Canterbury Loses A Friend

His hip was broken in a fall earlier in the day, so he was unable to attend an induction ceremony that night he never expected to be part of and wondered why he was.

Perhaps because selflessness was so ingrained in him it seemed part of his DNA.

“You girls should really go to the Hall of Fame,” he told his four daughters from his hospital bed that day. “I think it is going to be a nice party.”

Jack Walsh genuinely thought of others first, in ways small and large.

“He would always cut off the best part of a steak he was eating and give it to us,” said his daughter Kathy. “The best part of the t-bone was for us.”

He gave freely and easily, of his time, his work, his hobbies, himself…to the countless individuals he defended as a public attorney working out of Stillwater, to the many horseman and stable help he represented on the backside at Canterbury Park, frequently if not almost always without charge.

“He represented more than 100 horsemen before the (Minnesota Racing) commission,” said long-time friend and horse breeder Jeff Hilger. “He was a very humble man, the most honest one I’ve known.”

That was Walsh’s reputation, not only in his profession but throughout the horse racing scene in Minnesota and beyond. He was tireless in his advocacy of the down and the out, the individual without the background or finances to defend himself.

“That was his whole life, as a public defender, as a dad, as a neighbor,” Kathy said. “He was so many things__ lawyer, farmer, horseman, father, grandfather.

Walsh’s daughters _ Laura, Julie, Jackie and Kathy _ stood in for their father during his induction into the  Canterbury Park Hall of Fame the night of September 1. He did not make it that night or thereafter to Canterbury Park, a place he was part of, originally as a horse owner, since it opened as Canterbury Downs in 1985. He died on September 27 at age 86.

Walsh’s selection to the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame puzzled him. He did not understand why he would be chosen to join so many others he thought “truly deserving” of induction.

“He was so surprised and honored,” Kathy said. “He couldn’t believe it, that ‘these people chose me.’ ”

His family and friends knew better, including the people who came to count him as a friend after he offered them support in any of various matters that came before the racing commission or in a court of law.

Walsh had just finished his term as president of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Assn., a role he stepped into in August of 2016 upon the death of Tom Metzen, a man he counted as a friend.

“Jack was very professional,” said trainer Bernell Rhone, a member of the HBPA board. “He was always willing to help the underdog. He was not looking for publicity or high profile clients. He did things to help people out. He donated a lot of his time, and he didn’t charge for it.”

Walsh announced that he would not seek re-election to the position after battling a number of health issues in the previous year and was replaced as president this autumn by horse owner/breeder Scott Rake.

Yet he will be missed in many other ways. “He would fight for the guy without much money. He wasn’t after the big money cases like a lot of lawyers,” Rhone added.

Walsh stayed involved from the start, in numerous ways. He served on the board of the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association for several years and the local chapter of the HBPA.

Randy Sampson, the CEO of Canterbury, dealt with Walsh on numerous occasions, in meetings regarding contracts, purses or other horsemen’s issues and was frequently on the other side of a subject.

“I never heard one person say a bad word about Jack,” Sampson said. “Even on the opposite side of an issue. He had a very diplomatic way of handling things. Even if he disagreed with you, he said it in a way that was respectful and usually with a twinkle in his eye.”

Walsh was always on top of issues and understood them fully before he spoke. “He was very smart,” Sampson added, “and knew what was going on.  He could get right to the heart of an issue. He was a gentleman in such a way that is a lost art today. He was fun to be around.”

His friends appreciated his marvelous sense of humor. He loved telling the latest joke to them and any acquaintances who happened to step into his inner circle, particularly at the table he occupied on the first level whenever he was at Canterbury.

The horsemen with whom he connected appreciated his sincere interest in their welfare. He dealt with them openly, without the slightest suggestion of an ulterior motive.

“He got kind of thrown into a hot spot when we lost Tom,” said HBPA board member and trainer Tony Rengstorf. “But he took over and did an awesome job. He had a heart of gold and was such an amazing ambassador for racing.”

The backside understood that. “Absolutely,” Rengstorf added. “He cared about the people, the children.”

At one time Walsh had as many as twenty quarter horse broodmares on his property outside Somerset, Wisconsin. He sold off some sixty head of quarter horses when Canterbury Downs opened in 1985 and turned to thoroughbreds. Those he bred himself usually carried “Somerset” as part of their names, so it was easy to identify one of his runners in a lineup.

