Kenny Schoepf once was so good at handling rank horses, he could have been a rodeo cowboy – maybe even a bull rider – something he actually did for a short time.
Yet horsepower meant several things to him because he drove cars, too, at racetracks in the Shakopee area.
Schoepf was a man for all seasons and a jack-of-all-trades. When the race meet finished at Canterbury Park each autumn, he went back to his dad’s shop constructing starting gates or automatic walkers, or to work somewhere building or repairing just about anything that required no fear of heights. He climbed 200-foot radio or aerial towers that needed repair. Or he took automobile engines apart and repaired them. He could fix a plumbing problem or a matter that required a hammer and saw. He could put on a dinner and keep the guests laughing while he cooked.
He was a man of extraordinary ability when it came to the mundane duties of life, particularly those no one else wanted or knew how to do.
Schoepf could fix almost anything and if he couldn’t, he knew who could. He tattooed horses, tore out most of the old stalls and put in the new ones in the Canterbury Park barns. He and his father built the walkers and starting gates that are used at Canterbury and elsewhere. He did everything with an unmatched determination, the same way he rode uncooperative horses as a kid. “I never saw anyone so fearless riding horses,” said longtime friend John Seward, a quarter horse owner from St. Paul. “He could ride just about anything.”
Seward recalls one episode years ago in particular.
“There was a fellow named Steve Treasure, one of the all-time leading quarter horse riders, one of the very best. It was during the Cheyenne, Wyoming Frontier Days and Steve’s dad came to me and said ‘who should I have ride the horse, Steve or Kenny Schoepf?’ Steve Treasure’s own dad took him off the horse and put Kenny Schoepf on it. Kenny was the rider of choice at all those meets.”
Yet of all the God-given abilities he had, there was one feature about Kenny Schoepf that is talked about unanimously: his willingness to extend a hand to everyone, even people he didn’t know.
“A stranger was just a friend he hadn’t met yet,” said quarter horse trainer Bob Johnson, a longtime friend. “Everybody liked Kenny because he treated everyone with respect.”
They respected him, too, because he demanded the best of himself no matter what he did. Schoepf’s work ethic was legendary. He wrecked a car at a Shakopee racetrack a few years ago and suffered a number of injuries. Johnson went into the racing office the next morning. “I wanted to find out which hospital he was in,” Johnson recalled. “But he was at his desk working.”
Schoepf’s eyes were blackened and he had numerous abrasions from the accident. “
“It’s a good thing you hit your head and not your foot or you might have been hurt,” Johnson told him.
Schoepf could hang with the boys into the wee hours and still be the first one on the job in the morning.
Canterbury Park President and CEO Randy Sampson looked forward to seeing Schoepf on the backside for another reason.
“I miss not having him here,” Sampson said. “Every time I saw him he made me laugh. He always had a funny joke or comment of some kind.”
Schoepf died suddenly in December of 2006 and his absence is still felt throughout the racetrack.
“He was an asset and is really missed,” said racing secretary Doug Schoepf, Ken’s brother. “I don’t know how many different jobs he filled on the backside but it takes one person now to do each of those jobs. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t tackle. He was a really good hand, there’s no doubt about it.”
Schoepf could handle the paperwork and line up appointments to tattoo horses with the efficiency of an executive secretary. Associates describe his paperwork as meticulous to a fault. Schoepf was the only identifier Canterbury had from opening day in 1985 until his death.
Schoepf’s friendship is missed most by those who knew him. Trainer Jerry Livingston sized it up this way: “Kenny loved horses, he loved people and he loved a good time. He was good with horses, good with people and he had a good time.”
Schoepf was a man without pretense. “He was the same person on Saturday night that he was on Monday morning,” said jockey agent Richard Grunder, a longtime friend who roomed with Schoepf at Canterbury meets over the years. “There were no mirrors with Kenny Schoepf. Take him or leave him, he was what he was. He was a guy you would go to war with.”
Kenny Schoepf was at home in a barn, the paddock, a car, on top of a radio tower or an ornery quarter horse, the racing office or the kitchen.
This man for all seasons and jack-of-all-trades will be right at home, too, with the other members of Canterbury Park’s Hall of Fame.
Among the stories from the early lore of Canterbury Downs none is any more engaging than that of Turbo Launch, the fearsome filly from the barn of Kathy Walsh.
