A summer in Minnesota on his own wasn’t all that hard to consider. After all, Dusty Shepherd is 19 now and Canterbury Park has seemed as good as home since he was a youngster.
Shepherd spent several summers at Canterbury, where his mother, Sherri, trained, and father, Dave, rode off and on for years. He grew up in Shakopee with his brother, Justin, and baby sister, Bucky.
“I grew up on the backside. Riding is all I ever wanted to do,” Dusty said.
He remembers those summers mucking stalls, learning the trade from the ground up, and the only leisure was an occasional trip to Mall of America. “We were always so busy at the track. There wasn’t much time for anything else,” he recalled.
Riding racehorses was in his blood. After losing his apprenticeship out East last March, he figured Canterbury was a good place to shift his tack this spring, a place he knew and where people knew him or at least the name. He understood that once his bug and the weight allowance were gone, the Eastern trainers would turn to other apprentices and it was time to move on. Canterbury seemed a natural.
“I wanted to come back and give it a try,” Dusty said.
There has been a Shepherd on the backside off and on since Canterbury Downs opened in 1985.
“People keep saying that that I’m riding the babies now of horses my dad used to ride,” Dusty said.
The similarities don’t end there.
“He looks like a young version of me on a horse,” Dave said. “The horses will run for him. He’s a good hand.”
So, it has come full circle in the Shepherd family. Twenty five years of racing in Minnesota. Twenty five years of race riding, training, hauling horses and, generally, make a living in a business that is much a part of their lives as coffee and biscuits in the morning.
Dusty left the Shepherd home in Oklahoma at age 16 to start galloping horses at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas, got his riding license and rode his first race at Remington Park in Oklahoma City, Okla. No jock forgets the name of his first winner. For Shepherd, it was a horse named Rocka My Baby.
A week later a horse he was riding fell approaching the finish line. Shepherd’s sternum was broken along with six vertebrae.
Shepherd had been riding only a couple of months. He spent the next six months laid up. Not that he hadn’t learned about pain and recovery from family experience. Dave Shepherd has suffered similar injuries numerous times in his career and is still recovering from a leg that was crushed more than seven years ago, a couple of years after breaking his neck.
“Don’t let anybody tell you that the healing takes place and is finished in a couple of years,” he said. “I’m still noticing improvement in my leg.”
Justin Shepherd is riding out east. He makes trips on occasion to ride stakes races in Shakopee
Take a mount he rode here in 2004 for his mother. The filly was a horse named Be My Friend and she won the Lady Canterbury.
There is another tie to Canterbury history involved in that victory. Be My Friend was owned by Herb Riecken, who made frequent appearances in Shakopee in the early years with a speedball named Who Doctor Who.
“The Lady Canterbury was the first race Justin ever won for mom,” Dusty said. “Not a bad one to win.”
Dusty will not get that chance. His mother is retired from training.
Still, she left her mark on Canterbury while training there from 1997 through 2005.
You can check the record books and find Dave Shepherd’s name at the bottom of the jockey standings for 1985, Canterbury’s first year of operation. One ride. One win.
“It was on a horse for Larry Donlin,” Dave recalled. “Incredible L.S. in the President’s Cup. We had just won three races in a row on that horse in Nebraska. Larry said he was going to run the horse in Minnesota and to come on up.”
That was the start of a Shepherd connection to Minnesota that has lasted in one form or another for 25 years.
You will find the Shepherds now halfway between Oklahoma City and Amarillo, Texas., off Interstate 40, at the Flying W. Guest Ranch, 26 miles from the Texas border.
Sherri gave up training three years ago and runs the horse operation for the Flying W.
Dave breaks babies and gallops for the noted quarter horse breeder Joe Merrick at his place, about 10 miles south of the ranch. He still hauls horses, too, and on weekends he plays with his band, Even Money, at a local restaurant.
Bucky, 11, helps her mother, doing carriage and stage coach rides. She is also active in youth rodeo. “Anything horse and she does it,” various family members say.
When the Shepherds returned to Minnesota in 1997 for the summer meets, it was as a family. “I wasn’t going to do it unless it was that way,” Dave said.
Thus, the Shepherd name is familiar on the Canterbury backside. It has been _ if a bit tenuously at first _ since 1985 when Dave rode one horse and had one winner at the new Minnesota facility.
One space down, the last place on the list of jockeys who rode in Shakopee that year, is the name Bill Shoemaker. He, too, had one ride and one win at Canterbury in 1985.
“Hey, not bad company,” Dave said.
There are those who think that Bill Shoemaker would be right proud.