Van Winkle Settled In At Tampa

Trainer David Van Winkle had been racing at Turf Paradise in Phoenix since late 1995. Phoenix became home for the native Nebraskan, wife Pam who he met in Minnesota, and their three kids. He would annually race at Canterbury for four months of summer and return to Phoenix for the meet that traditionally ran October through early May.

That changed when last fall Van Winkle made the decision, due to the uncertainty of a Turf Paradise meet being conducted, to take his stable to Tampa Bay Downs, some 2,100 miles from home.

“I wasn’t going to ship horses [to Phoenix] and have to ship out again,” Van Winkle said. Business is business, so he made the difficult decision. Pam has stayed in Phoenix. “It’s never good being away from home,” he said. He has flown back a couple of times and Pam has also visited Tampa. His daughter Taylor, an integral part of the stable operation, joined Van Winkle in Florida.

Taylor Van Winkle, David Van Winkle and analyst Brian Arrigoni, July 2017

Van Winkle left the construction trade in Nebraska in the 80s after deciding to seek a career in horse racing. He grew up in an age when racing in Nebraska was as good as any place in the Midwest, attending the races at Aksarben and Columbus with his father. He worked as an assistant trainer before going out on his own in 1989 when an owner suggested he take a few horses to then Canterbury Downs. He has been on his own ever since.

Van Winkle would return to Canterbury when it reopened under new leadership in 1995 as Canterbury Park. He concluded the season as leading trainer, saddling seven consecutive winners at one stretch that summer with the seventh being Grand Special T, the claimer of the meet. Van Winkle also won the training title at Hoosier Park that fall before heading to Phoenix for the first time.

He is a Canterbury Park Hall of Famer, inducted in 2006. Winner of three training titles in

Van Winkle with Prime Step

Shakopee, campaigning four consecutive Horses of the Year: Shot of Gold, J.P. Jet, Prime Step and Chisholm.  Van Winkle has had a remarkable and fulfilling career, doing what he loves. The location may have changed but the sentiment is the same.

“I do like it here,” he said of Tampa. “It started slow. They needed a race over the track. It’s deep but it is good on horses.” He won just one of his first 13 races at Tampa but since has won seven of 20 including two on Wednesday. The 24% win rate is strong at a very competitive meet. For bettors following along, his ROI is 1.54. Van Winkle horses bring square prices.

Turf Paradise management did eventually decide to run a shortened race meet but many working there fear it could be the last. For many, the future of horse racing is uncertain in Phoenix which hardly seems possible for a metro area that is somewhere between the sixth and tenth largest in the country depending on who is counting. This is a metro area that should be able to support a live meet in a market that already has a robust simulcast network statewide. Van Winkle is not the only racetracker that has relied on the Turf Paradise meet to make a living. He is not the only one that made the decision to leave.  And he is not the only one that is keeping an eye on what is currently taking place, hoping that somehow stability can return to the once glorious facility that first opened in 1956.


Van Winkle has entered 2020 Crocrock Minnesota Sprint Champion Fireman Oscar in Saturday’s $100,000 Pelican Stakes.

The Road to Kentucky Week 3 Recap

steak knives

“As you know, first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado.  Second prize is a set of steak knives.  Third prize is you’re fired.” — Blake, Glengarry Glen Ross

The Road to Kentucky contest track this past Saturday was Tampa Bay Downs, which featured a 12-race card highlighted by the Sam F. Davis Stakes.  Fast and firm conditions at Tampa Bay this week with relatively few scratches!

Unlike the first two contest weeks, there were bigger point totals available for those willing to fish in the deeper waters of Tampa Bay.  Although 5 of the 12 races were won by horses at less than 2-1 odds, the perfect score of 3,284 points was nearly 1,000 points more than the previous week’s maximum at Gulfstream Park.  And while I normally use 55-60% of maximum to estimate a winning score, that isn’t necessary this week as the winning scores have already been posted.  Congratulations to Keith Blatzheim for winning Week 3 with a score of 1,580 points!  And Robert Schwerzler also deserves a mention for his 5th place finish, as he has taken over the top spot in the overall standings.  Robert is the only player to successfully post a 1,000+ score in each of the first three weeks.  Averaging 1,000 points per week is a good estimate of what the overall winner will have.

