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.
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.