Father Paul Malone paid tribute to Walsh’s long affiliation with horses during his funeral services with the following story:

“What is the difference between praying in church and praying at the racetrack? ” he asked the congregation.  “When you pray at the racetrack,”

Malone said, “you mean it.”

Jack Walsh would have loved it.

 

JIM WELLS

 

 

A HORSEMAN IN MANY, MANY WAYS

by Jim Wells

When you ask him a question, be prepared for an answer that is not black and white or yes or no, that is somewhat involved and complex yet easy to track nonetheless.

Then again, portraying a lifetime in the horse business is not a simple task, and it might help to know that Jack Walsh was first and foremost a highly respected defense attorney during a long and distinguished career. When is the last time you got a simple answer from an attorney?

Walsh comes closer than any, although there are plenty of detours and excursions along the way that prevent an absolutely clean, straight story line. Still, the motives in his life narrative are of the purest and simplest form, beginning with the love of his children Laura, Julie, Jackie, and Kathy, his grandchildren, and of the equine world itself.

The start was basic, a Shetland pony in 1965 for three-year-old Laura, the first of the four daughters. By the time she turned eleven, their farm between Stillwater and Somerset included an indoor riding arena, 180 by 60 feet in size, a fixture still standing on the property, and Laura was riding in quarter horse shows.

Let’s skip ahead a few years to when twenty or more quarter horse broodmares occupied the premises _ a spendy venture, Walsh called it, and an enterprise that ended in 1979, when he sold the mares and auctioned sixty head of quarter horses he bred.

He also lectured on Equine Law at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls for some seventeen years. Somewhere along that timeline a fellow named D. Wayne Lukas, who once trained quarter horses near Rochester while teaching in LaCrosse, gave a talk at the University and paid a visit to the Walsh farm afterward. Walsh’s enterprise was well known to the serious practitioners of quarter horse racing in the area. Lukas was also in the midst of making the switch to thoroughbreds around that time, and Walsh would follow suit with the opening of Canterbury Downs in 1985, running a horse named Una’s Friend, his first thoroughbred, trained by Dave Crandall of White Bear Lake.

“The first time we ran, I got a check,” Walsh, 86, recalled, “and I remember thinking, how easy is this?”

Time would disabuse him of such notions but not deter him from the business of racing or his whole-hearted involvement in the industry. He tried cases before the American Quarter Horse Racing Association in Amarillo, Texas, and represented more than 100 horsemen before the Minnesota Racing Commission.

The best thoroughbred he bred? “Maybe Shot of Somerset,” he said. “A pretty nice horse.”

The thoroughbreds he bred all carried the name of Somerset, homage, of course, to the nearby Wisconsin village. “There was a period of time when Jeff Hilger, Curt Sampson, Dennis Strohkirch and myself were some of the biggest breeders in the state, but not anymore,” he said.

Times change and people change, but Walsh has stayed involved from the start, in many ways. He served on the board of the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association for several years and the local chapter of the HBPA as well, a body of which he is currently serving out his term as president.

Hilger, a retired breeder, HBPA president and member of Canterbury Park’s Hall of Fame, attests to the respect Walsh has in the legal field with the following story:

Hilger was on jury duty in Washington County in the early 1990s and overheard two men debating a point when one of them bellowed, ‘who do you think you are, Jack Walsh?’

Walsh’s easy-going style during conversation betrays the hypnotic effect he must have had on the men and women in the jury box with his sonorous, baritone voice. Yet the more salient point is that he comes across as a good-natured, honorable person seeking only justice, and people who know him well say he is absolutely that. “In the thirty years I’ve known Jack, I have not heard a person say a bad word about him,” Hilger added.

Raised on the East Side of St. Paul, he attended Cretin High School, the College of St. Thomas and then the William Mitchell College of Law.

He was also a skater, for the St Paul, Minneapolis and University Club figure skating organizations from 1951 to 1954.

Walsh, at one time, had a pasture full of cattle at his farm, too, but it is his annual bison feed the Saturday after Thanksgiving for which he is noted, with more than 100 invitees often attending.

He was absolutely dumbstruck upon hearing he would be included as one of this year’s Canterbury Hall of Fame inductees. “It was the furthest thing from my mind,” he said, “to be included alongside people like the Sampsons, and the Schenians and so many others.”

Then again, if more supporting evidence is necessary, there is this comment Hilger once made to Walsh: “I’ve never known anyone who spent more money in horse racing and made less than you.”