BY JIM WELLS
Steepwood Farm, located on the bluff outside of Lake City, offers a commanding view of the Mississippi River that extends across Lake Pepin into Wisconsin.
Absolutely gorgeous scenery, this sweeping panorama of the distant countryside and local waterways.
What you cannot see from this dramatic vantage point, however, is the future. There was no way four months ago, for instance, that the owners of Steepwood Farm envisioned what has happened to them at Canterbury Park this summer.
In fact, they were startled upon picking up a daily program at the track a couple of weeks ago and began examining statistics for the meet.
Yes, indeed, there there were, Cheryl Sprick and husband Richard Bremer, leading the owner standings. “Hey, will you look at this,” she said. “This is something we’ve never thought about. We’ve never even been close.”
They were surprised, Sprick added, because they tend to focus on individual horses, not in a collective sense of any kind. “It was really kind of shock,” she said. “Usually there are a whole bunch of names ahead of ours. We feel lucky to make the top ten.”
Sprick and Bremer are realists, a result of the work and the ups and downs involved in a stable they have been building for nearly three decades.
“We’ve become a 27-year overnight success,” Sprick said on Thursday by cell phone, en route to Shakopee to watch two of Steepwood’s horses perform.
“It’s taken that long to put everything together. With the horse business, you have to be willing to problem solve.”
This has been a most unusual year for Steepwood’s owners. With 14 wins, they have one more than Joe Novogratz, two more than Curtis Sampson, and three more than Al and Bill Ulwelling. Their horses have won more money, $306,980, than anyone else this meet. Their in-the-money ratio, 73 percent, is also best among the top five owners.
Better yet, all of Steepwood’s horses are homebreds, all of them bred and raised right there at the farm on the bluff. “That’s what makes it all the more remarkable for us,” Cheryl added. “When you breed your own, you’re stuck with what you get.”
Steepwood has 10 horses at Canterbury Park, nine of them with trainer Karl Broberg and the 10th with Tony Rengstorf.
One didn’t fit on the trailer and that’s the one that wound up in Rengstorf’s barn.
“That’s just the way it worked out,” Sprick added. That horse, Sassy Prance, had run second eight times before finally winning.
Steepwood had two horses entered on Thursday’s card, has two more running today and a fifth on Saturday. Sprick said they are waiting to see what kind of races come up next week to determine how many more they can start before the end of the meet on September 17.
“We know this could change at any time,” said Cheryl. “We’re incredibly happy this year, though. The horses have really come into their own, really done well. They look better than they ever looked.”
A title would be nice, of course, but regardless of what transpires over the final six days of racing, the season has turned out remarkably well for the stable from Lake City.
“Anything is (still) possible,” Sprick added, “but we know that Sampson has a lot more horses than we do and Novorgratz has some really well-bred horses.”
Breeders who race their own often are more closely connected to those horses, if for no other reason than they know their stories, beginning with their foaling.
“Every horse has its own story,” Cheryl said. In that case, of the 10 Steepwood is running at Canterbury this meet, which story is the most compelling?
It has to be Shipmate, Sprick says. This two-year-old was given a 50/50 chance of survival after undergoing colic surgery at 2 ½ weeks. Now she is three-for-three, including two stakes wins.
Two of the 10 Steepwood horses are winless this meet, yet Sprick says that as a whole they have outperformed expectations.
“We’re happy with every win we get,” Cheryl added. “A lot of times it’s a surprise.”
As it was two weeks ago when she looked at the owner standings that day. As of Thursday, fourteen of those surprises had Steepwood at the top of the heap.