Mike Biehler left Fairmont for Shakopee in 1985, the year Canterbury Downs opened, and quickly landed a job at the Malkerson farm nearby. He had worked with show horses as a young man and also studied animal science at Waseca Community College.
Biehler wrestled at 126 pounds in high school and then Waseca CC. He had no idea upon his arrival in Shakopee that wrestling 1,200-pound racehorses would one day become his occupation.
After working the farm that first year he found work galloping horses the next few meets for various barns on the Canterbury backside, including one of the prestigious outfits on the grounds, the well manicured stable run by D. Wayne Lukas.
Then, in 1989, an opportunity arose that would permanently alter his career path – training horses for Curtis Sampson.
All of that seemed so long Saturday afternoon as Biehler stood next to a television monitor on the first floor of the grandstand, awaiting the start of race four.
As Biehler waited, a fellow approached him and stuck out his hand. “Haven’t seen you for ages,” the man said, recounting events and people from over the years. A brief conversation ensued. Afterwards, Biehler said that he probably hadn’t seen the fellow since 1989 when the two of them worked for the Sampsons.
Happenstance, coincidence, whatever, it was a strange interlude to the day’s proceedings.
Biehler’s attention returned to the task at hand. He had two chances to win the fourth race, with Sheisinittowinit, ridden by Lori Keith, and with Getting Birdie, ridden by Derek Bell.
Getting Birdie hit the wire first, leaving Biehler a mere two wins short of 500 in Shakopee (he has 671 overall), a milestone that will arrive if not today or tomorrow then surely quite soon.
Biehler shook his head at mention of the imminent milestone and smiled.
“Who keeps that sort of thing?” he asked.
The short answer is that it’s all part of the ongoing account of statistics kept on riders, horses, trainers and owners that make up libraries at most racetracks, a vast compilation of information that answers requirements of handicappers, sportswriters and unread media guides.
Biehler won his first career races that summer of 1989 – “a couple of them,” he said – and began branching out to such locations as Aksarben, Grand Island, Prairie Meadows and later Remington Park and Oaklawn Park.
Now he has the largest stable of his career in Shakopee, 55 horses, as he chases much improved purses, doubled from previous summers, due to the business agreement with the Mdewankaton Sioux Community at Mystic Lake.
Twenty-five of those horses are owned by the Ulwellings, Al and Bill, who increased their holdings as well.
Biehler has been part of the racing landscape in Shakopee from the start. Perhaps his fondest memory over time is the re-opening of Canterbury in 1995. “I think so,” he said. “I was really afraid it would never re-open. I never imagined that the Sampsons would be the ones to save it.”
Biehler won the training title at Canterbury Downs in 1992 with 30 wins but downplays that achievement. “That came about the time everybody was bailing out,” he said. Besides, he’s become more a pragmatist over the years. Winning titles is nice, but…
“I’m a lot more concerned with making money,” he responded.
Fundraiser Set for Randy Weidner
A fundraiser to help Randy Weidner, who lost 12 horses as well as vehicles in the recent Oklahoma tornado, is scheduled for June 5, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Silks and will include an auction – saddles and such – and music.
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 Courtesy of Coady Photography