STATE STARS SHINE ON FESTIVAL DAY

BY JIM WELLS

Steamy, muggy, humid. Or as mother used to say, “close.”

Under those conditions, Canterbury Park conducted the 24th running of the Festival of Champions Sunday, an afternoon of racing restricted to Minnesota-bred horses and highlighted by a sensational two-year-old, a pair of full brothers who won the two quarter horse races, the retirements of two prominent and celebrated horses, the crowning of the quarter horse riding and training champions, the return of a Hall of Fame rider and various other tidbits of racing interest.

$85,000 NORTHERN LIGHTS DEBUTANTE

First-time starter, a two-year-old, didn’t get much work, don’t know what to expect with these babies, then a big bump out of the gate knocks her sideways, might as well go home, prepare for next time.

Whoa! Not so fast. Not if you happen to be a filly named Firstmate, a daughter of Midshipman from Lion Club, and a $50,000 MTA yearling sales-topper.

That changes the entire paradigm; it certainly did in the Northern Lights Debutante.

This filly underwent all of the aforementioned setbacks but was not deterred by a single one, putting herself back in the race once she regained her equilibrium.  Firstmate regained the confidence of rider Quincy Hamilton with a strong move into the turn. “I knew she was just fine then,” he said.

The stretch drive remained but, once there, this Midshipman baby began saluting the finish line with a finishing kick that left the competition in dramatic arrears.

Owner Barry Butzow regained his entire purchase price in this lady’s maiden outing, an infrequent if not rare occurrence. Firstmate was running third, three lengths off the lead at the head of the stretch. She had nine lengths on Raging Gold Digger and another neck on Cabloosie Bay at the finish.

The time for  the race was 1:13.24.

So what was it caught Butzow’s eye at the MTA sale?

“I looked at her size and the way she was put together,” he said. “You can look in her eye and see that she’s a classy animal.”

Classy indeed and a $51,000 bank account to prove it…after one race.

$60,000 DISTAFF CLASSIC

When does, oh , say, 100 yards or so translate into an inch or two?

When those distances are measured on the racetrack and applied to the dynamics of a given race.

Say, the mile and 1/16th Festival event for fillies and mares three years of age and older.

If, for example, Jareth Loveberry had waited another 100 yards to move his horse, instead of asking her early on the turn, his horse’s head likely would have hit the wire with room to spare. “I made a mistake,” he said. “I moved wrong.”

Additional proof that even one of the two best riders in Shakopee this summer can goof up on occasion. That early move proved vital, allowing Pinup Girl under Leslie Mawing to catch the tiring leader from the ¾ pole, Double Bee Sting, and bob his head at the right time.

The loss denied owner Curtis Sampson, the current leader, another win in his pursuit of the champion owner’s crown for the meet.

At the same time, it helped balance the books for trainer Sandra Sweere, whose recent drought was on her mind at the finish of this particular race.

First, however, there was the matter of that nail-biting finish.

“We wanted to make it exciting,” she said, then turning to the serious ramifications of winning a $60,000 race, like making up for a dry spell in the barn this summer. “This will make a difference,” she said. “We needed this.”

-Pinup Girl, with a winning time of 1:45.06, had a head on Double Bee Sting at the wire and eight additional lengths on Sioux Appeal.

$60,000 DISTAFF SPRINT

There were subtexts and stories within a story in this four-horse race that brought together former allies in pursuit of one last victory for a retiring mare, who won the race two years ago and finished second last year to the morning line favorite this time around.

Jeff and Deb Hilger, owners and breeders of Rockin the Bleu’s, teamed up with rider Scott Stevens, their very first jockey in the business, to ride this last race for them and the horse, now retirees from the sport that has been their passion the last three decades. Could this daughter of Rockport Harbor dig deep enough to beat the younger rival who defeated her in this race last year, Honey’s Sox Appeal? Could she deliver one last time?

Horse racing has plenty of stories that deliver such scripts. This was not one of them.  Under Alex Canchari, Honey’s Sox Appeal took command at the top of the lane and drew off to hit the wire 1 ½ lengths in front of Rockin the Bleu’s and Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens.

“We tried. She ran hard and gave it her all,” said Stevens.

One person’s unfilled story is another’s tale of triumph.

With Alex Canchari up, Honey’s Sox Appeal waited patiently until finding room on the inside to make her move at the three-sixteenth’s marker.

Owner Bob Lindgren extolled the consistency of his horse, a prerace record of 5-4-2 from 12 career starts, and all of the signs that pointed to a victory in this race, including the best Beyer in the field.

All of that was in evidence as Honey’s Sox Appeal repeated as the Distaff Sprint champion.

