Making the Grade

By Noah Joseph

In the history of horse racing and breeding, only four horses bred in the state of Minnesota have ever won a graded stakes race. A graded stakes race is a stakes race of the highest quality in both prize money and strength of the competition. The highest level is Grade 1, followed by Grade 2, and then Grade 3 and the Minnesota breds have won at nearly every level.

1990 was a banner year for Minnesota bred horses winning at the national level. The first Minnesota bred to win a graded stakes race was Super Abound. A son of Superbity, Super Abound was owned by Frances Genter and trained by Carl Nafzger, who also were the connections of 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled. While Super Abound never got as much attention as his star stablemate did, Super Abound made his own claim to fame by winning the 1990 Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park, in which he beat Unbridled, who was trying the turf for the first time. And while it was his only graded stakes win, it stamped Super Abound’s name into history. (By the way, Unbridled actually beat Super Abound at Canterbury the previous year.)

Only a few weeks after Super Abound’s victory, Blair’s Cove did the state of Minnesota one better when he won the Grade 3 Swoon’s Son Stakes, also held at Arlington. Blair’s Cove, a son of Bucksplasher, competed in graded stakes races all over the country. He ran in graded stakes races in Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, Nebraska, New York, New Jersey, and California. He even ran in a graded stakes race in Hong Kong. Blair’s Cove is a member of the Canterbury Hall Of Fame, and was honored with the annual Blair’s Cove Stakes on July 3rd.

Although she never competed in her home state, Booly was also one of a kind. The daughter of Apalachee was sold as a weanling in Kentucky, and never returned to Minnesota. But she made a name for herself in her own special way. She broke her maiden in the Grade 3 Selima Stakes at Laurel in 1992. She also holds the unique honor of being the only horse bred in Minnesota to run in the Breeders’ Cup. She finished 9th in the Juvenile Fillies in 1992.

Last, but definitely not least, a Canterbury classic: Wally’s Choice. Fans who’ve been coming to Canterbury for a good part of the century will always remember Wally’s Choice. The son of Quick Cut was owned by Curt Sampson along with Wally McNeil (often known as Wally the Beerman) and Wally’s wife, Joyce.

After winning three stakes, Wally’s Choice won the 2004 Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park. While it was his only graded victory, Wally’s Choice won five more stakes, his last stakes win coming in 2006, and his last overall win coming in 2009. He was retired in 2011 and is also a member of the Canterbury Hall Of Fame.

Racehorse Owner: Curt Sampson

By Katie Merritt

Curtis Sampson was born and raised in Hector, Minnesota and has been attending the races at Canterbury since it first opened as Canterbury Downs. In 1994, after the track had been closed for two years, Sampson, his son Randy and Dale Schenian purchased the facility and brought live racing back to Shakopee the following summer under the new racetrack name of Canterbury Park. In addition to his massive influence on the racing and breeding industry in Minnesota, Sampson has also been a successful businessman.

Since Sampson purchased his first racehorse in the 80’s, he has been fortunate to have many successful runners. The first horse he owned in partnership, a Quarter Horse named Cash Caravan, won several stakes races at Canterbury and is in the Canterbury Hall of Fame. Over the years, Sampson continued to increase his involvement in the industry, purchasing more runners and starting a breeding operation where he had several mares and stood a stallion named Crossed Swords.

Dale Schenian with Curtis Sampson

Every year, Canterbury Park holds the Minnesota Festival of Champions, a day of racing designed to promote, honor and reward horses born in Minnesota.  Sampson has won the second-most number of Festival Races, with nine winners. One of his best horses, Wally’s Choice, won the Minnesota Classic Championship twice in a row. Wally’s Choice is now in the Hall of Fame and the Classic is named after him.

Wally’s Choice

Sampson is still very involved at Canterbury Park, serving as the Chairman of the Board. One of his sons, Randy, is the CEO, and another son, Russ runs his racing operation. His grandkids, the next generation, have recently started to get involved in ownership as well with their cleverly named partnership, NEXTGEN Stables. Curtis Sampson has been leading owner at Canterbury Park twice, in 1996 and ’97, and looks to have a good chance to be leading owner again this year, for the first time in 20 years.

WALLY’S WORLD WAS SPECIAL

Wally's Choice

The Mike Biehler barn was at work digging up the shed row with pickaxes when one of the grooms predicted that Wally’s Choice would win his first attempt at a mile that day.

The young gelding had run once at six furlongs, mostly at five furlongs and was making just his seventh start, so Biehler made a proposal. “I promised to finish the excavation myself if Wally won that day,” he said.

The skeptical trainer had laid his cards on the table.

“When I got back to the barn after the race, there were two shovels leaning against the wall waiting for me,”  he recalled.

