Minnesota Festival of Champions

by Jim Wells

[Canterbury Park Hall of Famer and historian Jim Wells passed away last fall. He wrote countless stories about racing for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and later for CanterburyLive.  This story by Jim, published a decade ago, recounts the efforts of those that were determined to keep horse racing alive in Minnesota.]

The meeting took place in a Woodbury restaurant over rice, burritos and chimichangas, and the ideas were flavored with details as savory as the victuals on the table. The plan was to send a message to the Minnesota horse industry and the owners of the state’s only parimutuel facility that there was still a market for horse racing in Minnesota, that live racing was not in a state of rigor mortis despite the lowest purses in track history and facility owners that refused to promote the sport or invest another dime.

The three men at the table gathered the contents of their discussion as if they were filling a doggie bag and departed, eager to discuss the matter with others. This was something that had to be done right and on a scale theretofore not seen at Canterbury. It had to be the whole enchilada or nothing – a day devoted exclusively to Minnesota’s horse owners, breeders and horses.

When the idea was presented to the Ladbroke Racing Corp., the local managers responded as if they had been served a plateful of jalapeno peppers and were choking on their heartburn.

“They were rolling their eyes,” recalled horsemen Steve Erban, who proposed the lunch and Festival plan to Randy Sampson, the future president of the racetrack, and Dan Mjolsness, the executive director of the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association at the time.

When Erban informed management that horsemen wanted to stage a festival for Minnesota horsemen a week after closing day at The Downs (as it was known under Ladbroke), there was a different response.

“They started howling,” he said.

Yet, with the widespread support of the industry and significant contributions from key individuals, the first Festival of Racing was conducted at Canterbury Downs on September 12, 1992. A committee was formed comprised of Gordy Bredeson, Al Burdick, Joe Friedberg, Gerry Herringer, Kathy Kissoon, Phil Maas, Jim Druck, Dale Schenian and Sampson, with Erban and Mjolsness as co-directors. Maas underwrote the cost of televising the event on Channel 9, musicians strolled the walkways and a crowd in excess of 11,000 people showed up.

“It was kind of a last showcase for Minnesota horses,” said Mjolsness.

As it turned out, the Festival would become an annual showcase for the people who never lost faith in the industry: Art and Gretchen Eaton, Al and Marlys Goebel, the Sampsons, Valenes, Metzens, Kissoons, Casbys, Morehouses, Dahlbergs and countless others.

“I think it’s one of the most fun and exciting days of the year,” said Marlys Goebel. “It’s always exciting for the fans and the people competing because there’s always a packed house that day.”

There are always the memories, too. For the Goebels, it is perhaps the victory by Careless Navigator in the 2004 Northern Lights Futurity that is most memorable. “That was a very special day,” Marlys said.

That special day and special days for numerous other owners and breeders started on that September afternoon 19 years ago when a dark cloud hovered over the industry and the sport of horse racing.

“Ladbroke, in context, was saying that this was the end of the road for racing in Minnesota,” said Sampson. “They had thrown in the towel on promoting racing or doing much to make it successful, and we were trying to demonstrate that there was still interest in racing here.”

Ladbroke’s unwillingness to guarantee live racing for the following season met with a chilly response from the Minnesota Racing Commission in the winter weeks of 1992 that followed. In December, the Commission refused to renew the English company’s license and Canterbury Downs closed its doors.

Yet, on the final day of racing in 1992, the Festival of Champions energized the industry and racing public, demonstrated that Minnesotans still enjoyed the sport, and provided hope for the future. That first Festival did more than produce winners named Bold Sharokee, Northern Injun, Belle of the Night, Timeless Prince, and Silver Me Timber. The Festival of Champions, the annual tribute to the state’s horse industry, provided the kind of spirit and resolve that returned racing to Minnesota in 1995.

Ray’s Angel Earns A Place In The Stakes

This spring Cameron Mahlum, managing partner for North Star Stable, breeders and owners of Ray’s Angel, did not see their homebred 5-year-old by the sire Kela as an entrant in Wednesday’s $100,000 Crocrock Minnesota Sprint Championship, one of eight stakes in the annual Minnesota Festival of Champions.

“No. Not when you’re in the same foal crop as Mr. Jagermeister and you have Hot Shot Kid out there and they’ve dominated Festival for three years.”

But there he is, Ray’s Angel, 7 to 2 on the morning line in tomorrow’s Sprint.

