BY JIM WELLS
There are few things certain in life, but this much you can count on without reservation. What is being played on the radio these days is not country music. No steel guitar, no fiddle. Not country. Politics is not for sensitive, respectful people. Do we really need examples? The unqualified, absolute certainty, however, is this: there is no better sporting event during the month of May than the Kentucky Derby. For some of us, during the entire year.
Nothing catches the fancy of the American sporting public as does this particular race. Ask someone who knows nothing about racing and he or she will recognize this race, perhaps not the conditions under which it is run, but the name and even, perhaps, where it is run. The Kentucky Derby stands alone. It is one of a kind.
Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed. And before them, Citation, Whirlaway, Assault, Count Fleet. Kentucky Derby winners all, who were also Triple Crown champions. The list goes on…
The winner of the Kentucky Derby is generally a known commodity in bistros around the county that evening and outside of church doors the next morning. This is not simply a horse race, but a national event. But it is ephemeral, too. The winner’s name can breeze in and out of a person’s memory bank swiftly. It has the lifespan of a rose ( the race’s celebratory flower) in many cases. With us one moment and gone the next, and that is what makes it so special.
The special name for 2017 is Always Dreaming, so we can already imagine headlines across the sports sections tomorrow morning: Dream Comes True, Chasing a Dream pays off, The Dream is Real. Feel free at this point to insert your own guesses.
The Derby annually produces the largest wagering handle of the season at Canterbury Park and that will likely be the case again this season. On a bright, absolutely ideal afternoon outdoors, a crowd of 20,258 turned out to take in the Derby and welcome the 2017 live racing meet to Shakopee.
$50,000 L’ETOILE DU NORD STAKES
A mare named Thoughtless was on everyone’s mind after this race, her performance a dominating, much-the- best effort that left the second place Teelfa 3 ¼ lengths behind in her wake.
The owners, Barry Butzow and Hugh Robertson, were not on hand to receive the winning trophy, but it will no doubt be in good hands with winning trainer Mac Robertson, Hugh’s son and the defending champion trainer in Shakopee.
The 5-year-old mare broke fifth in the six-horse field, was never more than 2 lengths off the pace and came three wide into the upper stretch, at which point rider Alex Canchari asked for more and she simply drew off at midstretch.
“She’s a good filly,” said Robertson. “Now we have to get her long on the grass.”
Canchari rode the mare when she broke her maiden at Prairie Meadows in June of 2015 and was on her twice for money finishes at Oaklawn Park.
“She’s a nice horse,” he said.
$50,000 PAUL BUNYAN STAKES
In the winner’s circle after this race, paddock analyst Brian Arrigoni had a question for winning rider, Nik Goodwin, who was aboard longshot Shrewd Move at 16-1. “Where is Paul Bunyan from,” Arrigoni asked. “Bemidji,” said Goodwin. “And where are you from,” Arrigoni added. “Bemidji,” said Goodwin.
Goodwin had the Bunyan axe, the trophy, in his hands at that point, a gift from the owner of Shrewd Move, Karen Yeamans, who was certain that the axe wouldn’t be approved by gate attendants for her plane trip home to Sedona, Arizona.
Yet, she wasn’t certain she would need a plane at all. “I think I could fly home without one,” she said.
On hand to present the trophy was Jon Mikkelson, the track’s video production manager and the man who named this race in a track-sponsored contest. Mikkelson was dressed for the occasion, in a red plaid shirt and presented the axe to Goodwin.
The winner broke fourth in the six-horse field, angled to the rail and stalked the leaders to the top of the lane where the 5-year-old gelded son of Closing Argument took charge, moving to ¾ length win over Wings Locked Up and Alex Canchari.
Yeamans was raised in Southern California, near Santa Anita, but has lived in Arizona since the 1980s and now calls Sedona home. She made the trip but her trainer, Dan McFarlane, was in Phoenix, wrapping up the season at Turf Paradise.
She didn’t make this trip without a certain measure of confidence in this homebred. “We gave this horse three hard works in the deepest track we could find,” Yeamans said. And that was where?
“Keeneland,” she said.
Storm Advisory, the 6/5 favorite, was four wide heading into the upper stretch and faded, finishing fourth.