Aroney – A Class Act

Aroney is a 9-year-old bay gelding, non-descript aside from the heart-shaped white marking on his face, just below his forelock. His strong muscles ripple underneath his gleaming coat and his ears are pricked, sensitive and alert, belying his age.

 Aroney was recently acquired by Nextgen Racing Stable, a group of owners that run their horses at Canterbury Park. The partnership is comprised of relatives of Canterbury Chairman of the Board Curt Sampson, including his son Russ Sampson and several nieces, nephews and grandchildren. He is trained by Tony Rengstorf, and is entered to run tonight in the second race. Orlando Mojica will guide him from post position nine.

The gelding isn’t a superstar – in fact he hasn’t won since last September when he won a starter allowance at Kentucky Downs at a mile and a half on the rolling turf course. He comes into the race off of several disappointing performances at Oaklawn, but those races were contested on the dirt, a surface that has clearly been at least part of the cause of many of Aroney’s subpar performances. Tonight, Aroney was supposed to return to the grass, his preferred surface, but inclement weather has forced all turf races to the main track.

Aroney holds a spot in Canterbury’s record book at that ‘about 1 and 1/16 mile’ on the turf. Almost four years ago on June 20, 2013, the last season he raced in Minnesota, Aroney blazed through the distance in 1:40.83, setting a turf course record that still stands. He also raced in Minnesota the year prior, when he won three races in a row. Over the course of the two summers that Aroney was stabled at Canterbury, he ran 11 times. Of those 11 starts, he won four and finished second in four.

The gelding is what many would consider to be a bit of a war horse, or at least well on his way to becoming one. He has raced 82 times, consistently running between 12 to 14 times a year, never sidelined, rarely getting a break of more than a month at a time. He has won 10 races, come in second in 13 and third in 12. He has earned $227, 201 dollars in his 7-year career, a good chunk of that won here at Canterbury Park. Aroney has been in and out of different shedrows all over the country, his papers have changed hands many times, and his name has appeared on the set-lists of different trainers.  He probably hasn’t made any of them rich, but he’s tried hard, and he’s won for most, if not all of them. He’s paid his way.

Aroney’s return to Minnesota is somewhat like a coming home party. In addition to being the place where he ran his best races, and the only track where he set a course record, there is another reason that Aroney is tied to Minnesota racing history. Aroney’s original owner was Minnesotan Bentley Smith, son in law of Frances Genter, a famed, Derby-winning Minnesotan whose Genter Stables owned and bred some of the fastest and finest thoroughbreds to race in the mid and latter parts of the 20th century, up until her passing in 1992. After she died, Smith took over responsibility of her stable before branching out and creating his own. Like his mother-in-law, most of Smith’s horses were in training with the Hall of Fame trainer Carl Nafzger, who won the Derby for Mrs. Genter in 1990 with champion colt Unbridled. Aroney was one of the last to run for the successful duo before Smith’s death in 2011.

Aroney was originally purchased by Dave Astar of Astar Lindquist, LLC from the Bentley Smith Estate Sale in 2012. It was Astar who bought him as a little piece of Minnesota nostalgia and brought him to Canterbury for the first time, proud to own a homebred of the late, great Bentley Smith. Aroney ran successfully for him for a couple years before he was eventually claimed. This winter in Oaklawn Park, trainer Tony Rengstorf recognized the horse with the heart on his head, and remembering what he had accomplished at Canterbury Park in the past, purchased him privately at the end of the Oaklawn meet. Nextgen Racing Stable was eager to acquire Aroney and bring him home to Minnesota. “We want to see if he can regain his old glory,” explained Russ Sampson.

As Aroney attempts to regain that old glory, he continues to carry the torch for Bentley Smith. He is now the only horse still running that was once owned by the Minnesota horse racing legend. But Aroney is also what the future is made of. Nextgen Racing Stable was formed to carry on the racing tradition of the Sampson family, and what better way to build a foundation for future generations in Minnesota racing than to stake it on the strength and nostalgia of that which came before. Aroney may just be a non-descript bay horse with a heart on his head, but he represents much more in the past and future of Canterbury Park and horse racing in Minnesota.

Katie Merritt is a senior at the University of Kentucky and currently an intern in the Canterbury Park Press Box. Before returning to school she galloped at several tracks around the country, but spent the majority of her time working for Carl Nafzger and Ian Wilkes. Katie galloped Aroney in 2010 and 2011 while working for Wilkes. 

La Petite Cheri remains undefeated


La Petite Cheri, 2015 Northern Lights Debutante champion, remained undefeated in three starts by winning the second race last Friday. The 3-year-old filly was facing older Minnesota-breds in a dirt sprint in her seasonal debut.

“We don’t like to run 3-year-olds against older,” Canterbury Chairman of the Board and La Petite Cheri’s owner Curtis Sampson said as he entered the walking ring prior to the race. “We didn’t really have a choice. She’ll probably run fourth.”

The patriarch of the Sampson empire had to be pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

La Petite Cheri, a filly that won last year by sitting well off the pace and closing, showed a different style this time. Jockey Hugo Sanchez had her right near the pace.

Russ Sampson, Curt’s son, takes credit for the ride. “I told Hugo, you go and claim the rail, then give her a breather.”

Hugo did just that and then, at the top of the stretch, La Petite Cheri swung into position behind the lone speed, Shaboom and Dean Butler, and out finished her elder to win by a half-length.