Mahlum credits his trainer Mike Biehler, and time, for the success Ray’s Angel has had. “Mike’s done a great job,” Mahlum said. He was unraced at 2. “He’s big, 1,300 pounds.” And he had an issue early in his career. He was bolting on the turn. “Unless you’re a quarter horse, you are going to have to turn.”

It was at Remington Park last fall that Ray’s Angel began to put everything together.  “He was improving,” Mahlum said after competitive races against open company. “Kelas get better as they get older.”

He won first out at Will Rogers Downs in April, was off the board the next time, and then came Shakopee where Ray’s Angel has won two of four starts, hitting the board in the other two, all with Francisco Arrieta aboard. “Francisco keeps him relaxed,” Mahlum said.

The most recent start and win came on the turf, a surface Ray’s Angel had not run on for two years. “He got beat twice by Cave Run, so I went to Mike and said ‘Let’s try something different.’ Mike said that surface won’t matter. He just likes to run.” Ray’s Angel ran a bang-up race, beating some salty open company horses, and earned a career best speed figure.

And now he will try to win the biggest purse of his career in the six furlong, main track, Crocrock. Mr. Jagermeister is on the sidelines and Hot Shot Kid is entered in the turf stake but the competition is still stiff.

“Cinco Star is the horse to beat in my opinion,” Mahlum said.  Yet he likes his horse’s chances.

“He deserves it. He has a shot. That’s all you can ask.”

27th Minnesota Festival Of Champions Wednesday At Canterbury Park

Richest night of the meet with $737,600 in stakes purses begins at 4:10 p.m.

What began in 1992 as a show of strength and final act of defiance, the Minnesota Festival of Champions, with its 27th running Wednesday evening, remains a staple on the Canterbury Park schedule and a continuing reminder that horse racing in the state, regardless of circumstances, is thriving. In 1992 the Shakopee, Minn. racetrack was owned by Ladbroke Racing Corp. The international company had recently lost in an effort to establish off-track betting and had seemingly little interest in operating Canterbury.  Horse breeders, trainers and owners including current track CEO Randy Sampson banded together to present a day of racing that would feature horses bred in the state. The event drew 11,000 fans and was televised in the Twin Cities. Although Ladbroke closed what was then Canterbury Downs at the end of the year, the seed was planted and two years later Sampson, his father Curtis and South St. Paul businessman Dale Schenian purchased the property and returned racing to Minnesota in 1995 at a newly branded Canterbury Park.

Minnesota Festival of Champions was the centerpiece then and is still today. So much so that when other stakes suffered purse cuts or were dropped completely and race days were reduced due to business limitations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, purses for Festival remained unscathed. There will be six thoroughbred stakes, each with $100,000 purses as well as a $67,250 Quarter Horse Derby and $70,350 Quarter Horse Futurity. In all $737,600 in stakes purses will be paid on the 12-race card that will begin at 4:10 p.m.

“We thought it important to leave the Festival purses consistent with last year,” Vice President of Racing Andrew Offerman said. “It rewards those that have supported racing and breeding in the state and encourages further participation. We have done our best throughout the summer to limit the economic impact of COVID-19 and we are excited to celebrate the crowning of our state-bred Champions during the 2020 Festival. ”

The card will offer two pick five wagers, beginning in the first and sixth races. Track officials implemented an industry low 10 percent takeout on the pick five this season. A total of 113 horses were entered over the 12 races. With spectator capacity limits in place, curbside walk-up wagering is available daily with advance wagering on Festival races already open.  A limited number of admission tickets remain and must be purchased in advance at www.canterburypark.com .

Minnesota native Mike Biehler was the leading trainer at Canterbury in 1992, campaigning eventual horse of the meet Bold Sharokee. He recalls the state of affairs prior to the first Festival. “Purses were low. Other trainers were leaving early to race elsewhere,” he said. Biehler would not have been surprised if that was the final call for racing in the state. He credits Festival of Champions for keeping the hope alive. Bold Sharokee won that day, the first of 13 Festival wins for Biehler; third most in the event’s history. He will saddle three Wednesday including Ray’s Angel in the Crocrock Minnesota Sprint Championship, a race Biehler has not won since 2003. “He’s been training well. He has been strong every time,” he said. “With the purses what they are, you have to take a shot.”

