Cold Weather in July

She%20Can%20Ski%20-%20Luther%20Bloomington%20Hyuandi%20Dash%20-%2007-26-13%20-%20R03%20-%20CBY%20-%20Winner%27s%20CircleThe temperature dropped as much as 25 degrees in the last couple of days, a welcome change to horses, particularly those that engage in morning workouts and race for a living.

They appreciate the crisp, morning air and will exhibit their enthusiasm on the way to the track, prancing on their toes, pulling on the bit and otherwise becoming a handful for their riders.

In what ways do weather changes like this affect horses and the way handicappers should look at a race?

Probably not much, although some horses are indeed affected by changes in temperature and weather patterns.

Don’t look anytime soon, however, for the Daily Racing Form to begin including symbols indicating highs and lows in barometric pressure as part of a horse’s past performances.

An analysis of the different ways humans behave in hot versus cool weather might provide all the instruction necessary.

Trainer Bernell Rhone is of the opinion that 55 degrees is the ideal temperature for horses. “They eat better, they feel better and they seem to have more energy,” he said.

Does a drop in temperatures such as Shakopee has experienced this week change how a person should look at horses when handicapping a race?

“I don’t think so,” said Rhone. “All the horses are affected by it.”

The betting public doesn’t have the information necessary to gauge an exception to that statement. “Cool, dry air is beneficial to horses with a tendency to bleed,” said Rhone, “but there is no way for the public to know which horses those are.”

Trainer Francisco Bravo says temperatures can have a big effect on horses that are being shipped. “The main thing is to keep them hydrated,” he said, “particularly when it’s warm.”

Rhone agrees, adding that it is more likely for a horse to get sick being transported from cool weather to hot than the other way around.

Bravo insists that the treatment of a horse is probably more important than the temperature. “They’re just like kids,” he said. “Everyone is a little different. They need discipline but not abuse. They need guidance.”

More than anything horses need even-handed treatment and care. “They learn by repeated behavior,” said Bravo. “You have to be consistent and systematic with them. You can’t discipline a horse in the barn for something he did wrong on the track.”

It is perhaps possible to infer certain things about a horse you already like during weather more favorable to animals and humans alike.

For instance, if you like a horse for a given reason it is quite logical to assume he is more likely to live up to the expectations assigned him under favorable conditions.

Despite no solid evidence that the temperature itself should figure prominently in making decisions about a race, people do so all the time anyway.

“Some people figure that the tides, coming in or going out, affect a horse,” said Bravo. “I wouldn’t know anything about that.”

Trainer Jerry Livingston is insistent that one aspect of weather does affect a horse.

“Barometric pressure makes a difference,” he said. “It can affect the way a horse acts, if he’s lethargic or high,” he said. “You can see it.”

People themselves are affected. There is some evidence that barometric pressure can affect joints and muscles.

Supportive science or not, anecdotal evidence is often instructive and useful.

What seems certain is this:

“The horses love this weather,” said trainer Valorie Lund. “And so do I.”

As does Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens.

“The locals probably don’t care for it, but those of us from Phoenix (including Lund) love it,” he said.

So, there you have it. Horses appreciate cool weather. Human beings, those from the Valley of the Sun in particular, appreciate cool weather.

But don’t count on finding any sleepers because of it.

Oh yeah, almost forgot… there was a hunch play to be had on Friday night’s card and it did involve the weather. Henry Hanson’s two-year-old She Can Ski took down the 3rd (pictured above) for Minnesota-bred maidens. Maybe there is something to handicapping for cold weather in July after all.

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.

Vergara (Finally) Arrives in Shakopee

Daniel Vergara 6-13-13An owner once refused to let Daniel Vergara ride his horse because he found the jockey’s handshake unimpressive. A bit too lifeless.

Then again, horses seem to like Vergara’s hands because they are gentle, imbued with finesse.

Vergara, a native of Mexico City, has been in the United States for the past two decades, riding in California, north and south; in Canada, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, at Finger Lakes, and Turf Paradise the last several years.

“He has soft hands, very soft hands,” said trainer Dan McFarlane, a Phoenix regular in Shakopee for the first time.

Take that Mr. Horse Owner.

Vergara was nearly predestined to ride horses for a living, growing up as he did with an older brother, Juan, riding for a living.

After traipsing the length of California and the breadth of the U.S., Vergara has settled in Phoenix, where his wife, Lola, and children Daniel, 17, and Angie, 15, and he have a home minutes from the track.

He has ridden for several trainers in Phoenix but probably most frequently for Valorie Lund last winter and is trying Canterbury for the first time at her suggestion.

Vergara is the reason agent John Everly is back in Shakopee this summer after handling the books of Lori Keith and Geovanni Franco here last year.

Vergara and Everly have worked together several times over the past few years, primarily in Arizona.