$85,000 NORTHERN LIGHTS FUTURITY

There was only one question in any pre-race analysis before this race:

Would something unforeseen prevent the odds-on favorite and projected easy winner from dominating 10 rivals for the winner’s share of the pot?

Possibly only something that trainer Valorie Lund had experienced before. She once saddled an odds-on choice whose presence had created what handicappers were calling a one-horse race. Low and behold a goose flew out of the infield and struck the horse, causing it to stop momentarily and ultimately loose the race.

All of that was in the back of her mind when she sent out Mr. Jagermeister a heralded two-year-old colt with two races under his belt and a record of 1-1-0. She knew that everything indicated there wasn’t a horse in this race the equal of Mr. Jag,  yet the story of the goose infiltrated her confidence.

This talented two-year-old had won by 11 ½ lengths in his maiden start at Canterbury July 4, but finished second at Prairie Meadows at the end of the month when he tired after running a 44 and 3 half mile. He had set all of the fractions but the last in that race. “He went too fast  at the front so I took the blinkers off  hoping to settle him for this year,” she explained.

The plan worked.

With Andrew Ramgeet up, Mr. Jagermeister smoked eight rivals, gliding to a 15 ½ length victory over Speeding Kid and 18 ¾ in front of Magic Cowboy.

The future for this speedball is still in the making, but there is a footnote to the story: The horse is owned by Lund and two of her sisters. Her sister Kristin Boice bought the dam, Frangelica, to breed to Atta Boy Roy. She, Valorie and Leslie Cummings are the owners of record and celebrated the fact that no geese were present to interfere with their horse’s dominating performance.

$60,000 CROCROCK SPRINT CHAMPIONSHIP

Smooth Chiraz has a name that conjures up thoughts of a fine liqueur, an after-dinner drink or an introductory libation to begin a late evening conversation.

A drink with a bit of fire in it, followed by a smooth and palatable aftertaste.

Which is precisely what Smooth Chiraz typically needs to win a race. He has to fire quickly and then glide effortlessly on the lead, guiding the field to the finish line, as he did on Sunday is this sprint for 3-year-old and older colts and geldings.

With Jareth Loveberry in the irons, Smooth Chiraz led this race gate to wire, dueling on the lead and then taking charge inside the quarter pole. It was his kind of race, and the 4-year-old son of Chitoz drew off in the stretch drive to a 4 ¾ length win over Fridaynitestar, who had ¾ length on odds-on favorite and 2015 horse of the year Hold for More.

“Today he fired,” said trainer Francisco Bravo. “And when he runs on the front, his heart gets big and he’s built to be a sprinter.”

Smooth Chiraz was sent off at 9-1 in a seven-horse field that included the seven-year-old Bourbon County, who beat only one horse.

“It’s official,” said owner Scott Rake of Bourbon County. “He’s retired.”

$60,000 WALLY’S CHOICE CLASSIC

New trainer, new owner and a new lease on life.

That sums up in part at least the interesting saga of the winning horse in this race, who had fewer earnings than all but one horse in the seven-horse lineup and last won in claiming company on June 22.

True West, previously trained by Karl Broberg, was claimed from Cheryl Sprick and Richard Bremer for $10,000 in May. John Mentz became the new owner and Mac Robertson took over the training.

Sunday afternoon, True West, whose previous earnings totaled $73,105, was sent off at 11-1 and picked up a check for $36,000, defeating a field that included two previous winners of the race, A P is Loose (2015) and Speed Is Life (2016).

“We were very happy with this win and where we were (throughout),” said Mentz. “We knew we had horse.”

With Israel Hernandez up, True West was part of the pace into the first turn and stayed part of the chase to the head of the stretch where he took command and held off all threats to finish one length in front of Vanderbilt Beach at 6-1 and two and ¾ lengths ahead of A P Is Loose at odds-on money.

$50,300 MINNESOTA DERBY, $51,000 FUTURITY

There was a television sitcom some time ago that sizes up these two races perfectly:

ALL IN THE FAMILY.

How better to describe a tandem of races won by full brothers owned by the same family, who got into the business 11 years ago after being approached by a horse owner after church.

Owner Bruce Lunderborg and  his wife, Judy, live in Weber, about 10 miles north of New Ulm. He was video taping a service at St. John’s Church in Farifax. Afterward he was approached by a fellow who wanted to sell him half interest in a horse.

Lunderborg turned him down.

But not the second time.

Sunday, the Lunderborgs were in the winner’s circle after PYC Jess Bite Mydust won the Derby under Brayan Velazquez and again a short time later when Dickey Bob won the Futurity , again under Velazquez. Joining them both times was the track’s leading quarter horse trainer Jason Olmstead. The winning horses are full brothers, by Apolitical Jess from Paint or More.

