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.