Stakes Race Line-Up

Race 5 – $100,000 Bella Notte Minnesota Distaff Sprint
Race 6 – $100,000 Blair’s Cove Minnesota Turf
Race 7 – $100,000 Princess Elaine Minnesota Distaff Turf
Race 8 – $100,000 Northern Lights Futurity
Race 9 – $100,000 Northern Lights Debutante
Race 10 – $100,000 Crocrock Minnesota Sprint
Race 11 – $70,350 Minnesota Quarter Horse Futurity
Race 12 – $67,250 Minnesota Quarter Horse Derby

Festival A Family Affair

By Jim Wells

The Festival of Champions has a family air about it, and always has. After all, it is about Minnesota horses, the farms they represent and the people who breed, own and train them.

In many respects is has become the perfect sidekick to the Minnesota State Fair.

The 26th running of the Festival was run on Sunday under intermittent appearances by the sun and otherwise appealing weather conditions.

Trainer Mac Robertson won three stakes races on the card and five races overall. Three riders __ Berkley Packer, Orlando Mojica and Leandro Goncalves won two stakes race each.

It was an afternoon designed to celebrate the Minnesota horse and his connections and a crowd of 9,335  was on hand to celebrate.

Many of them were on hand to watch a horse named Mr. Jagermeister, the fastest horse in Minnesota and one of the fastest in the country, make his first local appearance of the season. The son of Atta Boy Roy did not disppoint with a dominating performance.

Proof that he is indeed a drawing card?

A large portion of Sunday’s crowd hit the exits immediately after he ran.

      $100,000 Minnesota Distaff Sprint

This is how the game is supposed to work. Someone claims a horse and the horse justifies the investment.

Ari Gia is that kind of horse. Claimed for $6,000, Ari has now earned more than $240,000, including Sunday’s sixty grand reward as the winner of this race.

Owner/trainer Jose Silva thought the race was over as he watched his horse on the backstretch with a solid lead and plenty of gas in the tank. Then Honey’s Sox Appeal made her bid and Silva began having alternative thoughts. “Oh, oh, she’s going to catch us,” he thought.

Even during the stretch run the race was not yet over until Silva’s horse dug in one last time under a request from the track’s leading rider, Francisco Arrieta and Ari Gia drew off toe finish with a 3/12 length lead at the wire. Honey’s Sox Appeal had six lengths on the next horse, Wild Munny.

Ari Gia was sent off the 4/5 favorite with Honey’s Sox Appeal, her chief rival in the five-horse field, shooting for a fourth consecutive win in the race as a 3-1 second choice.

What wasn’t among Silva’s concerns was his horse’s heart. “She always gives 100 percent,” he said.  Ari Gia has had a fabulous year. She is 7-1-2 in 12 starts, the last seven at Canterbury, where she is 6-0-1 in 13 starts over her career, five of those wins this summer.

Except for one race at Sunland, Arrieta has been on her all of 2019.

  $100,000 DISTAFF CLASSIC

Sometimes you have to wait even when your horse has crossed the wire first.

Wait and then wait some more.

And worry.

Racing does that even to the most confident people. You know how something should turn out, but this is racing.

Certainties ?  They don’t exist. Never have.

Talk to John Mentz some time. He’ll set you straight.

“Over confidence is not my problem,” he said.

Especially when the racing stewards are involved.

As they were after the Distaff when Leandro Goncalves placed an objection for interference after running second to Jareth Loveberry and Ready to Runaway, Mentz’s horse.

Goncalves’ horse, Pinup Girl, was shooting for a third consecutive win in this race but the jockey had to check his horse approaching the turn and he placed an objection against the winner.

Meanwhile, Menz waited. …and, finally, the stewards upheld the finish. “I was.a little concerned,” he said. “We were all a little nervous.”

After all, he watched as his Beachflower was taken down in a graded stakes at Keeneland Race Course last year. “You just never know,” he said.

The winning time was 1:46.13

  $100,000 MINNESOTA SPRINT

It was a long time coming, the reappearance of the fastest horse in Shakopee and one of the fastest in the country.

We speak of Mr. Jagermeister, of course.

Maladies of one kind or another kept this speedster in the barn for a spell and away from Shakopee at various times when races appeared to fit him well elsewhere.

He last appeared before his Canterbury fans a year ago at this time when he won the Minnesota Classic in convincing fashion on Festival Day in 2018.

This time it was the Crocrock Sprint, in a runaway.

Mister Banjoman and Orlando Mojica waged a gallant challenge with a dangling right bridle that snapped a few jumps out of the gate, but that was not nearly enough to stay with this speedster.