“Hugo said he could have won by more,” Russ said.

The betting public got it right, as late money poured in on La Petite Cheri, making her the favorite at 1.90 to 1 odds.

“We could have run her in the 3-year-old stake,” Russ said, referring to the open-company L’Etoile du Nord on May 22. “We decided to stay with Minnesota-breds.”

A Minnesota-bred did run in the L’Etoile du Nord however and finished second. That was Jeana Baby, a filly bred by the Bleu Valley Farm and the late Cam Casby. She sold for $100,000 at auction and ran four times in California. She was claimed for $50,000 from her maiden breaking win in that fourth start.

“That filly may be the one to win it all,” Russ said. ‘All’ would be the Frances Genter Stakes on July 4 and the $85,000 Minnesota Oaks on July 30. Both races are restricted to 3-year-old Minnesota-bred fillies.

PA’s Big Day

PaulAllenThere is something eerily suggestive about a man being fired out of a cannon on Memorial Day, but that is the featured act of Monday’s sideline activities. All in all, the idea is not any stranger than other events that have unfolded over the weekend.

On Saturday’s card, for example, track announcer Paul Allen, who began handicapping professionally for Brad Free at the Pasadena Star-News in 1989, had the first eight-win day of his career. “I’m pretty sure I had a bunch of sixes,” he said, “but never an eight before.”

Then, on Sunday, Allen made this proclamation after the sixth race. “Yesterday was the wedding. Today’s the funeral. I’m down $100.”

Also on Sunday, Tony Rengstorf, who was 0-for-32 on the turf last season, took the first turf win of 2013 with a horse named Minnesota Thunder. So… no wins in 2012, then the first grass win of the new season and Rengstorf was attending a family function and wasn’t on hand for the occasion.

“So, his assistant, Jackie Anderson, gets credit for the win,” quipped Russ Sampson, whose father owns the winning horse.

In view of Allen’s grand day on Saturday, pressbox impresario Jeff Maday had this to say (tongue in cheek):

“I picked five and felt inadequate.”

Pestered by the press on the best day of his career, Maday would say only: “Oh, I don’t know, I guess maybe I’ve had seven. But I simply don’t rest on my laurels. Every day’s a new day, every card’s a new challenge. And, of course, I can’t ride those animals myself.”

Later, Maday added – after calling the first and second place horses in the sixth race in the track program – “the readers all know that I’m red hot. No need to rub anything in by saying I’ve won seven, eight or whatever number of races. They’re all happy with what I’ve provided them.”

Humility is highly regarded in the newly-named Dark Star Pressbox, and there is never a shortage of the cherished virtue.

Allen’s big day went something like this:

Sikura’s Gift was the winner in the first race. “Finished gamely for my first of eight winners,” said Allen.

Policio came through for Senor Allen in race two. “I knew he had talent from last year and he looked the part.”

Raton Pass was winner number three and Getting Birdie made in four.

Allen was four-for-four but down $18.

Ladyofthelillys broke slowly and that ended the streak at four straight, but Kale’s Courage was winner No. 5 in the next race and Allen’s biggest win bet of the day. He bet the next winner, Gentle As A Breeze, to win also and cashed in.

Allen cashed out the day by picking both winners of the quarter horse heats, BP Painted Lady and Atsi Hero, Allen’s proudest pick of the day. Because?

Well, it paid $19 to win and Allen had it, admitting that he typically doesn’t do all that well on the Qs.

Allen’s triumphant day brought forth recollections of a similar kind from another pressbox regular, Ms Angela Hermann, who shared a winning pick four ticket worth more than $60,000 on…???

“It was Dec. 17th or 18th in 2011,” Ms. Hermann recalled. “We were playing Hollywood Park.”

Ms. Hermann and her partner that day had three horses in the first race, including the favorite, and a 33-1 choice that got up for the win… by a nose.

They singled Imperialistic Diva in the second race and she won by six.

They had two horses in the third, including the winning second choice at 5-1, Vicki Victoria.

That made race No. 4 a gimme since they had all 10 horses.

Here’s the clincher to that glorious day: There were two tickets in the nation with the 33-1 winner of race one.

And the strangest part of it all?

One of the horses Ms. Hermann included on her winning Hollywood Park ticket that big, big day didn’t win. His name was Porfido and he ran in Sunday’s sixth race at Canterbury.

Didn’t win Sunday either.

There were other stories Sunday, too.

Tote board messiah and all-around handy man Andrew Offerman recounted the day he and Allen had a friendly side bet on the eight races.

“We made a bet on most winners on the card with the longest-priced winner to be a tiebreaker if needed,” Andrew recalled.

Offerman had a 6-5 lead going into the final race on the card and a $15 winner to boot.

It was in the bag. That’s all she wrote. Sealed, signed and delivered, right?

Allen not only had the winner of the final race but the horse paid $15.40.

Oh yeah, it was also a horse Allen used to own in partnership, Chief Magistrate.

But, as Senor Maday put it so eloquently at the end of Sunday’s card:

“Oh, we had some prices today. I just didn’t have them. But tomorrow we crush.”


Donations for the silent and live auctions that will take place as part of this fundraiser can be placed by contacting Rosemary Higgins at 612 940-4324 or 763 389-0883. The fundraiser will be held at Silks bar in the grandstand at 6 p.m. on June 5. Dinner and entertainment are included for $15. The silent auction begins at 6 p.m., the live auction at 7:30 p.m.

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.