Wally’s Choice ran 58 times during an eight-year career, all but 20 of those races at Canterbury Park, and naturally produced a number of stories during that time, but Biehler’s tale probably expresses best the horse’s ability to surprise his handlers with his comeback from surgery and a two-year layoff that would have finished most horses.

The question most often asked concerns the derivation of the horse’s name. Therein lies another colorful tale. After all, his sire was Quick Cut and his dam, L’Etoile Jolie, in both cases a far cry from anything remotely connected to Wally or even to Walter.

Wally’s Choice?

A very simple choice as it turned out. Canterbury Park chairman and the breeder of the horse, Curtis Sampson, had agreed to go partners on a foal with Wally McNeil, professionally known as Wally the Beerman, a long-time horse racing fan. Sampson gave McNeil a choice on which foal he wanted for the partnership and McNeil chose the son of Quick Cut .

Wally ran 59 times, won 15, was second twice and placed third another eight times for career earnings of $508,125, second only to Blair’s Cove among Minnesota-bred horses. Of that total, Wally won $385,835 of his total take in Shakopee.

The stories about Wally will be told in the McNeil and Sampson households for years yet to come, including the tale of his remarkable comeback from surgery. He had injured a tendon and underwent stem cell surgery to repair the damage, a surgery that put him on the sidelines for an extended time.

“They had been doing stem cells for a short while in Oklahoma, so Wally was like the poster child for that,” said Biehler.

The procedure had worked on some horses and not on others, but it proved successful with Wally. “We never had an issue with him after that,” Biehler added.

“We never quit on him. He was sound.”

There is another segment to the same story, as told by Sampson.

“He was out for quite a stretch after the stem cell surgery,” Samspon added. He was out 663 days.”

The stories abound.

“I recall that his birth was a rough one,” Sampson added. “He was quite big and his mother was a young mare.”

By the time the young horse began cavorting in the Sampson pastures, he made it clear that he wanted to race. “We knew early on that he was a horse that wanted to win,” Sampson said. “We’d watch him in the pasture, running, and he didn’t want anyone to pass him. He’d come flying.”

Bobby Walker, Jr. was given the first four mounts on the Quick Cut son and rode him to his first victory in try number three at Canterbury on July 25, 2003.  He won the $60,000 Minnesota Derby on July 31, 2004, the $40,000 Minnesota Classic on August 22 and the $25,000 Woodlands Derby on Oct. 24.

All of that was a prelude, a warmup, to the biggest victory of Wally’s career. On November 21, with former five-time Canterbury Park riding champion Luis Quinonez in the irons, Wally’s Choice galloped to a one-length victory in the Grade 3 $150,000 Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park.

“That was the big one,” said Sampson.

Big enough to create confusion in one extension of the McNeil family.

It was more than merely big to McNeil and his wife, Joyce, co-owners with Sampson in the horse. Wally was working that day, so Joyce and their daughter, Lori, and a girlfriend went to Canterbury and bet on the horse. The girlfriend returned from cashing her ticket with the report that “I think they gave me too much money back.”

No they hadn’t.

Wally’s Choice had gone off at almost 34-1.

Wally’s Choice won the $100,000 Boselmann/Gus Fonner stakes at Fonner Park, the Minnesota Classic and the Blair’s Cove Stakes twice each. His last win was on June 9 of 2007 in a $20,000 allowance race at Canterbury. He ran 22 more times without a win before he was retired following a fifth place finish at Canterbury in the Minnesota Classic on September 4, 2011, unable to overtake Blair’s Cove for the Minnesota-bred  earnings title.

Biehler recalls Wally as an easy horse to train. “He had a good attitude all the time,” he said. “Easy to be around in the barn. If anything, we had to watch how much he ate. He still likes to eat.”

Wally is merely hanging out at Biehler’s farm in Oklahoma these days, although there are plans this fall to take him to Colorado for some trail riding.

“He’s kind of a babysitter at times,” Biehler said. “We put him with an orphan that needed a companion. He still looks pretty fit.”

 

by JIM WELLS

WALLY’S WORLD WAS SPECIAL

Wally's Choice

The Mike Biehler barn was at work digging up the shed row with pickaxes when one of the grooms predicted that Wally’s Choice would win his first attempt at a mile that day.

The young gelding had run once at six furlongs, mostly at five furlongs and was making just his seventh start, so Biehler made a proposal. “I promised to finish the excavation myself if Wally won that day,” he said.

The skeptical trainer had laid his cards on the table.

“When I got back to the barn after the race, there were two shovels leaning against the wall waiting for me,”  he recalled.

Wally’s Choice ran 58 times during an eight-year career, all but 20 of those races at Canterbury Park, and naturally produced a number of stories during that time, but Biehler’s tale probably expresses best the horse’s ability to surprise his handlers with his comeback from surgery and a two-year layoff that would have finished most horses.

