Belmont’s Size Makes It A Rider’s Race

BY JIM WELLS

It is one-of-a-kind, the only racetrack in the United States with such vast dimensions, awe-inspiring if not intimidating to anyone who has not dealt with its sweeping turns and long straightaways.

Its forbidding size can swallow a horse and rider whole if he’s not prepared, doesn’t calculate its differences and transfer them to what he asks of his mount.

It is the Green Monster of racetracks and has brought great horses and riders to their knees when they haven’t understood its idiosyncrasies.

Belmont Park.

Differences? A mile and 1/8 is a one-turn race at Belmont. A mile race begins in front of the grandstand on Canterbury Park’s mile oval. It begins near the start of the backstretch at Belmont.

“The turns are so big, way bigger than on a mile track,” said former Canterbury riding champion Scott Stevens, who has raced there. “The half mile pole sits where the 3/8ths is on a normal (mile) track.”

Thus, the Belmont Stakes is often referred to as a rider’s race and Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith, of course, finds himself the center of attention in that regard, paired as he is with Justify and a chance at the Triple Crown.

Smith won the first riding title at Canterbury Downs in 1985 while serving out his apprenticeship, was second to Sandy Hawley in 1986 and rode only half of the meet the following year, when he began testing other, larger venues on the East and West Coasts.

He has won the most Breeders’ Cup races (26) in history and has two wins in each of the Triple Crown races, among countless other achievements.

“Mike Smith is a real pro, one of the best if not the best,” said five-time Canterbury riding champ Dean Butler. “I’ve always admired him.”

That was Butler’s way of saying that Smith’s talent and experience will serve him well, enable him to deal with whatever challenges he encounters.

At a 1 ½ miles, a sense of pace is crucial. “You have to know how much horse you have under you and how much you have left,” Butler added. “And if you go too slow, there’s a good chance your horse won’t come back to you. You have to be aggressive and patient at the same time.”

Canterbury champ Ry Eikleberry sizes up the race and sees the possibility of what is sometimes known as paralysis through analysis, creating too many scenarios for yourself.

“You don’t want to overthink it too much,” he said. “Obviously, this horse (Justify) has a lot of speed and I don’t think you can change his running style,” Eikleberry said.

Eikleberry’s thought is to let the horse run his race, to do what he’s good at. “Don’t take his tactical speed away,” he explained. The best approach, he says, is simply to let Justify do his thing. There are scenarios, of course, that might take this Triple Crown contender out of contention __ say, if he gets trapped in a speed duel.

Stevens hadn’t seen the past performances but offered this thought on that possibility:

“My concern is that they might send someone out there to kill him off,” he said. “I think he’s the best horse and I don’t know that he has to be on the lead, though.”

Too fast, too early and the long stretch drive might become insurmountable for the frontrunners as they give way to horses closing from behind.

There is another scenario, Stevens points out, should no one challenge Justify and give him early ground.

“He’s the kind of horse that if he gets a big lead we just might have another Secretariat,” he added. (Secretariat won by a record 31 lengths in record time on the dirt of 2:24.) “He might open up so far that nobody can catch him.”

Everything points to a Justify win, his heritage, speed, toughness, heart, talent…so much so that a countervailing axiom has taken hold in some racing minds:

He looks like a sure winner, so he’s bound to lose.  What seems more likely is that Belmont itself will play a role in the outcome.

Bell Out Rest of 2013 Meet

Derek BellInjuries sustained during a morning workout last week will sideline Canterbury Park Hall of Fame jockey Derek Bell for the remainder of the meet. Bell suffered a broken kneecap and wrist while returning a horse to the barn last Sunday morning.

Bell was unavailable for comment but his agent, Chad Anderson, said Friday that X-rays have confirmed the injuries to Bell’s kneecap and wrist.

“He had finished working a horse and was returning it to the barn when it happened,” Anderson said. “The horse flipped over on him and struck him a couple of times in the legs.”

The incident occurred on a morning when one other horse broke down during a workout.

Bell was scheduled to ride Heliskier, last year’s Horse of the Year, that afternoon, but missed the mount for the first time in the horse’s career.

