BY JIM WELLS
Wherever you looked on Saturday there were signs that moving day was at hand. Some horse trailers and human trailers were in various stages of readiness for the road.
Still, others had not yet begun to pack. Horse racing in many respects is not any different than the more sedentary existences many other people live. For instance: “I’m a procrastinator,” said trainer Dave Van Winkle. “I wait until the last day and then it’s hectic, nuts.”
Nonetheless, there was ample evidence that the end of the season had arrived, that it was, in fact, closing day of the 25th season of racing at Canterbury Park.
Horsemen stopped in the bookkeeping office to deal with billing accounts. Here and there, in hallways throughout the grandstand, a hand was extended in the knowledge it might be a final opportunity to bid a goodbye until the next time, wherever and whenever that might occur.
Former rider Paul Nolan, confined to a wheelchair since a riding accident at Will Rogers Downs, was on hand for the final day. Friends and acquaintances lined up upon seeing him for chats and for photos.
“Who’s the most photographed person at Canterbury today,” asked Kay King, executive director of the MTA, rhetorically.
Francisco Arrieta, with the riding title locked up after winning three of the first four races Saturday, descended the stairs from the winner’s circle, exuberant after winning a second consecutive title this year.
He left Phoenix at the end of April having won nearly 200 races, winning the title at Turf Paradise in a landslide. His second title of 2019 did not come as easily, or, at least, by such a dominating number, but it came just the same.
“Every day I would say to myself ‘don’t think about it. It s not going to happen,’ ” he said. “But every day I would get a new energy and just keep going.”
Arrieta, his wife and children, were ready to return to Phoenix as quickly as possible after the meet, where, he could begin his quest for another riding championship when the meet begins there in mid October.
Mac Robertson won the training title for the 13th time, a streak that includes a tie with Robertino Diodoro last season. It was Diodoro’s two-year reign in 2014 and 2015 that interrupted Robertson’s streak of dominance. On Saturday, with one race to go, Robertson had a two-win lead. At that point, the racing gods would have had to intervene. Diodoro had two horses in the race. His only chance at that point was a dead heat involving those two.
“It has happened before,” said Ted Grevelis of the Midwest Paddock Report, with a twinkle in his eye.
It didn’t on Saturday, however.
The leading owner for 2019 came down to the final race with Empire and Novogratz racing stables tied with 32 wins apiece. And with Scattered Cash, trained by Bernell Rhone and ridden by Dean Butler, winning the mile and 1 3/8 mile race on the turf, the titled ended that way, in a tie.
As for the meet itself, once again, for the second consecutive summer, several events that typically draw substantial crowds were plagued by rain, in some cases the kind that keeps people indoors the entire day.
“The weather was a challenge day in and day out,” said director of racing Andrew Offerman, who was pleased that the racetrack and grounds held up under the relentless barrage of wet weather.
“If God wants to shower us with sunshine and good weather next year, I’m not going to complain,” he said.
The divisional champions were named on Saturday, also. Leading the list was Hot Shot Kid, horse of the year, sprinter of the year and older horse of the year.
$75,000 SHAKOPEE JUVENILE
It doesn’t quite carry the same depth as “The last shall be first, and the first last, but the idea is there.
Those who are picked second sometimes finish first, behind a strong second effort, as Sassy Seneca did to win this one for Novogratz Racing stables and also the leading trainer of the meet, Mac Robertson.
Sassy Seneca, owned by Novogratz Racing and trained by Robertson, broke sharply and sat off the lead of Richard Ronald until taking the lead at the quarter pole. Richard moved back in front at the head of the lane but Seneca dug in with an eighth of a mile and prevailed by 4 ¼ lengths, with a time of 1:10.98.
Winning rider Dean Butler was passing out goggles after this one, making sure that everyone youngster in a group next to the winner’s circle received one. , Butler performed the task with a certain amount relish you don’t see from many riders during the routine of the meet.
A stakes win on closing day can brighten anyone’s day.
$60,000 MTA STALLION AUCTION STAKES
There wasn’t much doubt in the minds of the public that Astronaut Oscar was the horse to beat in this stakes event, and they sent him off at 1/5.
Oscar backed up that heavy allegiance in grand fashion with a dominating sprint to the finish line, in front of Mas Takela, second choice at 9-2 and Captain Drake, a 13-1 outsider.
Oscar stayed on the heels of pace-setting Captain Drake and began his move to the front on the turn, taking a three length lead at the stretch call. He had a 1 ¼ length lead at the wire on Mas Takela, with Captain Drake another 6 ¼ lengths back. The winning time was 1:10.99.
Owned and bred by Pete Mattson, Oscar provided the Dave Van Winkle barn with a key win on closing day.
Not a bad start to the day, eh, Dave ?
“Nope. If I can get one more I’ll be lucky.”
Mattson, for his part, was overjoyed to have bred and raised a horse like this one, who paid a lot of bills with his final opportunity of the season, earning $36,000 for this win.
“You can’t beat it,” he said. “One of your own, like one of your kids. ”
Mattson then said that it makes him feel special to be part of an owner/racing legacy that includes people such as the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame’s Cam Casby.
And on the subject of the racing life itself: “It’s like a second life, where I spend too much time,” he said.
He didn’t seem to mind it a bit on Saturday.
Canterbury Park’s 2019 Horse of the Year and divisional champions:
Horse of the Year – Hot Shot Kid (owner: Warren L. Bush : trainer: Mac Robertson)
Three-Year-Old Colt or Gelding – Mister Banjoman (owner: Novogratz Racing Stables : trainer: Mac Robertson)
Sprinter – Hot Shot Kid (owner: Warren L. Bush : trainer: Mac Robertson)
Older Horse – Hot Shot Kid (owner: Warren L. Bush : trainer: Mac Robertson)
Grass Horse – Satellite Storm (owner: Grace & Gamblers, LLC : trainer: Valorie Lund)
Three-Year-Old Filly – Ready to Runaway (owner: John Mentz : trainer: Mac Robertson)
Older Filly or Mare -Ari Gia (owner: Jose Silva, Jr. : trainer: Jose Silva, Jr.)
Two-Year-Old – Happy Hour Cowboy (owner: Robert Lindgren : trainer: Mac Robertson)
Claimer – Satellite Storm (owner: Grace & Gamblers, LLC : trainer: Valorie Lund)
Quarter Horse – Five Bar Bodee (owner: Peters Lepic Patnership : trainer: Jason Olmstead)