Lori Keith bounded out of the tunnel leading to the paddock Sunday afternoon and right past the No. 1 spot for her horse, Oughterson. “Hey, Lori, over here,” someone called. “I was distracted. He distracted me,” Keith said, pointing to a nearby interloper while gathering her wits.
Keith is as focused as she’s ever been this spring, concentrating on the task at hand like never before. That is all part of being in the thick of the fray for the riding title and the forces of competition.
Keith was in the lead at that point of the card with 10 wins, one in front of Ry Eikleberry and two in front of Eddie Martin, Jr.
“I can’t shake Ry or Eddie,” Keith said later. “They are right on my heels. I win one and they win one.”
By day’s end, Keith and Eikleberry were tied with 10 wins each and Martin was on their flanks with nine.
The situation has created some good-natured banter between Keith and Eikleberry, who traded jabs on their way to the paddock before the sixth race.
A group of three to five-year-old girls awaited Keith at the top of the tunnel steps. “Oh, my little Lucky Charms,” Keith said happily.
“They need to go away right now, right now,” Eikleberry joshed.
Keith in the view of many observers is riding at her highest level ever this spring. She has first call in the barn of the track’s leading trainer Mike Biehler, riding six of his eight winners. “He’s been training a long time and knows what he’s doing,” said Keith. “I just ride them.”
Yet, the thrill of winning creates its own form of competition. “You start to get greedy,” she said. “You win a race and you want to win another.”
She has had to this spring to keep pace.
“I’ll win a race and Ry or Eddie will win the next.”
Martin got the first win of the leading three riders Sunday in race No. 3, surviving a stewards’ inquiry aboard the maiden runner Bing’s Magic from the Mac Robertson barn.
Eikleberry got his win for the day in race No. 5 with Sputey’s Cabin, a 10-1 choice, that gave the Tim Padilla barn a win for the second consecutive day. The allowance sprint offered a purse of $34,800 (including $17,800 from the Mystic Lake Purse Enhancement Fund) that brought a smile to Padilla’s face.
“That’s just great,” he said. “That will pay some bills for the summer.”
The purses have nearly doubled from those offered before the business agreement between Canterbury Park and the Mdewakanton Community at Mystic lake that was struck last summer. That might be the leading factor in a large, competitive jockey colony this season.
Eikleberry comes prepared for a battle every day.
“I’d rather be way in front,” he said. “but this makes it fun, too. You know that if you don’t win one every day you’re going to fall behind.”
The meet is only 10 days old and anything can happen, particularly during a meet that could continue as the most competitive in years, as it is right now.
Keith and Eikleberry lead the way with 10 wins each, followed by Martin with nine, Nik Goodwin with seven, Alex Canchari and Dean Butler with six and Scott Stevens and Derek Bell with five.
“It’s very competitive right now,” Eikleberry added. “There are five or six riders right now capable of winning it.”
Times have changed?
“Yes,” said Eikleberry. “It’s not the good ol’ boys club any more.”
Certainly not with Keith in the mix.
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.