Pyc Jess Bite Mydust

QUARTER HORSE AWARDS

Olmstead received his champion belt buckle after winning the trainer’s title a third straight year.

The difference this time?

He was pressed until the last two or three weeks by Hall of Fame trainer Ed Ross Hardy, who won 12 training titles at Canterbury.

“He made a heck of a race of it,” said Olmstead. “We just outnumbered him (with number of starting horses). That was the only difference.”

Oscar Delgado thought of only one thing after winning the riding title:

His family.  “You have to mention them,” he said. He was referring to his wife, Toni, daughters Celeste and Madisyn and son, Christian. “And we have one on the way,” he added.

 

GOOD GUYS, AND HORSES, CAN FINISH FIRST

Dazzlingsweetheart
Dazzlingsweetheart

BY JIM WELLS

 

Young horses are often a handful_ fractious in racetrack parlance. Difficult in the barn, or the paddock or the gate.

Now meet the morning line favorites for the $85,000 Minnesota Oaks and the $85,000 Minnesota Derby, Dazzlingsweetheart and Smooth Chiraz, a couple of three-year-olds who not only defy such descriptions but are quite the opposite.

“She’s a real sweetheart,” said Barry Butzow, who owns the Oaks favorite with his wife, Joni.

“He’s very kind and quiet. You don’t even know he’s in the barn,” said Francisco Bravo, trainer of Smooth Chiraz.

There’s a simple explanation for Dazzlingsweetheart’s easy-going demeanor. It’s a difficult assignment to unnerve a horse who experienced the worst and then some as a weanling.

She was in a barn that was destroyed by a tornado. “She should have died,” Butzow said, “but somehow she survived.”

Butzow said he choked up when he got this response from the breeders after purchasing this daughter of Dazzling Falls:

“You just paid for our new barn,” he was told by the breeders, Mary and Eric Von Seggern of Pilger, Nebraska.

“That tornado took their whole barn,” Butzow said.

If there is an equine equivalent for PTSD, Dazzlingsweetheart might have contracted it.  Regardless of the explanation, she was slow to mature and didn’t hit the racetrack until this year, her three-year-old season.

The Butzows sent her to Florida as a yearling, to a handler they use there. She wasn’t ready yet at age two so they held her back until May 21st this year when she broke her maiden in Shakopee. She won both of her starts thereafter, including the $60,000 Frances Genter Stakes her last time out.

She is 3-for-3, the only unbeaten filly in today’s race.

And that personality?

“We had 25 people at the barn last Sunday,” Butzow said. “A lot of kids. She simply loves kids.”

She loves winning, too, and is a 9/5 morning line favorite among eight rivals in today’s race, including Honey’s Sox Appeal, a 5/2 choice who ran second to the presumptive favorite in the Frances Genter.  Joe Sharp will saddle Dazzlingsweetheart today and Chris Rosier will ride.

Smooth Chiraz
Smooth Chiraz

 

Then there is Smooth Chiraz, a gelded son of Chitoz, who won the Victor S. Myers Stakes in commanding fashion the same afternoon the Frances Genter was run. This fellow is two-for-four this year and four-for six lifetime with earnings of $128,884.

“Usually a horse like this comes back from a workout and can be kind of mean to handle. He’s big and he’s strong, but he’s really mellow,” said Bravo.

The hotwalkers love this guy despite his size because of that attitude. “His mother (Memory Divides) was the same way, really easy going,” Bravo added.

Smooth Chiraz won the Victor S. Myers in his last out by seven lengths and will face some of the same competition today, namely Smooth Stroke and Pensador.

Despite his relaxed demeanor, there are specific occasions when his blood pressure rises.

There are times when you have to watch yourself around him. “The only time you have to be careful, ” Bravo said, “is when you are coming off the race track with him and he hears horses behind him. He either wants to run with them or away from them. He’s very competitive.”

Equally so at dinner time, or any other time for that matter. “He loves to eat,” his trainer said. “He eats constantly. But he sits back in his stall without a fuss.”

Chiraz, with Dean Butler in the irons, will be the favorite in today’s field of 11 for the Derby, and rightly so. Yet Bravo, naturally, is not taking anything for granted.

“Not ever,” he said. “You never know.”

Smooth Chiraz, Dazzlingsweetheart win stakes

BY JIM WELLS

SMOOTH CHIRAZ - Victor S Myers Stakes - 07-04-16 - R04 - CBY - Finish

VICTOR S. MYERS STAKES

The joy of winning a race can sometimes be enough including as it does validation of a job well done. The monetary reward that goes with it is additional compensation for the investment of time and money, and sometimes there is even more.

