He’s not apt to give you a high five, a slap on the back or rap knuckles with you. It is often difficult to gauge just what’s stirring within him because his usual demeanor is that of a focused, take-charge individual.
To Dean Butler, the horse racing business is all business. There is no drama, no changes of direction, no ifs, ands or butts.
“He’s very professional, doesn’t miss anything. He’s not a guy you have to worry about missing an appointment,” said Pete Antonucci, Butler’s agent for the fifth consecutive meet at Canterbury.
Of course, it might be argued that Butler, 41, is exactly the kind of rider his agent represents. Antonucci had the book for Donna Barton and Luis Quinonez at one time, riders with very similar work ethics.
Butler’s professional attitude, work ethic and talent set him upon a successful pattern well before he made the decision to skip Ellis Park and head to Canterbury Park in 2006, where his father-in-law, Bernell Rhone, had a stable of 50 horses.
He married Rhone’s daughter, LeAnn, the year before, and she was carrying the first of their two daughters, Kayleigh, when they arrived in Shakopee.
Butler, now in his 20th season as a rider, already had credentials when he hit Shakopee, having won four riding titles at Philadelphia Park and one at Atlantic City.
There were 10 riders in front of him when he finished the 2006 meet in Shakopee with 25 wins. He finished fifth the next year with 39 wins and was third in 2008 with 70 winners. He won his first title in Shakopee the following season with 72 wins and won the next two meets with 76 and 83 wins.
Bernell Rhone would have told you at one time that he didn’t relish the notion of his daughter living the nomadic life of a race-tracker, but two granddaughters, Kayleigh and Kendall, in the last five years have clearly softened if not eliminated that concern completely.
And the trainer, who uses his successful son-in-law frequently in races, doesn’t dislike the business side of the relationship either.
“This has been profitable for both of us,” he said.
Everybody in the Rhone barn, for that matter: Rhone’s wife, Cindy, the barn manager; LeAnn, who gallops and helps run the operation. The Rhones’ son Russ is a farrier with substantial business at the racetrack.
The Butler girls get an early start to the day. They are up at 5 a.m. and it’s off to the babysitter’s shortly thereafter. After he finishes galloping for the morning, their father picks them up between 9:30 and 10 a.m. at a nearby barn and they rejoin the Rhone clan. ”
Butler’s work ethic might account for his serious countenance, at least part of it. “He’s thinking all the time,” Bernell said. “He thinks a lot, keeps track of horses and makes mental notes for the next trip. He can remember what a horse did three weeks earlier and he can tell you what happened in the race.”
That library of knowledge might be limited to fewer racing domains in the coming seasons.
Typically, Butler will head to Remington Park after the Canterbury meet and then to Tampa Bay Downs. Now, the deal with Mystic Lake and the possibility of a longer race meet in Shakopee has the Butlers hopeful of altering their lives to a two-track schedule: Canterbury summers and early autumn, Tampa Bay in the winter months.
Dean and LeAnn met on a blind date in 2003 and clicked from the start. Butler describes the meeting as one of the truly fortuitous events in his life. “I’ve been very lucky,” he said. “I met the love of my life, we have two great kids…”
The list, of course, goes on and on. He didn’t even get to the subject of winning riding titles, of perhaps winning his fourth straight this summer. There is simply too much business to take care of before that can take place.
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.
Photo Credit: Coady Photography