “There is nothing more satisfying than keeping a horse under control and getting him out of the gate.”

Anyone who’s worked the gate has had to deal with injury of one kind or another.

Levi Vivier of Belford, N.D., broke a wrist.

Ed Butler, who rode at Canterbury in 2010, broke a knee working on a gate in 2007. But, as if to prove Harris’s earlier point, he broke his neck while riding last year at Ft. Pierre, S.D.

Simmons, one time, suffered a painful injury when a horse decided to take a bite out of his forehead and wound up sinking a tooth into his skull.

Local racing fans might recall the most devastating incident in Canterbury history. The accident occurred during the mid 1980s. Bobby Compton, a member of the gate crew, was killed when he fell as the gate pulled away from the starting line and a wheel crushed his chest.

HONOR THE HERO EXPRESS

The field included the defending champion, a Mac Robertson-trained veteran of Grade III competition and lots of speed on the front end.

Part of that early speed included the 2011 winner of the race, the Greg Boarman-trained Humble Smarty, who was sent off at 2-1. Silver Magnus, trained by Robertson, drew top attention at 6-5.

On this sunny, breezy afternoon, a horse named Santo Gato, a veteran of competition at Churchill Downs and the Fairgrounds, was a bit too sharp for his seven rivals and won the $35,000 turf express, run for the second year on the dirt.

Under Bobby Walker, jr., Santo Gato (photo above & video replay at the bottom of the post), a gelded-son of Kitten’s Joy, took charge at the eighth pole and hit the wire 1 ¼ lengths in front of Richmond, a 20-1 longshot trained by Mike Biehler and ridden by Lori Keith. Humble Smarty was another ½ length back.

No Peace At All, who wound up dead last, worried the winner’s trainer, Gary Scherer, a bit as he watched the race unfold down the backstretch. “I thought the nine horse was going to kill us on the backstretch,” Scherer said.

“I wasn’t going to let him kill us,” said winning rider Bobby Walker, Jr., who got his horse to stay close without extending himself until they hit the turn.

The winner is owned by Merrill Scherer, Dan Lynch and Ken Sentel.

SKIP ZIMMERMAN STAKES

Christine Hovey was on hand from Adel, Iowa, for the running of this 350-yard event and its $15,000-added purse money.

Hollywood Trickster (photo below & video replay at the bottom of the post), her horse in the race, made the trip worthwhile. The five-year-old son of the thoroughbred Favorite Trick was a convincing winner at 5-1 odds for trainer Ed Ross Hardy and rider Derek Bell, finishing in 17.903.

Bell, who typically rides thoroughbreds, had a terse, witty appraisal of the race afterward. “I didn’t have to rate him at all,” he said.

Hovey obviously was pleased with the result, although she might have been a bit skeptical on the trip from Iowa. Her horse prefers longer distances, although that wasn’t evident on Monday. Where’s Your Wagon, trained by Amy Wessels and ridden by Oscar Delgado, was second. Show Me The Wave, trained by Amber Blair and ridden by Mark Luark, was third.

On hand in the winner’s circle was Miss Rodeo Minnesota, Paige Oveson of Columbia Heights, as well as her father Jim. “My parents were good friends of Skip Zimmerman,” Paige explained.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Adolfo Morales rode back-to-back winners for trainer Clay Brinson, Boneafide Cat in the fourth race and Teton Motel in the fifth.

Trainer Larry Donlin had terse advice for Morales, who rode Know No Somerset for him in race six.

“Just pretend this is a Brinson horse,” Donlin told him.

HONOR THE HERO & SKIP ZIMMERMAN STAKES REPLAYS

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

Video Credit: Jon Mikkelson & Canterbury Park Television Department