Horse racing has more than its share of stories that tug at the heartstrings, bring tears to your eyes and leave otherwise stout human beings weak in the knees. It doesn’t take million dollar colts and fillies or regally-bred champions, either. When you’ve invested much of what you have – even in an expensive claimer – the stories can be just as heartrending as those attached to the big-money horses.
Horse racing is more about the little guy and his horses, anyway, since they are the backbone of the sport and outnumber the elite by a considerable number. They are the middle class of the game.
So it was that on a splendid Sunday afternoon that the turnout at Canterbury Park, at least those with their fingers on the pulse of local racing, found plenty to celebrate.
They didn’t have to wait long, either. The good stuff started in race one.
Want something to bring out the compassion?
Try this: with the meet swiftly winding down and all but over for the quarter horses, a trainer with a hard-luck story that gives the genre new meaning sent out the winner in a $16,000 stake. Sammi Santanna, ridden by Rusty Shaw and trained by Randy Weidner picked up first place money. It is a certainty the money will be well spent. Weidner’s stable was wiped out in Oklahoma this spring by a tornado. The native of Rosemount has fought his way back during the Canterbury meet from that devastating incident.
How about a truly feel-good story, one about a cherished horse fallen on hard times that fights back and looks like his former self?
Look no further than Sunday’s sixth race and the 2012 Horse of the Year, Heliskier.
Unbeaten with a 7-0 record through last May, Heliskier was vanned off the track in his second start of the summer after stumbling badly at the start and finishing last and ran second his last time out. Now, about to make his first start since July 20, Heliskier had a new rider, Justin Shepherd, for the first time in his career. Regular rider Derek Bell was injured, not severely, during a workout earlier in the day and did not ride Sunday.
Not to worry, Shepherd took the star of the Colvin stable straight to the winner’s circle, winning with daylight to spare.
“I knew he was back on Friday,” said owner Marlene Colvin. “(Trainer) Mac (Robertson) gave me two thumbs up.”
Was Shepherd concerned?
“I told Marlene that he was too much horse for me to mess up,” he responded.
“He had it his way today.”
Prefer a tale for your tender father-son side?
Well, jockey Nik Goodwin, who had a productive weekend on the racetrack, was bound for his home in Ocala, Fla., immediately after the races. He wanted to be there on Monday morning when his five-year-old son, Lane, leaves for his first day of kindergarten.
Would Goodwin remain stoical in the face of such an occasion? Jockey room custodian Jerry Simmons tried to prepare him just in case. “I’m not an emotional person,” Simmons said. “And I thought I’d be just fine walking my daughter down the isle,” he said. “But it all took me by surprise and…”
For a final happy story of the day, the tale of jockeys Rusty Shaw and Patricia Trimble, husband and wife, was a perfect finish.
Shaw, of course, rode the winner for Weidner in race one, his only mount of the day. Patricia rode Ridgestone, her only mount on the card and the winner of race five, for Harvey and Susan Berg.
As Shaw waited outside the winner’s circle to congratulate his wife, a bystander shouted: “Hey, that’s the way to go about it. Ride one, win one,” he said. “Ride less, win more.”
The philosophic concept sounded just fine to Trimble. “I’d rather ride one and win one than ride seven and not win,” she said.
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.