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.
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.
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.
$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.”