By JIM WELLS
She erased all doubt, convincing the skeptics and making believers out of the uncertain by delivering a knockout blow to her eight three-year-old rivals on Saturday afternoon.
A.J. Bakes by a Scott County mile.
The 3-year-old daughter of Boundary from the Olympio mare Linens n Lace got a masterful ride from Hall of Fame jockey Scott Stevens and blew away her opponents in the $60,000-guaranteed Minnesota Oaks.
The race was worth an additional $20,000 as a bonus to A.J. Bakes since she was sold in the 2006 MTA Yearling Sale and also won the Northern Lights Debutante. She fulfilled the third requirement with Saturday’s commanding victory.
Prior to the race there were a number of questions about A.J. despite the fact she had many of the best stats in the race, including the heftiest bank account ($104,098) in the field.
A.J. had been impressive as a sprinter but could she handle a mile and 70 yards ?
There were also all of those uncertainties associated with a sixth-place finish in the Princess Elaine Stakes on July 4, a race in which she finished a 1 ¼ lengths behind Pretty As a Smile, who was also in the Oaks.
Stevens approached Robert Knox, one of A.J.’s owners in the winner’s circle afterward with this comment: “She’s back to her old self again,” he said.
Jane’s Gold ran off the winner’s shoulder down the backstretch and hooked up with her on the turn.. Stevens took one look at the horse beside him, loosened up his hold, and the race was over. A.J. drew off to a 9 ½-length victory over Pretty as A Smile, with Marina Nolan finishing third..
The winner paid $7.20, $3.20 and $3.20, with a winning time of 1:43 and 2/5..
You can get a feel for a horse during a morning workout, and more than once Stevens was convinced that A.J. Backes was back in the groove and ready to prove it on the racetrack in the last week…
“We took the blinkers off her and it definitely worked,” Stevens said.
Trainer Todd Hoffrogge was certain the filly was ready. . .”She’s in great shape and ready to go,” he said on Friday. He also made a strategic equipment change, removing the blinkers so she was more inclined to rate under Stevens.
“She just ran off with me the last couple of times,” said Stevens, the horse’s only rider for her eight career starts. “Todd removed the blinkers and she relaxed real nicely for me today.”
The horse is owned by Knox in collaboration with his stepson, John Baker.
Baker and his wife Tammy have two children, Annie and Jack, whose initials were used along with a derivation of their last name to arrive at A.J. Bakes.
“To see her race like this was pretty exciting stuff,” said Jack Baker, 16.
“I expected it to be a lot closer than this,” said Annie Baker, 13.
A.J., Canterbury’s 2007 two-year-old champion, had other ideas on the subject and made that obvious. The sprinter proved she could also go a route of ground.
DERBY VICTOR A CUBS AND BUD FAN
The $60,000 Minnesota Derby drew a field of 12 and was generally considered a wide-open affair. That was an accurate assessment, considering that the winner was a 19-1 horse named Cubfanbudman, owned by Tony Didier of David City, Neb., trained by Bruce Riecken and ridden by Jose Betancourt.
Betancourt has had a good week, winning five races, and had to ride coolly to win this race. The winner stalked Brother O Mine on the turn into the backstretch, dropped back to third as The Real Story and Jesse Garcia moved up to challenge down the back and, with just enough in reserve, took command down the stretch.
Hunting Pride, ridden by Juan Rivera was second, and Silver Wilbur, ridden by Stevens, was third.
Didier comes from a community near Columbus, Neb., of about 2,500 and grew up a Cubs fan, hence the name for the winner in the Derby. “Harry Carey used to say that all the time,” he said. “A Cubfanbudman.”
Didier’s a Cubs fan and also drinks Bud. “Bud Light,” he said.
Cubfanbudman paid a healthy $41.80 to win, more than enough for a case of Bud Light, with a winning time of 1:45 and 4/5.
CANTERBURY PARK DAY AT RACEWAY PARK
Here’s an opportunity to see a few Canterbury and backstretch employees compete with a different type of horsepower.
As part of Canterbury recognition night at the races, Raceway Park will present an employees race. Among the racing office employees who’ll put the pedal to the metal are racing secretary Doug Schoepf, quarter horse racing secretary Josh Van Oort, clerk of scales Jerry Simmons and clerk of course/placing judge Peggy Davis.
They should all be forewarned that the activity can become addictive.
Ask jockey agent Chuck Costanzo, who drove in this employees race last year. “I got hooked,” he said.
Costanzo will drive tonight as well and it’s for real. He’ll be in a 1979 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, churning up Raceway’s dirt track.
“I guess it’s my eighth or ninth time at it this year,” he said.