Goncalves just let his horse do his thing, run fast, and they finished 5 ¼ lengths in front of Drop of Golden Sun, who had two lengths on Cinco Star. Mister Banjoman,meanwhile, fell back to finish fifth in the seven-horse field. The winning time was 1:09.87

Trainer Valorie Lund is considering the Grade III Ack Ack on September 28 at Churchill Downs next for Jaegermeister, race that might include the formidable Omaha Beach.

 

     $100,000 CLASSIC

The dossier on this horse once he retires will include nothing but superlatives. Big, strong, durable, fast.

Winner of more than $350, 000 at Canterbury Park alone, more than $500,000 career-wise… and a Minnesota-bred at that.

As well as a name he lives up to, time after time.

Hot Shot Kid.

Winner of 12 races in 26 career starts, 10-for-14 at Canterbury Park.

The first Minnesota-bred in Warren Bush’s stable, which now holds eight.

Born in Windom, Minnesota and long a resident of Iowa, Bush has plenty of relatives in both states, and he loves spreading the joy throughout the family, naming horses after grandchildren or for things they enjoy doing.

It’s a family thing, and there was more good will to spread on Sunday after Hot Shot Kid turned what was a two-horse race for a short while into a one-horse race when it counted, expanding his lead to four lengths at the wire.

His only real pursuer in what turned into a four-horse race after three scratches was Fireman Oscar, who he put away at the top of the stretch, passing the wire in 1:44.82.

So, why did Busch, decide to drop foals in Minnesota, despite living in Iowa?

“The money,” he said, referring to the compact Canterbury Park entered with Mystic Lake in 2012.

       $100,000 NORTHERN LIGHTS FUTURITY

 

Even the connections to Secretariat were besieged by doubt and uncertainty whenever Big Red walked into a gate.

In the racing world, owning the best horse in a two-horse race is not enough to dissolve all concern in the moments before the bell.

Thus, Bob Lindgren, owner of the odds-on favorite Happy Hour Cowboy fought off pre-race negativity as his horse lined up on Sunday in a seven-horse field.

`Not even the prospect of feeding and training in one of the track’s top barns, Mac Robertson’s, is enough sometimes to curtail all fear. After all, Rush Hour Traffic had run down the Robertson-trained Defend the Rose in the previous race, the Debutante.

In this case, there was no need for any anxiety, as it turned out.

Happy Hour Cowboy, under Orlando Mojica, was positioned perfectly to dispose of the front-running second choice Lil’ Ninja and, when that one tired, finish in front of Public Safety and Big Falcon Rocket with a winning time of 1:12.06.

“Oh, you always worry, about a lot of things,” Lindgren said in the winner’s circle.

In Happy Hour’s maiden start, for example, on July 26. “He finished second and he was bumped three times,” Lindgren said. “There should have been an inquiry of some kind.”

Sunday’s win should go a long way toward salving that complaint.

After all, Lindgren learned something about his horse in that race. “He still hasn’t learned to eat peppermints,” he said.

But he now knows how to win a stakes race.

And $60,000.

        $100,000 NORTHERN LIGHTS DEBUTANTE

Winning trainer Gary Scherer was addressed from the top of the steps as he left the paddock before the fifth race.

“Hey,” trainer Mike Biehler said, “the whole grandstand was riding your horse and you still won.”

Scherer laughed. “If you use that quote, make sure that you point out Biehler said it,” he said.

Biehler was referring to the fourth race, won by Rush Hour Traffic, who stayed within the shadow of front-running Defend the Rose, trained by Mac Robertson.

Winning rider Leandro Goncalves said that his instructions from Scherer were quite simple. “Don’t let the seven get too far ahead,” he told me.

“This horse has run inside, outside, behind horses and can run just about anywhere,” Goncalves said. So, he tracked the front-runner just as the trainer had suggested, overtaking her inside the 16th pole, with a winning time of 1:13.43 and Stylin N Profilin and Rental Pool in third and fourth respectively. The win was the second for Rush Hour in her short career for Sugarland Thoroughbreds.

Notable winners in this race include Bold Sharokee in 1992, Chick Fight in 2008 and Esprit de Bleu two years later.  And, in 2016 and 2017, horses named Shipmate and Firstmate.

