That Was Rain, Not Change In The Air As Meet Begins

JIM WELLS

It is true now, without a doubt. The more things change the more they stay the same. There are 24 new stables at Canterbury Park this spring that weren’t here a year ago, but the 2011 live racing season began pretty much as it ended last fall.With two-time defending riding champ Dean Butler in the winner’s circle…after race one, aboard a 3-year-old gelding named Sharp Angle, trained by Tim Padilla who owns the horse in partnership with Paul Schaffer.

It started as an awful night for out-of-door activities, with rain driving the smallish crowd for race one indoors, off the grandstand apron where they clearly preferred to view the races..By 8 p.m., an hour after first post, the rain had stopped and the crowd seemed to grow a bit with each race. By 9 p.m., with the temperature in the low 60s and the humidity still at 99 percent, the apron looked more like a typical Friday evening in, say, July.

The weather did not stop the patrons from making the most of their first racing opportunity of the season although it did impact some of the horses.The track was listed as muddy throughout the card and tested the staying power of some of the runners, particularly those who arrived in Shakopee after spending the winter at Turf Paradise in Phoenix.

World records have been set at the Phoenix track, which is frequently described as something akin to asphalt. Friday’s muddy surface provided a much deeper running surface than many of those horses are used to running on and took a toll.

“My horse got tired,” said Scott Stevens, who was on Fight On Gino, the fifth place horse in a five-horse field in race two.

Stevens clearly had more energy than the horse. He excused himself quickly after the race. He had mounts in the first seven races on the card.

Stevens, you’ll recall, was seriously injured in a spill at Canterbury last season. Although some observers predicted he would never ride again, he was back in the saddle on Nov. 12 at Turf Paradise and won on his first out, aboard a Miguel Silva horse. It was a Silva horse Stevens was on when he was hurt last summer.

It didn’t take the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame rider long to find the winner’s circle in Shakopee, either. He brought in a four-year-old named Alfeetmovinangel, trained by Joe Merrick in race three.”I feel good… strong,” Stevens said, although the pinky finger on his right hand is still numb. The usual requests for goggles received a different response from the riders on Friday night, including Stevens. “You can have them later, after I’m done,” he told one bystander.
There was no shortage of mud and anyone riding off the pace dismounted after a race covered in it. Clean goggles were in high demand.

The big payoff on the card came in race four, with 19-1 longshot Know No Somerset wiring 10 rivals under Adolfo Morales.Trained by Larry Donlin and owned by Jack Walsh of Somerset, the winner clearly had a bit of luck on his side with two Irish connections.

“Oh, yeah, it’s the Irish all right,” said Donlin, who hoped this first-card winner does not spell out a meet similar to the one he had at Remington Park last fall.”I won with my first or second start there, too,” he said, “and didn’t have another winner the rest of the meet.”

For those with a special interest in horses’ names, the eighth and final race on the first card of the season offered this gem: a 3 year-old chestnut gelding named Cluny.The son of Mancini was named after the French monastery by the same name, the largest monastery in the history of the Catholic church, housing some 1,000 monks around 1,000 A.D. The monastery was later destroyed by Napoleon, although its foundations still remain.So, who would name a horse after a French Catholic monastery?

How about an Irish Catholic priest. Cluny is owned by Fr. Jack Donahue. Running in maiden claiming company, Cluny did not share in the Irish good fortune of Donlin and Walsh and finished near the back of the field.

Anyone unable to nail a winner on Friday’s card will get another opportunity on today’s 1:30 p.m. card, which includes a simulcast of the Preakness Stakes.

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