The winner of the Sam F. Davis Stakes was the 8/5 favorite, Ocean Knight.  Ocean Knight is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and was ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr.  He was making his second career start after breaking his maiden impressively in a sprint at Aqueduct back in December.  He is sired by Curlin and handled the route of ground with no problem.  He took dead aim on the longshot leader at the top of the stretch and prevailed in a long duel by a neck at the wire.  That longshot leader was Divining Rod, who, at 28-1 pressed the pace early and then opened a clear lead on the backstretch.  He gave his backers their money’s worth, “digging in gamely” as Richard Grunder would say, but he was only second best on the wire.  Those two finished 5 lengths clear of the rest of the field.  Divining Rod broke his maiden at 1 mile on the dirt at Laurel Park, and then finished 4th in an Allowance turf race at Tampa Bay Downs.  He is sired by Tapit.

I showed some signs of life this week with a score of 922.  I was one of the hopefuls watching Divining Rod and hoping for divine intervention at the 16th pole when he was still clinging to the lead.  A 28-1 double point winner would have erased two weeks of less than mediocre selections!  But instead of getting the Cadillac El Dorado as quoted above, I got the steak knives.  Leaderboards are turned upside down at the bob of a head, and that’s what makes the game either exhilarating or agonizing!

On Saturday the Road to Kentucky contest track is Santa Anita.  The featured race is the Robert B Lewis Stakes, and the Withers Stakes is an additional double-point bonus race from Aqueduct.  Also, California Chrome, Shared Belief and Hoppertunity are all entered in the San Antonio Stakes.  Hope to see you here!

The Oracle

(The author is the reigning Canterbury Park Handicapper of the Year and a regular contributor to )

All Aboard on the Road to Kentucky

Basketball isolated on White Background

Ah yes, the fever. Derby Fever strikes earlier for some than others, but for the horseplayer at Canterbury the official first stop arrives on Saturday compliments of Tampa Bay Downs and their Sam F. Davis Stakes. This traditional prep for the Tampa Bay Derby has not exactly been a Kentucky Derby Contender factory, but the names in recent times to take this race have shown up in many more races of consequence both on the Triple Crown trail and beyond. Any Given Saturday, General Quarters, Bluegrass Cat, and Burning Roma are some of the more notable names to take this title in recent times, as well as Super Saver’s younger (and as it turned out, not quite as talented) brother Brethren in 2011. Of course this is an early prep and in reality the result doesn’t mean much for the time being, but there’s money on the line!

The Road to Kentucky contest at Canterbury will start with this race and continues each Saturday up to the Kentucky Derby. Weekly prizes go to the top six point-earners, and the top twenty-five players at the end of the line receive prizes varying from $100 to $2,000. It’s a pretty simple contest: Each Saturday morning  entry cards are distributed until first post of the day’s contest track. Select one horse in each race and put a mythical $20 across the board on it. The return on that investment is your score for that particular race. Repeat as necessary, and you’re set! Entrants must have an MVP card (if you haven’t updated your card, make sure to do so on your next visit to receive points & rewards without interruption) and turn in selections by first post. The venue for each contest date falls in line with the Derby prep schedule this spring, and prep races falling on Saturdays outside of the contest track are used as bonus races. ALL preps taking place either at the contest track or elsewhere are good for double points, so take an extra glance or two at the three year olds if you have the time.

