Not many in the sizable crowd of over 7,000 Thursday realized they were witnessing a small bit of Canterbury Park history, a footnote perhaps to much more that has happened since racing debuted in 1985, yet something to remember nonetheless.
No one said one day they will bounce a grandchild on a knee and recall the day chute racing returned to Canterbury. No one wept when the winner of the first race out of the chute entered the winner’s circle.
Just the same, the racing season is drawing to a close and historic occasions are becoming fewer to document.
A few people of the jockey persuasion did complain about the sharpness of the turn onto the course when a race lines up in the chute.
To which identifier Mark Bader had this opinion: “Gripe about a turn,” he said. “We used to race places where a telephone pole marked the outside fence and barbed wire was the inside rail and both were something to avoid.”
The Canterbury chute was abandoned sometime in the late 1990s when concerts were a frequent affair in the infield. Others claim it was abandoned after numerous complaints from riders who didn’t, ahem!, like the sharpness of the turn onto the main course.
Whatever the case, chute racing made its triumphant return in races two and three on Thursday, both races at about a mile, the first for maiden fillies and mares and the second an allowance tiff for the same gender.
The winner of the first race was a 3-year-old filly by Sir Shackleton named Tightrope Dancer, ridden by Denny Velazquez, trained and owned by Gary Scherer.
“She’s a chute horse. She loves the chute,” Scherer cracked as his horse arrived for the winning photo.
Moments later, he congratulated Velazquez as he headed back toward the jockeys’ room. “Hey, congratulations on your first turf win here in the first chute race in years,” he said.
“I’m just glad to win it,” said Velazquez, whose mount broke from the No. 8 hole. The potential exists for horses in the outside positions to get shuffled to the back of the pack. “It didn’t really matter,” Velazquez said regarding his post position.
Britta Giller, who works in Scherer’s stable and hot-walks the winning filly was convinced the horse would win Thursday morning. “She was getting a bath and I asked her if she would win tonight,” Giller said. “She began shaking her head up and down as if to say ‘yes’. I told Gary that she was going to win tonight.”
Where are these tips when we need them, right!
The return of chute racing at Canterbury has this concern for three-time defending riding champ Dean Butler: The manner in which the horses approach the gate from the infield, which is wide open.
“I can guarantee you that a horse will get loose sometime and end up in one of the ponds unless that is changed,” he said, which is what happened maybe three years ago at Tampa Bay Downs, where Butler rides during the winter.
The winner of race three was Stillwater Storm, trained by Doug Oliver and ridden by Juan Rivera. Stillwater Storm broke from the No. 2 hole. “The turn (onto the main track) is way too sharp,” said Rivera. “But I’m happy for the win.”
Tanner Riggs rode Dear Fay, a 7-2 choice that finished out of the money.
Using the chute didn’t present much of a change for him. “It was a little different,” he said. “But my horse handled the turn just fine. I just wish he would have run a little better.”
Others wish the weather had turned out a little more kindly. With reports of bad weather and lightning beginning to strike throughout the area, the card was cancelled after the fourth race, just after Scott Stevens brought in a horse named Royal Express for his 27th win of the meet, keeping him and Lori Keith, who won Thursday’s card opener on Sultry Queen, tied for fourth place in the standings. Derek Bell is in third with 31 wins. Butler and Riggs are tied for the lead with 59 wins each.
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.
Photo Credit: Coady Photography