    $63,000 QUARTER HORSE FUTURITY

The Festival underwent an immediate delay after Reigning Berries got rider Kaitlin Bedord to think “ain’t that the berries” or something closely akin upon unseating her at the gate for race one. She was subsequently scratched by gate veterinarians, sending some of the early crowd to re-wager.

Not that it mattered to Beep Beep Zoom Zoom, who broke her maiden last time out. Despite stumbling noticeably, she recovered midstretch in the 350-yard sprint to win easily, in front of Wicked and Vo Fantastic Aira, in :15.18.

An excellent win for the Paul Ludemann barn from Buffalo, whose life is devoted to horses in one manner or another. His girls are or have been deeply involved in barrel racing. “We were at a rodeo last night,” he said.

The win was a welcome boost to his stable coffers after several setbacks this season. Several of his racers were sidelined by one ailment or another.

Winning Sunday’s race was worth nearly $32,000, a nice piece of change for the family’s racing operation.

For Packer, too, after winning his first of two stakes. “Not a bad start to the day, eh, Berkley.”  “Not a bit,” he said. “She stumbled rather badly but got back up and outran everything around her.”

$59,000 MINNESOTA QUARTER HORSE DERBY

This race made stake sweepers of the rider, Packer, and the meet’s champion trainer, Jason Olmstead, for the fifth consecutive meet,

Jess Doin Time also became a four-time career winner, in easy fashion.

Packer knew almost out of the gate that he was destined for his second consecutive win. “That was easy,” he said. “She was much the best.”

The moment his horse’s feet hit the ground, he was in front, and stayed there to the wire, gaining steps nearly the entire 400 yards.

Packer was confident, but that didn’t carry over to owner Tom Pouliot, whose horse was a decisive favorite at ½, who pointed out that with a “heavy favorite” there are lots of things to worry over.

“That makes you more nervous,” he said. “Just thinking about all the things that can happen.” Her start in the Derby in Shakopee on July 7, for instance, when she reared, popped the gate and finished 10th.

What he seemed more certain about was the horse’s immediate future.  “We plan on breeding her this fall and then bringing her back to race afterwards,” he said.  “That’s the nice thing about quarter horses. You can get their embryos and then race them again.”

Minnesota Festival of Champions

The 26th Minnesota Festival of Champions takes place tomorrow at Canterbury Park. The special event debuted in 1992 to pay tribute to the Minnesota horse breeding industry, and acts as the unofficial celebration of the Canterbury Park live racing season.

“Festival day is like the Championship game of the season,” said trainer Bernell Rhone, winner of 20 festival races. “You spend all year getting ready for this day, the money is good, and the different categories really help each horse succeed individually. It’s a very special day.”

But, why?

Why is the Minnesota Festival of Champions so memorable to Canterbury Park and its members?

For jockey Derek Bell, it’s all about the competition. “There are a lot of nice horses that day,” said Bell. “I consider myself lucky each time I get to ride on festival day.” Bell is the most winning jockey in Festival history with 24 wins.

“A lot of good riders, trainers, owners and breeders participate in the Minnesota Festival of Champions,” added jockey agent Chad Anderson, who won seven festival races when he was a jockey. “It makes for a very fun and exciting day of racing at Canterbury Park.”

Track announcer Paul Allen loves how it reveals true dedication.  “The day is all about Minnesota. Having been here a quarter century calling races I have a high level of respect, adoration and love for those who have been through the battles to keep racing strong at Canterbury,” he said. “This is a day many of those people get a chance to compete and get paid. It’s our State Tournament for Minnesotans and forever will be my favorite day we present.”

Festival Day will offer record purses this year with each thoroughbred stakes race, and there are six of them, worth $100,000. The quarter horse Futurity and Derby will each pay more than $55,000.

It’s more than the money, though. The Minnesota Festival of Champions was created to send a message to the Minnesota horse industry and the owners of the state’s only pari-mutuel facility; the message that there is still a market for horse racing in the state.

“When the first Festival took place in 1992, it proved that there was still an interest in horse racing among Minnesotans,” said Clerk of Course Peggy Davis. “It’s always so fun to see everyone at the track enjoying the races.”

As Canterbury Park and the state’s breeding industry continue to expand, the excitement of racing on Festival day continues to grow as well.

Bell Still the Leading Festival Rider

By Jim Wells

Nobody has ridden more Festival of Champions winners than Derek Bell, the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame rider who has been to the winner’s circle 24 times on this annual day of tribute to Minnesota horses.

