By Jim Wells
Only in horse racing do the storylines sometimes seem to come out of a children’s storybook, heroes emerging from unlikely places under unusual circumstance; little guys being lifted to the level of those who dominate the world up above; heartwarming tales of the men and women who keep the world turning but are seldom given a share of the spotlight.
It happens, though, on the racetrack and the biggest race of the night Saturday, the first running of the $100,000 Mystic Lake Turf Express at five furlongs, is a first-hand example.
The winner, Bushrod, wasn’t overlooked at 7/2. He was given his share of respect in a contentious field of seven. Yet, you can’t help a slight grin, a positive nod of the head when you consider his story.
Originally handled by Canterbury Park Hall of Fame trainer Doug Oliver, Bushrod was claimed by Hall of Fame conditioner Mac Robertson and then by Judd Becker for $18,000 on May 11 at Arlington Park.
Becker trains a handful of horses at his farm outside Pardeeville, Wisconsin, 30 miles north of Madison. He races largely in Chicago but likes taking the 4 ½-hour trip to Canterbury Park on occasion, as he did for Saturday’s race.
He arrived with this thought in mind. “We thought we had a chance.”
With good reason. Bushrod beat a horse named Good By Greg _ a real monster, Becker said _ on August 12 in a 5 1/2 furlong race in Chicago.
“That horse would have been the favorite if he had run here in this race,” he added.
Saturday’s race was a half-furlong shorter, and Bushrod loved it. Although he was slowed in tight quarters leaving the gate, he essentially went gate-to-wire under Quincy Hamilton, holding off a late bid from Show Bound (5/2) under Francisco Arrieta to win by three-quarter lengths in 56.20. Fireman Oscar (16-1) was next, three-quarter lengths out of second.
Creative Art, the leading thoroughbred at Canterbury throughout much of the meet, had won four straight races this summer on the dirt, but is now 0-5 on the turf after finishing in front of only Sky T on Saturday.
$50,000 BROOKS FIELDS STAKES
Gate to wire under the leading rider in Shakopee in what is being called perhaps the best race of the 2018 meet.
. That sizes up the effort of Ibaka and the ride given him by Ry Eikleberry in a a thrilling four-horse finish that drew a collective gasp from the enthusiastic crowd.
Here is what it looked like at the wire:
Ibaka, in 1:35.27, a head in front of Majestic Pride, a half length in front of Hay Dakota, who had a head on Patriots Rule.
“One of the best races of the meet,” said director of racing Andrew Offerman.
“Yeah, it was a good one,” said Eikleberry. “I knew there was a ton of them together at the wire.”
Most of the fans in attendance needed the results of the photo to determine if they should celebrate or moan, but Scott Garrison, assistant to trainer Francisco Bravo did not.
“I thought his head was there first,” he said. “He’s a very big hearted horse and Ry gave him such a good ride.”
The horses around him were closing hard, but Ibaka had enough, just enough, to hold them off in a scintillating finish.
$50,000 MINNESOTA HBPA DISTAFF
Late to the paddock but not to the wire.
That sums up jockey Leslie Mawing’s itinerary before and during this race for three-year-old and older fillies and mares.
Mawing’s arrival in the paddock was delayed _ for a call of nature _ but there was nothing late about the wire-to-wire effort of Molecules. The three-year-old filly angled inside from the break and stayed there until the wire, holding off a late, hard charging effort from defending champion Beach Flower to win by a head, with a time of 1:35.63. In third, another 1 ½ lengths out of second was Some Say So, the Princes Elaine winner.
This was a family enterprise. The owner, Morgan Thilo, was home in Indiana with sick children, so her mother, Dawn Fontenot, who once trained the horse, took over in her absence, with her mother Jackie Todhunter along for support.
And best yet, the winning horse was a gift, from the former owner who became ill, to Fontenot, who gave up training because of a conflict of interest; her boyfriend is the starter on the gate back in Indiana.
“It really is a family effort,” said Fontenot, who got the horse last October.
INDIAN RACES ALL IN THE FAMILY
An accident on the racetrack sidelined Brew Crew rider Brian Beetum in Friday night’s semifinal round of competition.
So, 18-year-old Sylvan Brown took over in Saturday’s championship round and wound up a winner.
Brown, it so happens, is a nephew to Beetum.
In what was perhaps the best Relay Race competition in its six years, Brew Crew brought home another title, and the team stood in the winner’s circle afterward, posing for pictures while admiring the buckles awarded them for the championship.
How long has Brown been competing? He wasn’t certain. “I’ve been doing this, riding, since I was very young,” he said.
Brew Crew represents the Oglala band of the Sioux Nation on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.
Brew Crew and Little Badger, a Blackfeet team, battled it out over the final mile of the three-mile race.
The win should make the 10-hour drive home a bit easier to take for Brown and the rest of the Oglala crew: mugger Will Brewer, back holder Steve Brewer, Jr., and team captain and set-up man Stanley Brewer, Jr.
RELAY CONSOLATION CHAMPIONSHIP
Riley Prescott was beaming afterward.
He had just wrapped up the consolation for Omak Express, beating out the Long Feather team from Standing Rock and rider Jace Long Feather.
Prescott overtook Long Feather during the final mile, letting him take the lead by design.
“I knew he was going to blow out his horse, so I just let him go past me,” Prescott said.