With that in mind, let’s look a little more at the Sam F. Davis:

1. Harpoon

2. Cousin Stephen

3. Noble Cornerstone

One of two Todd Pletcher trainees, Harpoon is the one not entered in another spot at Gulfstream the same day. There does not appear to be an overwhelming amount of pace in the Sam Davis this year, and this colt could very well capitalize. He, like most of his stable, has some pedigree power to him but much of the family’s damage has been done sprinting. However, his dam is a half to Olympio and dad will of course help the cause for this trip. He’s already bucked the trend by breaking his maiden going long. The rail obviously may force his hand early but again, that may not be that bad. Asserting Bear may have a little more early lick with the blinkers going on, but even he’s shown more of a tendency to stalk than go for the jugular. Saez rode the horse that beat Harpoon two back (his stablemate) and promptly hopped aboard this one to win. Pletcher is phenomenal in the stakes ranks at Tampa, hitting at a near 50% clip consistently in the past five years. Even ungraded stakes have been an improvement for a staple barn on the TC trail. They paid a pretty penny for this son of Tapit, and it’s time to see what they’ve got.

Cousin Stephen hails from the Chad Brown barn, who conversely has gone south in the past couple of years when it comes to Tampa overall. His percentage in the past few years has dropped dramatically when shipping into this venue, but this horse of course seems in a different league than a lot that visit from the barn. The cutback in distance should serve as no hindrance, and this one most certainly has more to offer than he showed last time in the stretch. A recurring theme with yours truly is not playing Chad Brown outside of his sandboxes, and while Cousin Stephen may be the best horse in here in the long run I’ll wait until I see some better odds. The popular pick in here seems to be Wesley Ward’s Noble Cornerstone but he’s another one that perhaps is using this race rather than trying to blow the field out. He took a break after a game try around two turns in the Springboard Mile, but that race is coming back more and more suspect as its contestants lose their next races one by one. A couple ran in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn but both tasted defeat, though Walt ran second. For the most part though, the also-rans are continuing to take thrashings in their next start. Harpoon’s maiden breaker isn’t coming back all that great either, but that Cairo Prince sure is OK isn’t he?

Good luck on the first stop and the rest of the way on the Road to Kentucky!

At The Movies
If you saw the film Dallas Buyers Club, did you recognize the man playing the role of the district judge in one of the final scenes? The voice should bring back memories from the Downs’ days.

This blog was written by Canterbury Park Paddock Analyst Angela Hermann.

Road to Kentucky Heads to Tampa Bay

Tampa BayThe free-to-enter Road to Kentucky Handicapping Contest heads into Tampa Bay Downs this Saturday for a traditionally tough 12-race card which includes the Tampa Bay Derby and the current buzz-horse Verazzano. The San Felipe on the other side of the country is also part of this week’s contest. There are weekly prizes offered to the top five players. Post time is 11:00am so set the alarm clock and step on it!

Here is a quick glance at the two double-point bonus races – the San Felipe and Tampa Bay Derby – provided by Angela Hermann.

San Felipe

A prince will be crowned in the 3-year- old ranks in the west, with two of its best-known trainers bringing contenders to the table. While it’s not a two horse race, all eyes will be squarely on Flashback and Goldencents in their first meeting in the San Felipe. Both have built their credentials in different ways, but with similar styles and equally impressive workouts they should be fairly even betting-wise. In general I side with the proven war-horse type, but Goldencents will provide zero value. In seeking a price it may be worth giving Omega Star another chance to stretch out, as he most likely won’t have to get the mud kicked in his face that he did in his first go around. He won his first CA race off the van and has the build and pedigree to relish some distance. Though he’s a Cal-bred there is talent there. Goldencents should be tough at this juncture.

Tampa Bay Derby

Another race in Florida, another Pletcher favorite. Verazzano brings his undefeated record and large winning margins into Tampa for his initial stakes try and first around two turns. He closed as the favored individual entity in the Kentucky Derby Future Pool 2, and should determine that 8-1 closing price a steal or a bust after Saturday. He is still only two for two, and while both were incredibly impressive they were right in his wheelhouse pedigree and location-wise. He may be an easy single in all plays, but Falling Sky must be considered with the way John Terranova is firing at Tampa and the affinity this horse has shown for the surface. He may be forced to stalk as he’s done before given his outside post, and could capitalize should the strong favorite falter.