That total is six more than Dean Butler and 13 in front of Scott Stevens.

Bell has won every race in the thoroughbred lineup but one, the Glitter Star Distaff Classic, and has ridden multiple winners in the other six, including seven in the Bella Notte Distaff Sprint. He was on Bella Notte herself for two of her three wins, in 2009 and 2011, before the race was renamed in her honor.

Bella won a third time in 2010 when Bell was taken off her and two other winners by trainer Mac Robertson. “I should have 27 winners,” he said Friday, while perusing the list of previous champions. He also lost mounts on Suddenly Silver and Sir Tricky that year. “They were all easy winners, too,” he said.

Bell’s Festival winners actually should total 28, if the 2013 Sprint champion, Heliskier, is included. Bell’s knee was broken the morning of the race when a horse he was working flipped on him. Instead, Justin Shepherd rode Heliskier, that year’s Horse of the Year.

Bell scanned the list of previous Festival winners, commenting on some of those he rode: He won the 2011 Turf championship on Tubby Time in 2012. “He was nice, a real runner,” he recalled. “A push-button horse.”

He won the 2002 Minnesota Classic on J.P. Jett for trainer Dave Van Winkle. “He was a big, black horse,” Bell recalled. “More like a quarter horse. I won the Derby on him and the Festival race that year.”

Bell rode Bizet, owned by Olaf Strand, only once and that was a winning ride in the 2009 Minnesota Sprint. “That was it, just that one time,” he said. “He was a big chestnut.”

Bell rode Nidari for Kissoon Thoroughbreds to consecutive wins, 2000 and 2001, in the Distaff. He won aboard Madam Speaker for Almar Farms in 2004, Bleu’s Apparition for Jeff Hilger in 2005, and Sentimental Charm for James Peltier in 2007.

 

Bell and Prime Step

Bell won six riding titles in Shakopee and holds career records in earnings and wins. He is second all time in win percentage. His best day at Canterbury, was on June 14, 2002 when he rode six winners. He arrived late in the current meet during a summer when Canterbury has been overrun with good riders, including four former riding champs, five upon his arrival.

He has only an allowance mount on Sunday for the annual running of the Festival that began under inauspicious circumstances in 1992, when racing was in dire straits.

Horsemen put together the inaugural Festival to prove a point to Ladbroke Racing Corporation’s local executives, who had all but proclaimed live racing a thing of the past in Minnesota.

The Ladbroke Racing Corp. was on its way out as owner of the Shakopee race track after a refusal by the Minnesota Racing Commission to renew the British firm’s racing license for the 1993 season. Before that took place, horsemen wanted to demonstrate that Minnesotans would indeed show up for quality racing. They did just that, on a bright sunny afternoon in 1992 that was the last live card in Minnesota until racing resumed in 1995. The Festival has been a part of the summer racing program every year since.

26th Minnesota Festival of Champions September 1

The origin of the Minnesota Festival of Champions, which will be celebrated for the 26th time next Sunday, dates back to 1992, the end of the Downs era, the year that owner Ladbroke Corporation lost interest in live racing. Minnesota owners and breeders banded together to send a message to Ladbroke that there was indeed still an interest in racing in Minnesota. It would be the final day of live racing until the spring of 1995 as Ladbroke refused to commit to a live racing season in the coming year and the Minnesota Racing Commission would not allow them to operate in 1993 without such commitment.

While that decision by the MRC meant horse racing came to an end, it also may have saved racing as we now know it. That 1992 Festival planted the seed in the minds of local movers and shakers that racing could succeed with the proper management and business plan. In 1994, Randy and Curt Sampson along with Dale Schenian purchased the Shakopee property and simulcast racing returned to Minnesota on Kentucky Derby weekend. One year later live racing was back triumphantly and here we are 25 seasons later, still racing and thriving.

It was that first Minnesota Festival of Champions, that gesture of defiance by local horsemen, which kept the dream of horse racing in Minnesota alive.

Festival Day, September 1, will offer record purses this year with each thoroughbred stakes race, and there are six of them, worth $100,000. The quarter horse Futurity and Derby will each pay more than $50,000.