Central to this tale is D. Wayne Lukas, then the reigning kingpin of American trainers. Lukas pondered which filly to ship from his impressive stable to the new racetrack in Minnesota for the $100,000-guaranteed Canterbury Debutante. Prevailing wisdom suggested a second or third stringer was sufficient. Randy Bradshaw, Lukas’s assistant in Shakopee, had this advice: “Send the best you’ve got and then hope. You’re up against a stone cold runner.”
Indeed he was – a two-year-old named Turbo Launch. Respectful of Bradshaw’s knowledge, Lukas sent Lost Kitty, owned by one of the nation’s most prominent horsemen, Eugene Klein. Having just won a Grade II stakes and a Grade I against the boys, both at Del Mar, Lost Kitty was widely considered the best two-year-old filly in the nation.
Turbo Launch, owned by Jack and Clara Dolan and Bill and Joyce Sexton of Minnetonka, had been very impressive at Canterbury but lacked the seasoning and fanfare of fillies at premier tracks.
Some of the Santa Anita boys employed at Canterbury Downs snickered at the suggestion a locally owned filly belonged on the same racetrack with a West Coast superstar.. The build-up to the race rivaled that of a prizefight, and the anticipation was palpable when nine fillies took the track that day.
Klein telephoned the press box from California and hung on the phone to hear Tony Bentley’s race call. David Miller, current Equibase chart-caller at Canterbury, was a press box intern and dutifully held the receiver next to a loudspeaker. “Klein asked me what happened,” Miller recalled. “He couldn’t hear the call. I have never heard a cheer like that from a crowd – before or since. The entire building was pandemonium.” Miller was enthralled himself for personal reasons. He held a winning pick six ticket that included Turbo Launch the day she broke her maiden. He was in love with the horse.
What Klein was unable to hear was the stirring conclusion to Bentley’s call, “this is one for the home team.”
Walsh and the Dolans and Sextons floated on an emotional cloud. So, too, did the winning rider, Dean Kutz. The locals had taken on the premier barn in the country and emerged convincing winners.
Lost Kitty got only a brief sniff of the Kentucky-bred daughter of Relaunch from the Tobin Bronze mare David’s Tobin. Turbo Launch took the lead from Expect the Best approaching the three-quarters pole, shook off a bid by Lost Kitty at the top of the lane and owned the stretch drive 2 and 1/2 lengths in front of the Lukas filly.
Clara, who lost Jack to cancer a year ago, now tells the Dolan side of the story. She has precious memories of those giddy days at Canterbury and the Debutante in particular. “We had such a good time,” she recalled. “I would inhale so deeply that my daughter Ann would tell me ‘breathe, mother, breathe.’ I couldn’t believe it.”
The Dolans and Sextons owned another big winner that season in partnership with John and Carol Roy, a horse named Knight Tracker. “I remember John saying to me, ‘Bill, it’s not like this’,” Bill Sexton recalled.
The Dolans and Sextons discovered another reality of racing. After the victory against Lost Kitty, there was consideration of perhaps the Kentucky Derby but more likely the Kentucky Oaks for Turbo Launch. That was before discovering that Turbo Launch had been hurt.
“She ducked out at the quarter pole,” Walsh recalled. “Dean straightened her up and she won anyway, but she suffered a chip in both of her knees.”
Turbo Launch was never the same and finished her career with four wins from eight starts and earnings of $126,325. She later excelled on another stage in thoroughbred racing – as a broodmare.
She was the dam of 2001 Broodmare of the Year, Turko’s Turn, and the grand dam to 2001 Horse of the Year, Point Given. Turbo Launch died of the colic last June at age 22, two weeks after delivering a foal by Orientate.
Turbo Launch was the first horse acquired by Walsh for the Dolans and Sextons in a purchase from trainer John Gerbas. “She was a brilliant, talented filly,” Walsh said. “But after she got hurt, we just didn’t want to run her at a lesser level.” The partnership later sold Turbo Launch in foal to Affirmed.
All she ever did (before the injury) was win,” Sexton said. “It’s too bad she got hurt.”
The what-ifs in racing could fill a library. What if Turbo Launch had stayed healthy? What if Lukas instead had sent an unproven 2-year-old to the Debutante named Winning Colors, who the following year became the third filly in history to win the Kentucky Derby?
Yet those are just footnotes to a story that can stand on its own – the tale of Turbo Launch, a glittering star on a September afternoon in 1987 and now a part of Canterbury Park’s Hall of Fame.