Canterbury Racing Club

There is still time to join the 2013 Canterbury Racing Club. The club is designed to provide you with an educational experience and insight into race horse ownership. For all the details visit

Kentucky Derby and Live Racing Reserved Seating

Canterbury Clubhouse reserved seating for the May 4 Kentucky Derby will be on sale March 23. At 10am those wishing to redeem 900 MVP Rewards points can make reservations. Cash sales begin at noon.

Sunday, May 24 begins single day reserved sales for the upcoming live race meet.

Two of a Kind

They dressed for the wedding in the jockeys’ room, and then piled in the back of a pickup truck for the trip to the Turf Paradise garden where the ceremony was held.

The men were duded up in western hats and jackets, the perfect ensemble for the place and setting. The bride stayed more traditional with a white dress, although she did wear her western boots.

Twenty minutes later, Patricia Trimble and Rusty Shaw were man and wife, although the ceremony was delayed.

Trimble, it seems, had a late mount that day, and it does take the bride a bit longer to prepare – under any circumstances. “Patricia was about an hour late,” Shaw said. “But there was no way we were going to start without her.”

The date is a simple matter to recall. The wedding took place on 11-11-11.

Trimble raced at Canterbury Park last summer for the first time. She had been to Shakopee once before with a mount in the 2010 Claiming Crown. “But my horse was scratched,” she said. When Shaw made plans for Shakopee along with trainer Valorie Lund last summer, Trimble decided to try Minnesota too.

She and Shaw had met maybe 10 years prior in Florida at a two-year-old sale. Shaw introduced her to a friend of his who became her partner for several years. When that relationship ended, Shaw and Trimble began theirs.

Now the union has taken on an entirely new dimension. Shaw lost the entire summer in the saddle after an incident on May 2 with a two-year-old left him with a broken arm, a dislocated shoulder and torn rotator cuff muscle. “It’s still real sore. I’m going to have surgery in a week or two,” he said Friday.

In the meantime, it made no sense for Trimble to pay agent fees when her husband was not working. Shaw took over as his wife’s agent and will continue in that capacity for the remainder of the meet.

“I plan to go back to riding but it will be another three to four months,” he said.

Trimble took advantage of the moment. “I just wish he’d get me some livelier mounts,” she said.

So, how is the new job?

“I totally don’t like it,” Shaw said. “But it does help the family situation. And it does get me talking to people a bit more. I was never an outspoken guy, but I’m learning.”

Meanwhile, Patricia carries the family load, and is having what she calls a “decent meet.” She started Friday’s card with 11 wins, nine seconds and nine thirds from 88 mounts for total earnings of $122,631

Trimble is a Vancouver, British Columbia native and began riding in 1998 at Woodbine. She got her first winner at Hastings and then rode at Fort Erie, Mountaineer, Great Lakes and Tampa Bay Downs..

She and Shaw plan to return to Turf Paradise for at least another meet since they have a home in Phoenix.

With the Mystic Lake agreement dramatically improving the financial picture for the state horse industry, Trimble and Shaw expect to return to Shakopee for the foreseeable future.

Shaw is enthralled with the agreement. “It’s awesome,” he said. “I think it’s going to help this track a lot. It will be booming in a couple of years. I can’t wait to come back here and ride next year.”

His partner has similar plans, of course.

“I’ll come back for sure,” Trimble said. “I just wish the meet were longer, but I love Minnesota.”

Last 11-11-11 was a day to love, too, although it took place about 1,600 miles from Canterbury Park. It was the first marriage for the bride and the groom. Trimble designated her sister, Tara, her best friend from Vancouver, trainer Terry Clyde, and her riding colleague, Lori Keith, as her maids of honor.

Shaw was accompanied by his brother, Aaron, rider Jake Barton and Brian Brock, a groom for Lund. The wedding went off a bit late but just as planned. Dinner and dancing followed at the track.

“The whole thing was fantastic,” Keith recalled. The champagne flowed and before the night was over everybody was on the dance floor.”

Well, they better have been.

“Yeah, that whole thing was a bit tough on the pocket book,” Shaw said.

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

Photo Credit: Coady Photography