It was a first of a personal and very minor note, but a first for the current meet just the same.
Kevin Eikleberry saddled a horse for a race and his son Ry wasn’t on her back.
Instead, Ry had the mount on Jim Warvell’s Texas Country Doll for the $17,000 allowance race at (about ) a mile on the turf, the seventh race on Sunday’s card.
Scott Stevens was on the horse Ry in most circumstances would have ridden, a four-year-old filly, Frisco Jag.
So, why the switch?
“Oh, these horses are probably about even,” Ry said, “but I think the one I’m on might be a little better.”
Dad Eikleberry had a contrary opinion.
“We’ll see,” he said, “but I think he’s on the wrong filly.”
Eikleberry has only a half dozen horses here this summer. Frisco Jag was just his fourth starter and he was hoping to finish in the money for the first time.
The rider switch under most circumstances wouldn’t have drawn a second look, but the father-son element gave it an added dimension.
Kevin Eikleberry is a third generation horseman and had a direct hand in his son’s desire to ride thoroughbreds for a living.
First, some background:
Kevin is from Springfield, Colo. His wife, Pam, grew up in a Garden City, a Kansas town not far across the border from Springfield. Kevin’s father and grandfather were horsemen, and it was clear that he would devote his life to that line of work, too. Pam wanted to raise a family in a stable situation that didn’t require pulling up stakes every few months when a race meet ended. It was 1980 when the Eikleberrys settled on Phoenix, with its autumn to spring meet. Arizona offered racing opportunities in Prescott, too, and that is where they now have their ranch. Their primary home is in Cave Creek, just north of Phoenix.
Four years ago, when Ry was 16, he accompanied his father to Colorado for a meet at Arapahoe Park.
“I put him on 20 mounts or so,” Kevin recalled. “He won only one race, but that was the only live one I put him on.”
The seed was sown and it took firm root in Ry’s youthful plan for life. He was to become a jockey.
A rider with ambition, desire and talent it is turning out.
Eikleberry won the quarter horse riding title at Turf Paradise two years ago, the quarter horse title at Canterbury Park last summer and the thoroughbred riding title in Phoenix last season.
“It’s been kind of a break-through year for me,” Ry added.
He was fourth in the thoroughbred standings, four wins behind Jose Ferrer and Derek Bell and trailing Dean Butler by 13. He had a solid lead in the quarter horse standings with 15 wins, eight more than Jerry Winters.
Kevin started training on his own when he was 19. It appears that only Ry will carry on the racing tradition, however. His brothers Rhet and Rustin are a big too big to ride. “They’re more my size,” said Kevin, patting his stomach.
Ry,20, has his own home in Phoenix but he and dad are living together during the Canterbury meet.
“We stay with my girlfriend,” Ry explained.
So, after living alone, how it life with dad again?
“Oh, a little different,” Ry said.
In any case, the Eikleberrys like Shakopee.
“Minnesota in the summer and Arizona in the winter. Couldn’t be better,” Kevin said. While father and son are in Minnesota, mom is in Prescott holding down the ranch.
There is much to like about Shakopee according to Kevin, especially Canterbury Park itself.
“It’s the best-run place I’ve ever been,” he said. “It’s well run from top to bottom. Everything is first class, from the announcer, Paul Allen, to the paddock analyst, Kevin Gorg. I just wish the money was better.”
Well, on Sunday it got a little better. Neither Eikleberry was a winner in the seventh race, but dad’s horse got third-place money.
Proving once again that sometimes, just sometimes, father knows best.
DENTAL CLINIC TO HONOR GEORGE BANGO
Dr. Dana Isaacson will dedicate the new dental office on the backside to a long-time horseman at Canterbury who died last September.
Anyone who knew George Bango is invited to attend the brief ceremony at 5 p.m. on Friday in front of the dental office.
Bango trained at Canterbury for many years, alternating his stable between Shakopee and Phoenix for the last several years of his life.
His most memorable victory came in the 2004 Claiming Crown with Superman Can.
Isaacson plans to have several cases of beer for the ceremony. Bango’s widow, Mary, and a daughter are expected to attend.
Isaacson wants to name the newly-opened office “The George Bango Memorial Dental Clinic.”
He hopes to have chaplain Tommy Bartram officiate at the ceremony.