Trainer Mac Robertson is sure to have several runners and add to his record 32 Festival wins. Jockey Derek Bell returned to riding this season, and should he have a mount next Sunday, could also add to his 24 wins, the most of any jockey. Dean Butler is six behind Bell and always has a live mount or three on the big day. The names of trainers Biehler, Bravo, Hanson, Van Winkle, Hardy….they are all in the Festival record book along with owners Curt Sampson, Art and Gretchen Eaton, Almar Farms, Bob and Julie Petersen, Cam Casby, and Kissoon Thoroughbreds. Active or not in 2019, they left their mark and are a part of the rich history that makes Canterbury Park what it is today.

Post time on September 1 will be 12:45. Entries and post position draw will take place Thursday.

By Canterbury Press Box Staff

Canterbury Park 2019 Stakes Schedule Features Record MN Festival of Champions Purses

Canterbury Park’s 2019 thoroughbred stakes schedule includes 31 races worth $2.235 million and will again cluster many of the most popular and lucrative races on single days.

The Shakopee, Minn., horse track’s richest race, the $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby on Saturday, June 22, will be the highlight of the Northern Stars Racing Festival along with four other stakes totaling $500,000 in purses. Last year, the inaugural event produced a Canterbury Park wagering record of $2.068 million.

Each of the six thoroughbred stakes races that make up the 26th Minnesota Festival of Champions on Sept. 1 will be worth $100,000. The Northern Lights Futurity and Debutante were increased to six-figure purses in 2018 while the Sprint, Distaff Sprint, Classic, and Distaff Classic receive $25,000 increases in 2019.

“Minnesota Festival of Champions will offer a record single-day purse payout for Canterbury Park with the total purse distribution approaching $850,000,” senior director of racing Andrew Offerman said. Minnesota Festival Day is dedicated to horses bred in Minnesota. “When purses increased in 2012, owners and breeders really stepped up the quality of Minnesota-breds, and they continue to be rewarded with rich stakes as the industry continues to improve.”

A 2012 cooperative marketing and purse enhancement agreement reached with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, owners and operators of nearby Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, provides $83 million toward purse supplements and joint marketing of the two properties over its 10-year term.

Saturday, Aug. 10, Minnesota-Made Day, will serve as a Minnesota Festival preview with five state-bred thoroughbred stakes totaling $350,000, including the $100,000 Minnesota Derby and Minnesota Oaks. Grouped on Aug. 24 are the Mystic Lake Turf Express, Brooks Fields Stakes, and HBPA Distaff.

The first condition book is available online along with stall applications, due March 18. Both are available here.

The 66-day live racing season begins May 3 and runs through Sept. 14.

2019 Stakes Schedule

2019 TB Simple Stakes Schedule (2)

 

Mr. Jagermeister Wins $75k Minnesota Classic Championship

Dame Plata remains undefeated with victory in$100k Northern Lights Futurity

Mr. Jagermeister easily won the $75,000 Wally’s Choice Minnesota Classic Championship Sunday at Canterbury Park. The 3-year-old colt took command of the 1 1/16 mile race from the start, cruising to a 4 1/4 length win over True West. Mr. Jagermeister, who has won three consecutive races and four this season at the Shakopee, Minn. racetrack, is trained by Valorie

Mr. Jagermeister

Lund and was ridden by Leandro Goncalves. He was the most heavily bet horse on the 12-race Minnesota Festival of Champions program, paying $2.10 to win. Mr. Jagermeister is owned by Kristin Boice, Leslie Cummings, and Lund. He will be given time off and return to racing in 2019.

 

“When I look down the line, I think ultimately he will be a brilliant miler,” Lund said. “We are still trying to teach him to relax.” The colt has now earned $308,975 in his 12-race career.

The Festival of Champions, which is restricted to horses bred in the state, included a total of eight stakes offering $611,000 in stakes purses. Dame Plata, who has won all three of his starts, defeated favorite Mister Banjoman by 3/4 lengths in the $100,000 Northern Lights Futurity.

Dame Plata

The 2-year-old is trained by Francisco Bravo and is owned by Ann Sachdev and Lori Bravo. Ridden by Jareth Loveberry, he paid $8.00 to win.

 

 

 

The $100,000 Northern Lights Debutante went to Dangerous Wave and owner Rake Farms. The 2-year-old filly is trained by Bernell Rhone and was ridden by Dean Butler. She paid $5.20.

Dangerous Wave

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Butler also won the $75,000 Crocrock Minnesota Sprint Championship aboard Warren Bush’s Hot Shot Kid giving trainer Mac Robertson his 31st Festival victory. Hot Shot Kid returned $4.60 as the wagering favorite.