The question most often asked concerns the derivation of the horse’s name. Therein lies another colorful tale. After all, his sire was Quick Cut and his dam, L’Etoile Jolie, in both cases a far cry from anything remotely connected to Wally or even to Walter.

Wally’s Choice?

A very simple choice as it turned out. Canterbury Park chairman and the breeder of the horse, Curtis Sampson, had agreed to go partners on a foal with Wally McNeil, professionally known as Wally the Beerman, a long-time horse racing fan. Sampson gave McNeil a choice on which foal he wanted for the partnership and McNeil chose the son of Quick Cut .

Wally ran 59 times, won 15, was second twice and placed third another eight times for career earnings of $508,125, second only to Blair’s Cove among Minnesota-bred horses. Of that total, Wally won $385,835 of his total take in Shakopee.

The stories about Wally will be told in the McNeil and Sampson households for years yet to come, including the tale of his remarkable comeback from surgery. He had injured a tendon and underwent stem cell surgery to repair the damage, a surgery that put him on the sidelines for an extended time.

“They had been doing stem cells for a short while in Oklahoma, so Wally was like the poster child for that,” said Biehler.

The procedure had worked on some horses and not on others, but it proved successful with Wally. “We never had an issue with him after that,” Biehler added.

“We never quit on him. He was sound.”

There is another segment to the same story, as told by Sampson.

“He was out for quite a stretch after the stem cell surgery,” Samspon added. He was out 663 days.”

The stories abound.

“I recall that his birth was a rough one,” Sampson added. “He was quite big and his mother was a young mare.”

By the time the young horse began cavorting in the Sampson pastures, he made it clear that he wanted to race. “We knew early on that he was a horse that wanted to win,” Sampson said. “We’d watch him in the pasture, running, and he didn’t want anyone to pass him. He’d come flying.”

Bobby Walker, Jr. was given the first four mounts on the Quick Cut son and rode him to his first victory in try number three at Canterbury on July 25, 2003.  He won the $60,000 Minnesota Derby on July 31, 2004, the $40,000 Minnesota Classic on August 22 and the $25,000 Woodlands Derby on Oct. 24.

All of that was a prelude, a warmup, to the biggest victory of Wally’s career. On November 21, with former five-time Canterbury Park riding champion Luis Quinonez in the irons, Wally’s Choice galloped to a one-length victory in the Grade 3 $150,000 Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park.

“That was the big one,” said Sampson.

Big enough to create confusion in one extension of the McNeil family.

It was more than merely big to McNeil and his wife, Joyce, co-owners with Sampson in the horse. Wally was working that day, so Joyce and their daughter, Lori, and a girlfriend went to Canterbury and bet on the horse. The girlfriend returned from cashing her ticket with the report that “I think they gave me too much money back.”

No they hadn’t.

Wally’s Choice had gone off at almost 34-1.

Wally’s Choice won the $100,000 Boselmann/Gus Fonner stakes at Fonner Park, the Minnesota Classic and the Blair’s Cove Stakes twice each. His last win was on June 9 of 2007 in a $20,000 allowance race at Canterbury. He ran 22 more times without a win before he was retired following a fifth place finish at Canterbury in the Minnesota Classic on September 4, 2011, unable to overtake Blair’s Cove for the Minnesota-bred  earnings title.

Biehler recalls Wally as an easy horse to train. “He had a good attitude all the time,” he said. “Easy to be around in the barn. If anything, we had to watch how much he ate. He still likes to eat.”

Wally is merely hanging out at Biehler’s farm in Oklahoma these days, although there are plans this fall to take him to Colorado for some trail riding.

“He’s kind of a babysitter at times,” Biehler said. “We put him with an orphan that needed a companion. He still looks pretty fit.”

 

by JIM WELLS

Can a Three-Year-Old Win The MN Classic?

HfM

It is expected that Minnesota Derby winner Hold for More, undefeated in four starts this year and six for seven overall, will tomorrow be entered by trainer Francisco Bravo to run in Sunday’s Wally’s Choice Minnesota Classic Championship.

It has been common practice for 3-year-olds to skip the race and not face the top older state-breds. Here is a look at how 3-year-olds have fared in the Classic:

Since its inception in 1992, four 3-year-olds have won the Classic. Eight Minnesota Derby winners have tried to beat older in the Classic. Three won: J. P. Jet in 2002 as the favorite, Wally’s Choice in 2004 as the favorite, and Perfect Bull in 2009 as the favorite. Rock ‘n Fire finished third in the Derby and won the Classic with Mack’s Monarch, second in the Derby, finishing behind him.

The Minnesota Festival got its start in 1992. Minnesota Derby winner Nic by Vic was bet to 4 to 1 in the inaugural Classic, flashed speed, and faded to last. The race was won by future Hall of Famer Timeless Prince.

