BY JIM WELLS
The $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby is the crown jewel of the racing season at Canterbury Park, an annual race for 3-year-olds that creates a certain type of anticipation and excitement. Wet, chilly weather threatened to dampen much of that anticipation when it moved into the area late this week.
Yet, as if on cue, the rains retreated Saturday and the signature race of the season was run without a hitch.
The Derby is fast acquiring a distinctive Minnesota flavor, a certain Wayzata flair that has played out in two of the last three editions of the race.
The connection, of course, is Bob Lothenbach, whose Nun the Less won the 2015 Derby. Saturday night, he made it two winners after Giant Payday made a giant move in the stretch drive to claim the star blanket, annually awarded by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community to the winner of the race.
Trainer Ian Wilkes was at Saratoga where he saddled McCracken on Saturday in the Travers Stakes. Told a day earlier in a telephone call that Giant Payday was the morning line favorite, Wilkes responded, “does that make us a winner.”
Well, it is now possible to respond with an emphatic “yes.” Wilkes, in fact, was on the phone moments after the Derby with Lothenbach in the winner’s circle to talk about the race. The conversation was short and sweet with a triumphant undertone.
It was evident earlier on the card that late-running horses seemed to be in favor, on the main track. As it turned out that trend translated onto the turf.
Giant Payday, a son of Giant’s Causeway, was last out of the gate in the 10-horse field and was chasing five horses at the top of the stretch. He went six horses wide under Chris Landeros to begin his drive and reached the wire a length in front of My Bariley and another half length in front of Sakonnet. The winning time was 1:40.39 after fractions of 24.68, 49.12 and 1:14.48.
“He wants to run late. You can’t push him too early,” Lothenbach said. “We’ve learned that about him.”
Landeros said he picked up that cue in the Arlington Classic when he pushed Giant Payday early and the colt simply ran out of gas. “When I let him run like he did tonight, when I let him dictate what he wants, he settles, he relaxes and runs his best race,” Landeros said.
The prerace conversation on Friday was mostly concerned with the weather. Would the race stay on the turf and be washed out and run on the dirt, a factor that possibly would have included some horses scratching from the lineup.
Although two earlier stakes on the card, the $50,000 Brooks Fields Stakes and the $50,000 HBPA Distaff, were moved to the dirt, the Derby stayed put and was run on a yielding course.
No Minnesota-bred has won this race, although there was one entered on Saturday for the first time in three years. Hot Shot Kid, ridden by Alex Canchari, drew the outside post in the 10-horse field. He did not hit the board, although he was among the leaders until flattening out in the stretch drive.
Lothenbach joined Terry Hamilton as the only other two-time winner of the race. Hamilton owned the first two winners of the Derby, Hammers Terror and Dorsett.
During that brief telephone conversation in the winner’s circle Saturday, Lothenbach summed up his feelings as he talked with Wilkes. “That was awesome,” he said. “Chris rode a great race. Just awesome.”
$50,000 BROOKS FIELDS STAKES
Andrew Ramgeet shook hands with a connection to the winning horse he had just dismounted. “Send him the dry cleaning bill,” a bystander shouted.
The reference was to Ramgeet’s rather muddy appearance after guiding his horse from last to first in the six-horse field, picked up considerable layers of mud in the process.
“Hey, what did you do, plan your move with the third change of goggles,” he was asked.
Not exactly, but the picture fit, as Patriots Rule circled the field five wide on the turn and inched his way to the front, finishing 1/2 length in front of second-choice Way Striking and two lengths ahead of (12/1) Malibu Pro.
Trainer Robertino Diodoro said the horse appeared to be in decline running on the West Coast, but closer examination told him that racing conditions and luck were largely responsible.
“He had a number of bad trips,” he said. “He needs to run back, but with a horse like this you need a pace and everything else has to be right, too.”
It went just as hoped, if not planned, on Saturday.
$50,000 HBPA DISTAFF
Few expected this outcome, not at 11-1, not in this field, but there she was in the winner’s circle, a longshot named Beach Flower who was certainly no wall flower when it came to performing on a muddy but, for her, favoring track.
“Moving to the dirt helped,” said winning rider Martin Escobar, whose victory was applauded by most of his colleagues as well as trainer Mac Robertson.
“He’s worked hard for me all the time I’ve known him,” said Robertson. “I’m happy for him.”
Beach Flower worked her way from the back of the 10 horse field and made her bid at the top of the stretch and reached the wire ¾ length in front of Seeking Paradise with Landeros up another 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Kera Kera.
INDIAN RELAY RACING
The best races yet in this annual tradition:
Championship: They don’t come any more exciting than this one.
In a thrilling race to the wire, Brew Crew, from the Oglala Sioux Tribe, claimed the title by a nostril or less with a late charge to catch Tissidimit.
But wait a minute. Brew Crew’s rider Sylvan Brown was charged with grabbing the inside rein of his competitor in the stretch drive and was disqualified.
Brown got a late charge from his third runner in the race to catch the Tissidimit horse and rider Jared Cerino, who won this race two years ago.
But the infraction was upheld and Cerino and Tissidimit, representing the Sho-Ban tribe of Fort Hall, Idaho, claimed the crown and a first place prize of $10,000.
A purse of $2,000 went to second place.
Consolation Title: C/M Warparty reached the wire first but was later disqualified because one of the team’s horses had escaped the clutches of the mugger and had run off. The title was subsequently awarded to Dolphus Racing and rider Jo Jo Yellowfat.
The one consolation in the reversal of winners? Both teams are from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.