Take the case of Francisco Bravo, the trainer of Smooth Chiraz, Monday’s convincing winner of the $60,000 Victor S. Myers Stakes Monday, named for the late veterinarian who played various roles in the early years of Minnesota racing.

The victory was special to Bravo for additional reasons. While studying at the University of River Falls in the 1970s, Bravo met Myers, who was part of the equine program there. “He became a mentor to me and we became friendly,” Bravo recalled. “I learned a lot from the man.”

Special indeed, how lives sometimes overlap, drift apart and are then reconnected, even in a spiritual way as was the case Monday with Bravo, who saddled his third winner of this race. He saddled last year’s winner, Hold for More, who was selected Horse of the Meet, as well as 2000 winner Crocrock

Smooth Chiraz, winner of the Northern Lights Futurity by a head over Cupid’s Delight last year, expanded that margin to seven lengths Monday over the same stablemate, who finished ¾ length in front of front-running speedster Bar fight.

Smooth Chiraz beat only one of his six rivals out of the gate but was a half length behind Bar Fight at the half-mile marker and, gathering steam, was 2 ½ in front at the top of the lane and steadily increased the lead in the stretch run.

 

DAZZLINGSWEETHEART - Frances Genter Stakes - 07-04-16 - R06 - CBY - Finish

FRANCES GENTER STAKES

Dazzlingsweetheart typically takes charge shortly out of the gate and can then go to the lead and stay there. Imagine what she might do if she learns how to break cleaner and quicker.

Not that she needs to, at least not yet.

After all, she is three-for-three after winning this $60,000 Stakes race in convincing style on Monday.

With Chris Rosier in the irons, Dazzlingsweetheart beat only one other filly out of the gate but was at the head of the seven-horse field quickly and lead thereafter, finishing 3 ¼ lengths in front of Honey’s Sox Appeal and another 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Stella’s Princess.

The winning time was 1:09.95, second fastest in this event that was first run in 1988.

“She got away a little slow from the gate,” said Rosier, “but she made up for it quickly.”

The winner is owned by Barry and Joni Butzow and trained by Joe Sharp. Barry Butzow complimented Rosier’s resilience, his ability to deal with the “ups and downs” of horse racing with composure.”

WELCOME BACK PAUL NOLAN

Paul Nolan won the riding title at Canterbury Park in 2006 and is frequently cited for his victory in the 1997 Lady Canterbury Stakes aboard 32-1 longshot K Z Bay.

After an absence of several years from Shakopee while riding in other jurisdictions, Nolan planned to ride the entire meet at Canterbury this summer until an accident curtailed that plan.

He was galloping horses for Michael Stidham at the time and while grazing a filly one morning was kicked in the chest, a blow that broke two of his ribs.

On Monday, Nolan returned to the saddle with one mount, a filly named First Hunter trained by the meet’s current leading trainer Mac Robertson and bred and owned by Joel Zamzow of Duluth.

FIRST HUNTER -  07-04-16 - R05 - CBY - 001 Post Race

You might recall a filly named Hunter’s Tiger Paw from year’s past, a horse named by Zamzow’s daughter Hunter who was five at the time. That horse is the dam to First Hunter and Hunter the daughter, who’ll shortly turn 15, was on hand in the winner’s circle after the fifth race.

Track announcer Paul Allen made the crowd aware of Nolan’s special connection to Canterbury in the winner’s circle after the race, and the rider, happy but a bit winded, was clearly pleased by the reception.

First Hunter has had trouble switching leads and Mac explained that to Nolan when he worked the horse the other day.

Sure enough, she balked at switching in Monday’s race.

When Nolan gave her a stern request, she at last replied, breaking to the lead and the win. “Without that, she doesn’t win,” Nolan said.

The race was for Minnesota-bred maidens at a mile and 70 yards on the turf. Thus,  First Hunter collected her first win, Nolan got a reintroduction to Shakopee racing and the Zamzow family returned to Duluth on a happy note.

THE LAST WORD

Owner Jeff Hilger was discussing his horse, Bar Fight, a son of former Horse of the Year Chick Fight, shortly before the Victor S Myers Stakes.

“He has amazing speed. He could beat some quarter horses,” Hilger remarked, adding that he was probably best at quarter horse distances, too. “He goes right to the front. Now we have to figure out how to keep him there through the whole race.”

“He had such a big lead in his last race that nobody could catch him,” Hilger said. “But he almost collapsed at the finish line.”

Bar Fight went straight to the lead on Monday, too, and hung on for show money.