Tricky Pick Six was an unexpected Derby winner. He was bet to 5 to 2 in the Classic but finished fifth in a seven-horse field.

Cubfanbudman won the ’08 Derby and was fourth in the Classic at 6 to 1.

In 2010, Tsar Tops Dancer won the Derby and lost the Classic at 6 to 1 odds.

Black Tie Benny, 2011 Derby winner, was favored in the Classic but was injured and did not finish.

News and Notes

Jockey Lori Keith is riding at Remington Park in Oklahoma City. She left Shakopee a couple of weeks ago after winning with eight of 72 mounts at Canterbury. She currently has 499 career wins.

Alex Canchari has been absent from entries for several days as he serves a 10-day suspension handed down by the stewards Aug. 28 for a riding infraction on Aug. 21. His suspension runs through Sept. 6 but he would be allowed to ride on Festival Day and serve the subsequent racing day.

The annual Countdown to the Cup Handicapping Contest begins Saturday, Sept. 19 with the races from Churchill Downs. The free-to-enter contest runs each Saturday through Oct. 24 and awards Breeders’ Cup wagering bankrolls to the daily and overall winners.

The popular Perfect Pick pro football contest begins Sunday, Sept. 13. Each Sunday of the football regular season is a separate contest. Contestants must correctly select the winners of all noon football games to win. If no entrant is perfect, the prize money carries over to the following Sunday.  There is no fee to play. Entries must be submitted by noon. An MVP Rewards membership is required for entry.

Canterbury Park Hall of Fame to Add Four Members

halloffame_blogphoto

The Canterbury Park Hall of Fame Committee today announced the Class of 2015 inductees. The four newest members, who will be honored in a Sept. 5 ceremony, include former jockey Tad Leggett; Minneapolis Star Tribune sports reporter Rachel Blount; state veterinarian Dr. Richard Bowman; and thoroughbred Wally’s Choice. These inductees join a group of more than forty individuals and horses that comprise the best of Minnesota racing.

Leggett was the leading quarter horse jockey each season from 2003 to 2006 and is second in all-time earnings and third in wins. He won 94 races during his career at Canterbury with a 32 percent rate, including multiple stakes races. In 2010, Leggett was paralyzed as a result of a riding accident at Fair Meadows in Tulsa, Okla.

Blount has covered horse racing for the Star Tribune since 1995. The University of Notre Dame graduate, who grew up in Iowa, has shared her love of the sport for two decades by telling the stories of the people and horses involved in thoroughbred and quarter horse racing.

Dr. Bowman has been a Minnesota Racing Commission veterinarian since 1986. He is best known among horsemen for operating Bowman’s Second Chance Ranch at his cattle ranch in North Dakota where he has provided a temporary refuge for hundreds of retired racehorses. Bowman assists with finding new homes and second careers for those horses.

Wally’s Choice, campaigned by Canterbury Park Chairman of the Board Curtis Sampson of Hector, Minn. and Wally and Joyce McNeil of Plymouth, Minn., is third in all-time earnings at the Shakopee, Minn. racetrack. The Minnesota-bred won both the Minnesota Classic Championship and the Blair’s Cove Stakes twice, and also won the Minnesota Derby. Wally’s Choice became one of four Minnesota-breds to win a graded race by winning the 2004 Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park.

The Canterbury Hall of Fame was founded in 1995 to recognize people and horses that have made important and lasting contributions to the racing industry within the state. The selection committee consists of representatives of local horsemen organizations, local media, and Canterbury Park.

Minnesota-Bred Money Makers

Polar Plunge
Polar Plunge

A question was posed this morning by a renowned trainer as to which Minnesota-bred mare has the most career earnings.  He knew where the question and the eventual answer likely would go  and he was correct. A quick fact-checking mission found the numbers below. If there are errors, feel free to comment with corrections.

 

MN-bred filly and mare all-time money earners

Polar Plunge:  $275,574

Bella Notte: $271,541

Chick Fight: $252,089

Glitter Star: $246,889

Princess Elaine: $232,240

 

 

MN-bred colt and gelding all-time money earners

Blair’s Cove: $533,528

Wally’s Choice: $508,125

Super Abound: $398,418

Crocrock: $359,977

Sir Tricky: $341,763

Timeless Prince: $326,977

 

Minnesota-bred Graded Stakes Winners

Super Abound:   Secretariat Stakes 1990 (G1)

Blair’s Cove:   Swoon’s Son 1990 (G3) Stars and Stripes 1991 (G3)

Booly:   Selima Stakes 1992 (G3)

Wally’s Choice:   Oklahoma Derby 2004 (G3)

 

Booly never raced in Minnesota. She earned $131,355 in a nine-race career that included a graded stakes win and a ninth-place finish in the 1992 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1).

Crocrock is the MN-bred with the most earnings exclusively at Canterbury with $340,452.