Everly was serving as the assistant racing secretary at Turf Paradise when Vergara approached him near the end of the meet. “I knew Canterbury was in the back of his mind,” Everly said. “He had heard a lot of good things about it and the increase in pots here was the final push.”

Indeed.

Vergara had gotten a sales job on Canterbury some time ago.

“Scott Stevens started telling me to come here about nine years ago,” Vergara said.

Thursday night Vergara was riding a horse engaged in a duel to the wire against Eddie Martin, Jr.. Chuck Costanzo, Martin’s agent, was watching the race on the apron level of the grandstand. “That kid can ride,” he said. “He gives Eddie everything he wants all the time.”

Martin’s horse, March Twelth, won the race but Costanzo had made the point.

Everly describes his rider as a “polished veteran. That’s the term I like to use,” he said.

Watching the same race Thursday was Lund. As she watched the two horses and their riders dueling, she sized them up this way:

“Daniel prefers to sit and finish. He’s a finesse rider,” she said. “Eddie, he has that wicked stick.”

Everly, for his part, seems pleased to be back in Shakopee for the current meet.

He had been the racing secretary in Prescott, Az., at one time but attempts to reopen the track failed recently.

“The people who bought the place didn’t quite have the money to get it going,” he said. That left the summer open. Then Lund provided the business in Shakopee they needed to make the move possible.

“She’s the big reason we decided to come here,” Everly said.

Vergara’s only concern with moving his tack to Shakopee was establishing additional business in barns he had never visited before. Although Lund assured him of some mounts, he believes that a rider often needs more than one barn to make a meet productive.

“Sometimes a trainer or an owner decides not to use you for whatever reason,” he said. “A trainer might like you but the owner doesn’t.”

Sometimes for the oddest of reasons and perhaps to their own regret, over something as simple as, say, the nature of a handshake.

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.

Beating the Heat

Shortly before the fourth race on Friday, someone draped a wet blanket over Shakopee. The 85 degree temperature had been tolerable earlier with humidity levels close to 30. All of that changed as humidity levels climbed 15 points and the air suddenly stopped moving.

How do you stay cool on a night like this someone asked jockey Tanner Riggs. A bystander responded before the rider could. “You ride real fast and create a breeze,” he mused.

“Look at those flags,” added trainer Larry Donlin. “They’re just hanging.”

Welcome to summer, Minnesota style.

Heat is forecast for the next several days. Riders can attend to their own needs and keep hydrated with extra water intake. How about the horses they ride.

Trainers from Phoenix, and there are several on the grounds, are accustomed to dealing with far more heat than is usual in Minnesota, but there is the element known as humidity that is absent in Arizona.

“The big difference between here and Phoenix is that the humidity is not as bad,” said David Van Winkle, who trains in Arizona fall and winter and returns to Minnesota each spring.

Van Winkle deals with the heat in several ways. “You have to monitor them when they run,” he said. “You have to back off a bit with the training. You need fans in the barns and an ample supply of water at all times.”

Precautions are necessary, particularly immediately after a race, to avoid heat stroke. “You have to be careful with that,” Van Winkle added. “We try to hose the horses down once or twice even before we saddle them. We try to keep them comfortable until the race and then afterwards, too.”

Humid weather can be particularly bothersome because it interferes with a horse’s ability to sweat, just as it does with humans.

Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens said he can lose a pound a race on a night like Friday. Nik Goodwin agreed.

A horse? Some have been known to be down 100 pounds or more the morning after a race, particularly after a route race.

“We give our horses electrolytes in their feed every night,” Van Winkle added. “You can buy it in paste form, too, and give them it orally.”

Trainer Valorie Lund brought a stable to Canterbury from Turf Paradise in Phoenix, too. She was in Des Moines Thursday morning. “The horses were really hot there,” she said. “It was very humid down there.”

Lund says that the humidity takes a bigger toll on horses than simple heat. “Humidity is much harder on them than dry heat,” she said. “Horses take the heat OK if it’s dry. It’s the humidity. They are really a desert animal. In Washington state in the high desert it gets very hot and very cold and they survive it.”

A card at Churchill Downs was cancelled the other night because of the Kentucky heat and humidity. Lund was there two summers ago during a record heat spell. “It was very, very hot,” she recalled. “Their hottest summer on record.”

Lund cautions her help to be extra careful with her horses in the heat. “We keep them well hydrated, as cool as possible. We keep fans on them (in the barn). The minute they pull up after a race I caution my guys to get water on them. The best and fastest way to cool a horse is to hose them on the head and between the hind legs.”

Lund will also have her help dunk a horse’s blinkers in ice water before putting them on. “Blinkers will hold heat, too,” she said.

There are even more ways to cool a horse. “We’ll put menthol in the water and then sponge them with it,” Lund said.

All of the aforementioned measures will be used repeatedly in the coming days. The forecast is hot, hot, hot.

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.