From the large gathering in the President’s suite, assembled In his honor, to the absurdly large congregation in the winner’s circle after the race named in his honor, which was preceded by countless stories about him and a video tribute immediately before the $50,000 Dark Star Cup put together diligently by TV production manager Jon Mikkelson, film clip by film clip, from nearly 30 years of footage about the Dark Man.
George Chapple was in his glory.
Many of his friends were on hand, including Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist and KSTP radio host Patrick Reusse, who presented the winning trophy.
The only glitch in the entire day was that the favorite did not win, meaning Dark, who always took the chalk, would have had a second place horse.
“Oh, yeah, he would have had the three horse,” said paddock analyst Angela Hermann.
“Absolutely,” said another.
The three horse was Southern Dude who was part of a very swift early pace that set up the finish perfectly for someone eyeing the action up front, namely Signsealndeliver, ridden to perfection by Ry Eikleberry, who moved two in front of Lori Keith in the rider standings.
The winner shipped in from Arlington Friday night to the barn of Corey Jensen and was ridden by Eikleberry, who performed his due diligence before the race and put the information he learned to use.
Eikleberry had not laid eyes on the horse before he rode him, so he watched films, just as a defensive back might study an opposing receiver’s tendencies.
“I noticed that he didn’t mind splitting horses,” Eikleberry said.
Which is precisely what he did, taking advantage of the swift pace set by Southern Dude and Absolutely Cool to split those two in the final 1/16th, winning by a length over the Dude. The favorite was coming off a third place finish in a graded stake at Churchill Downs. Third was Absolutely Cool out of the Valorie Lund barn, a neck back of the favorite.
The winning time was 1:15.66 after fractions of 22.35, 44.61 and 1:09.04.
The winner paid $11.80, $4.40 and $3.
Which leaves us with a final Dark Star story now that the inaugural running of his race is done.
His buddy Reusse was chuckling over a framed certificate sent to Dark and now part of Canterbury press box memorabilia.
It was sent to the Dark Man from the American Lung Association, a certificate of appreciation for “outstanding service toward improving community health in the prevention and control of lung diseases and their causes.”
It was an award greatly appreciated by the Dark Man, who was a heavy smoker.
MINNESOTA STALLION BREEDERS’ & NORTH CENTRAL QUARTER HORSE DERBY
There was nothing surprising about the winner of the Minnesota Stallion Breeders’ and North Central Derby, with its $22,300 purse.
The Amber Smith-trained BP Painted Lady, the 4-5 favorite, did her thing and outclassed the field under Cody Smith.
She was the favorite for good reason, having posted the fastest qualifying time in the trial and having banked the most money of the 10-horse field, reduced to nine after Fly Eyeann became a gate scratch.
What wasn’t expected was the ambush from an inside horse that winning rider Cody Smith thought momentarily might spell his horse’s doom.
Outlaw Memories, ridden by Eikleberry, broke from the No. 2 hole and made an immediate right hand turn, pushing the two horses next to her, Hastabealeader and CC Tres sideways toward the favorite.
“I saw that happening and thought they might hit us,” said Smith. “Luckily we ran free (of the trouble).”
There was a certain irony to the ambush since the inside three horses are all trained by Bob Johnson. So, too, was the No. 6 horse, so the Johnson clan had the favorite and eventual winner sandwiched.
It didn’t matter. BP ran a straight course and finished in 20:257.
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.