Bell was having a solid meet when the accident occurred. He is currently in sixth place in the standings, with a 28-20-20 record from 141 mounts and earnings of $594,382.

Anderson said that Bell intends to meet with doctors who have worked with the Minnesota Twins next week for MRIs of the injuries.

The only six-time riding champion at Canterbury Park, Bell is one of four active Canterbury Park Hall of Fame jockeys, one of two in Shakopee. He and Scott Stevens still compete yearly at Canterbury. Mike Smith, the track’s first riding champion in 1985, is a prominent rider in California and Luis Quinonez, who won five consecutive titles at Canterbury, rides primarily in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Bell holds career earnings and wins records in Shakopee and is second all time in win percentages. On June 14, 2002, he rode six winners on a single card.

THE LEGACY OF ALMAR FARM

Countless stories will be told Saturday when family and friends gather to recall the long, accomplished life of Hall of Fame breeder Alvin Goebel. He and his wife, Marlys, are inductees in Canterbury Park’s Hall of Fame for their breeding contributions in the Minnesota industry as owners of Almar Farm in Cottage Grove.

Alvin died in January of 2012 and will be honored with Saturday’s third race, the Alvin Goebel Memorial.

Goebel bought his first racehorse at age 19 and was involved with horses thereafter over a span of 70 years.

He claimed only one horse in all that time. “He didn’t like having horses claimed on him, so he thought other people probably didn’t either,” Marlys said.

Apparently the policy worked. Marlys said they had maybe two horses claimed from them in their many years of racing.

One of those horses, Speakers Action, will run in the second race of today’s card.

He is owned by Tom and Karen Metzen and trainer Dave Van Winkle.

Metzen was involved in a package of horses with the Goebels during the 1950s that were trained by D. Wayne Lukas. “Alvin, Pete Thompson and I and our wives were involved,” recalled Metzen. “We raced those horses in Rochester and then took them to Park Jefferson in South Dakota.”

Marlys was asked if Alvin ever considered retiring from racing during his 70-year involvement.

“He did retire once,” she said. “It lasted for about a month.”

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.

Moe Man Takes Bullit

Moe%20Man%20-%20John%20Bullit%20Overnight%20Stakes%20-%2008-16-13%20-%20R08%20-%20CBY%20-%20Inside%20FinishQuite appropriate. Very fitting. The trainer of a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner saddles the winning horse in a $35,000 overnight stake named for John Bullit, Canterbury Downs champion claimer in 1986, a horse ridden by Mike Smith, Julie Krone, Chris Antley, Scott Stevens and Dean Kutz among others.

Ian Wilkes, who conditioned 2012 Classic winner Fort Larned, sent out Moe Man, owned by Robert Lothenbach and ridden by Justin Shepherd.

The instructions were simple: “Ride your race.” Ride the race as it comes up.

“He’s a good rider. I know him from Kentucky,” said Wilkes, after Moe Man left a field of seven rivals eating his dust in a stretch burst, finishing 4 ½ lengths in front of Coconino Slim with Wild Jacob in third.

The easy victory left even Wilkes a bit stunned. “That was surprising, the way he came down the lane,” said Wilkes.

Wilkes, an Australian trainer, learned under a man well known to Canterbury fans – Carl Nafzger, who trained 1990 Kentucky Derby winner and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Unbridled.

If Wilkes was surprised by Moe Man’s easy win, so also were the Canterbury fans, who let him get away at 7-1. The favorite at 2-1 was Diamond Joe, who finished fourth.

John Bullit, incidentally, set track records in 1986 that still stand: on July 25, he ran 1 ¼ mile on the main track in 2:04 1/5. On Sept 26, he turned in a 3:11 2/5 for 1 7/8 on the turf.

He was trained originally by Clayton Gray, who bought the horse in a package deal and loved thereafter telling stories about how John Bullit would introduce himself to a new rider the same way each time: by sending the individual headlong into the rafters of the barn or the dirt in an arena.

The grand old gelding ran 31 times at Canterbury Down, winning 17 times.

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.