 

 

 

 

Robertson won again with Honey’s Sox Appeal in the $75,000 Bella Notte Sprint Championship. Orlando Mojica rode for owner Bob Lindgren. The 5-year-old mare has won this race three consecutive times and has boosted her lifetime earnings to $313,520.

 

 

 

 

 

The final stake of the afternoon, the $75,000 Glitter Star Minnesota Classic Championship, was won by defending champion Pinup Girl and trainer Sandra Sweere. Pinup Girl raced toward the rear of the six-horse field, bursting through on the rail in mid-stretch to beat Double Bee Sting by 1 1/2 lengths, returning $3.20. The 4-year-old homebred filly is owned by Gary and Brenda Bergsrud.

Pinup Girl

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dickey Bob won the $55,200 Minnesota Quarter Horse Derby by 2 1/2 lengths over Itinkican Itinkican. The 3-year-old gelding is owned and bred by Bruce and Judy Lunderborg and is trained by this season’s champion quarter horse trainer Jason Olmstead. Dickey Bob, the race favorite, paid $2.40 and was ridden by Denny Velazquez.

Dickey Bob

Fantastic Feelyn won the $55,900 Minnesota Quarter Horse Futurity as a result of the disqualification of race favorite Fly With a Buzz. Fantastic Feelyn is owned and bred by newly inducted Canterbury Park Hall of Fame member Rodney Von Ohlen, and is trained by Edward Ross Hardy, also a Hall of Fame member. The 2-year-old paid $19.00 to win. Nik Goodwin had the mount. Hardy has now won 20 Festival quarter horse stakes.

Total handle for the day, $1,005,728, was the highest Minnesota Festival Day total since 1996 when that 12-race program handled $1,108,678. The on track handle figure of $395,605 was the most since the 2014 Festival.

The Other Minnesota Get-Together

By Noah Joseph

While much of the state is swept up in the excitement of the Minnesota State Fair, horse racing will have a different kind of get-together. This Sunday is the 25th Minnesota Festival of Champions at Canterbury Park, a day when all races are restricted to Minnesota bred horses including eight stakes races, for both thoroughbred and quarter horses. These days the Festival of Champions is a happy time, but its origins however, aren’t so joyful.

In the early 90s, racing in Minnesota was struggling mightily. Attendance had dropped, wagering had decreased, purses had fallen, and fewer horses were being bred in Minnesota. In 1990, Ladbroke, a British company, purchased Canterbury Downs with the hopes of making Canterbury better, but the efforts ended up being futile and in fact made things worse, and Canterbury struggled even more. In 1992 many feared that the track would close, but if it did, the horsemen had a grand finale planned. A day featuring the best Minnesota bred horses racing on a single card would close the show. On September 12th, 1992, the inaugural Minnesota Festival of Champions was held. A crowd of nearly 11,000 people showed up that Saturday, and many more watched on TV, as it was locally televised. The first stakes race of the day was the Northern Lights Futurity, which was won by Northern Injun, who was owned by Valene Farms, trained by Richie Scherer, and ridden by Roger Gomez. Jockey Scott Stevens, who would years later be enshrined in Canterbury’s Hall of Fame, then won the Northern Lights Debutante on Bold Sharokee for trainer Michael Biehler. Stevens was one of four jockeys to win at least two stakes wins on the card. The other jockeys were Donna Barton, Roger Gomez, and Shane Pollard. Pollard won the two quarter horse stakes. Stevens also made history by winning the final race in Canterbury Downs history, a one mile and 7/8ths turf race on Mark of Strength. With that, Canterbury closed.

When Canterbury reopened for live racing in 1995 under new ownership and management, the Festival of Champions returned after being held at Arlington Park for two years. En route to becoming a regular event of the season, and one of the most popular days of the year, the Festival of Champions has featured some of the best Minnesota bred horses of all time such as Bleu Victoriate, Now Playing, Careless Navigator, Bella Notte, and Chick Fight. Modern stars to win on Festival Day include Hold for More, Pinup Girl, Firstmate, and Mr. Jagermeister. Horses that won Festival of Champions races and then went on to the Canterbury Hall of Fame include Timeless Prince, Crocrock, Wally’s Choice, Glitter Star and Heliskier.

While the Minnesota Festival of Champions is now an event of happy times, never forget that it marked the end of an era, but like the Phoenix, it rose from the ashes in a bigger and better form, and left a lasting legacy in the history of racing in Minnesota.