BY JIM WELLS
A horse named Plot Twist confounded the experts, another called Inconclusive was anything but and a third called Creator, in another surprise, produced a very nice return for his believers in races miles apart on Saturday but immediately juxtaposed nonetheless by the magic of television.
Plot Twist started the proceedings by capturing the $75,000 Dark Star Handicap at 36-1. Inconclusive made the finish quite conclusive in the $75,000 Northbound Pride Oaks, and Creator at 16-1 manufactured a nice return for anyone who backed him in the Belmont Stakes. The first two races were the feature attractions for a crowd of 9,270 at Canterbury Park on Saturday. The third, of course, was simulcast from Belmont Park.
Neither Plot Twist nor his connections had ever been in Minnesota before. Inconclusive hadn’t either but his owner lives here, and Creator got help from a stablemate named Gettysburg, ostensibly in the race to set the pace for Exaggerator, another stablemate who won the Preakness Stakes. Sometimes the best laid plans work out, just not the way expected.
$75,000 DARK STAR HANDICAP
Could the winner of this race have been any more appropriate?
A horse named Plot Twist doing just that to the legacy of the race’s namesake? In a total plot reversal, the 4-year-old gelding, at 36-1, was a winner that the Darkman would never have wagered on himself?
“Nope, he always bet the chalk,” said any number of individuals who knew the man.
None of that was relevant to the owner and to the trainer of the winner, who have been in Minnesota and at Canterbury Park for the first time in their lives since only last Sunday. Owner Raymond Gross, Jr., and trainer Tina Rodriguez-Guzman have been partners in this business for the past 22 years but had never had a horse run in a stakes race until Sunday.
For them, the first time was the charm.
“I’m still shaking,” Rodriguez-Guzman said 10 minutes after the race.
Winning a first stakes race can do that, particularly when you have never won one before and have no idea what to expect running against unknown quantities as she did on Saturday.
What she did understand, however, was that her horse would be a longshot. “They pretty much always are when I win,” she said.
Gross confirmed the fact and provided a bit of background on the matter by divulging that they had a 99-1 winner nine years ago at Retama Park. The horse’s name? One Evil Eye.
Meanwhile, a bit of background: The Rodriguez-Guzman and Gross stable of four horses arrived at Canterbury Sunday night after a three-day trip from Nacasota, Texas and plan to finish out the meet here as sort of a summer vacation.
A winner’s check of around $45,000 is a nice way to start any vacation, everyone heartily agreed.
With Erik McNeil in the irons, Plot Twist broke in front of only one horse in the seven-horse field and came five wide into the stretch and made a late bid to catch He’s So Zazzy in the stretch drive and prevail by ¾ length. Diamond Joe was next, another 1 ½ lengths back.
A strong finish produced the win and a return of $75.20 on a $2 win ticket.
$75,000 NORTHBOUND PRIDE OAKS
Sometimes a simple adjustment, a modest change in strategy, can produce a winning result.
Take Inconclusive, owned by Carolyn Friedberg of Minneapolis, who has been stalking the pace further back than she did under Denny Velazquez in this race.
“She’s been running too far back,” said trainer Richie Scherer.
Not this time.
Velazquez kept his mount on the rail never more than two lengths behind the leaders and took her out, three wide, near the upper stretch and began an all-out drive to catch Princess Erindelle by a neck at the wire, another neck in front of Frozen Hannah in third.
“Denny rode a great race,” an elated Scherer said.
Joe Friedberg, summoned to the post-race microphone on behalf of his wife, left fuller explanations on the matter to the trainer.
“I didn’t train the horse or ride the horse,” he said.
Scherer and Velazquez handled those duties. “She’s just been two far back in other races,” Scherer said. “And she’d come huffing and puffing trying to catch up.”
That was not the case on Saturday.
All HAIL THE DARKMAN
The running of the Cup unfailingly produces remembrances of its namesake, Dark Star, whose legacy continues to grow as more stories appear about his sometimes rather unusual behavior. Saturday’s running produced this recollection:
A practical joker and prankster, the Darkman typically was up to no good if you turned your back on him. Walk away from your food plate to place a bet and it sometimes had disappeared upon your return. It might reappear in the most unlikely of places, usually none the worse for the wear but sometimes noticeably depleted from its original state. The frequency of a particular joke never lost its robust humor with Dark even though a victim had long since tired of it.
One time in a truly creative moment, the Darkman came up with a doozy. A handicapper in the press box had informed everyone within earshot not to divulge the winner of the Indianapolis 500 that afternoon if they had been privy to the final results. He had set his VCR to record the event and planned to watch the race later that evening.
To the handicapper’s extreme misfortune, the Darkman was among those within earshot. When the handicapper climbed into his automobile in the parking lot after the races there was a note awaiting him under a windshield wiper. Yes indeed…
That was the Darkman.