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Extreme Day at Canterbury Park

by Jim Wells
You couldn’t sell the idea to a Kentucky hardboot if you included a jug of something 120 proof, and the folks at NYRA roll their eyes and think Minnesotans must marry their first cousins. The Californians, well, who knows with them.
To those of us in the frozen northlands it all makes sense. We turn out in droves for anything that’s free, a bit different or will entertain the kids and cut down on the cotton candy.
So the response was a surprise but it really wasn’t, and that thought makes sense to Minnesotans, too.
The subject, of course, is Extreme Day at Canterbury on Sunday, the brainchild of madmen, crazy scientists and died-in-the-wool capitalists who revere P.T. Barnum, the man who said “there’s a sucker born…”
Oh, yes, Extreme Day, the crazy, ridiculous notion that put more than 16,000 customers in the park last year and attracted on-track and out-of-state wagering of $809,000.
Put that in your rigid, judgmental pipe and smoke it.
The purists will still shake their heads and claim the racing world has gone insane. The innovators in the game – especially those who can’t get help from the Minnesota legislature in the form of casino gaming – will carry on and do what it takes to keep the turnstiles turning.
So Extreme Day Two is upon us, and this time the camels have been spared the frightening thought of bearing the very stout Mac Robertson. You might recall that Canterbury’s top trainer the last several years approached one of the beasts to climb aboard last year and the camel backed away. Chaplain Tommy Bartram, working the gates, hopped on in Robertson’s stead.
Some of the horsemen were rumored to have eyed the Ostriches as their next pair of boots when the big birds finished their race, but, all in all, the day came off well and became an instant part of the racing calendar.
“I think we were all surprised,” said Eric Halstrom, Canterbury’s vice president of racing operations.
“When you get 16,000 plus people…”
Even more surprising was the busy day at the windows. “We weren’t sure how people would react to the specialty races, but it went really well,” Halstrom added.
The highlight was the race that put contestants on the dirt and the turf at the same time, running a race against one another on different surfaces.
“We started getting calls from TVG and HRTV wanting to know more,” Halstrom added. “Especially, the dirt and turf race, everybody was intrigued.”
That race was been slightly modified this year because the turf is a bit faster than the dirt. In a complete disregard for equal rights, the fillies will run on the turf, the colts on the dirt.
Extreme Day’s feature event this year was created under the full influence of hallucinogens and the full support of the always-excited-about-a-new-wager betting public.

In this race, contestants will compete – one at a time.

This should be really popular with the folks who can’t wait for the swimming heats in the upcoming Olympic Games.

Eight quarter horses will run, one at a time, against the clock. The best time takes the pot.
Oh….the suspense.
“I really trust (announcer) Paul (Allen) to make this one fun for the crowd,” Halstrom added.

This idea, submitted by Halstrom, was conjured up in a brainstorming session that included president/ceo Randy Sampson, media relations director Jeff Maday, the Darkman and marketing VP John Harty.

“There were a few adult beverages consumed,” Halstrom confessed. One of the other ideas, to have fans throw tomatoes at losing jockeys, was dismissed. Halstrom did not admit to the tomato proposal but owned up to other rejected notions that might have dumped him from the Canterbury payroll had they been adopted.

“We could just see all those riders hightailing it for the tunnel,” Halstrom added.

The turf/dirt race and other innovations of that sort have actually drawn accolades from the racing world at large.

Halstrom said that ostriches and camels clearly attract the crowd. The innovative races draw the players.

The ostriches and camels are back on Sunday and Halstrom said that a 3 1/2 furlong race is planned with the express idea of setting a track record.

Trainers Tammy Domenosky and Bobbie Grissom will ride two of the camels. Trainers Justin Evans and Troy Bethke will ride the others.

Jockeys will fill the seats on the big birds.

Naysayers convinced that the novelty of this event will wear thin, be forewarned.

“We’re going to come up with a new idea for a race every year,” said Halstrom. “I already have a great one for next year.”

Hall of Fame rider Scott Sevens chalks it up to good luck, something impossible to explain. Those who know him also know better.

The subject is Stevens’ delicate touch with two-year-old horses, his ability to take them to the winner’s circle or set them up for future success.

He demonstrated more of his aptitude with the babies on Saturday, riding the winners of the first and third races, both two-year-olds.

That made him seven for 17 at Canterbury this meet, a superb figure particularly considering that it applies to unpredictable and in some cases truly green young horses, still afraid of their own shadows in many cases.

“I don’t know what it is,” he said. “I’ve always had luck with two-year-olds. Almost every year.”

Stevens was on Smuggler’s Hold, a two-year-old gelding who broke his maiden in the first race Saturday, and trainer Bryan Porter had an explanation for that victory.

“He handles two-year-olds really well,” said Porter, who trains winters at Turf Paradise in Phoenix where Stevens rides. “He’s very good at teaching a horse what it needs to know before it races.”

Take the other morning, for example. Stevens worked Smuggler’s Hold for Porter and dropped him in behind two other horses for a spell.

“He let him get some dirt in the face,” Porter explained, “so that when it happened on the track it wasn’t a new experience to him. Scott’s been around. He knows what these horses need.”

Porter, who also owns the horse, didn’t want to rush Smuggler’s Hold into action. “I told Scott we could wait a week or two if we had to, but he said no, that the horse was ready now,” Porter said.
Stevens acquired many of his skills on the ranch at home in Boise, Idaho, where he frequently rode the fear and anxiety out of horses by taking them over hill and dale and plenty of ditches as well.

Before the race on Saturday, Porter and Stevens talked. “I told him two of the best horses I ever had got beat their first time out,” Porter said. “I told him to win if he could but to teach him what to do. I didn’t want him to do it at any cost.”

Stevens rode Pterodactyls Rule for Mac Robertson in the third race, and this maiden two-year-old filly wound up a winner, too.

Rider Paul Nolan, known variously as the Lawn Surgeon and Lawn Leprechaun, had a bit of information for Stevens after he won with those two horses on Saturday.

“I told him if I was the surgeon, then his success with babies made him the pediatrician,” Nolan said.


Just last weekend, Jaime Ness lost Best Westerner, a horse he considers the best on the backside, to a knee injury.

Best Westerner was in Winnipeg for $50,000 Derby Trial, taking on horses he had beaten at the same track this season in a stakes race. He was sitting an easy winner, Ness said, when he switched leads and, just like that, chipped a knee. Ness shook his head and said, “He’s done for the season.”

On Saturday, Ness confirmed that Repenting, another star in his barn, was done for the season, too, the result of a broken ankle. “It can be fixed, but it takes time and he’s done for the year, too,” Ness said.

A conversation ensued about the vicissitudes of racing, and Ness took hold of a time-honored axiom

“The strong will survive,” he said.


Nolan was the star of the show on Saturday, winning half of the eight races in which he had mounts.

His first of four trips to the winner’s circle was aboard Wicked Pancho, and he made it two for the day with Early Arriver in the fourth race.

Nolan came right back with another winner, riding Mooji’s Sister in race No. 5. He made it four for the day aboard Princess Bianconi in race No. 7.

Nolan finished second on Ribot’s Rift in the sixth race.

It was a good day as well for Stevens, who completed the card with his third win, on Beau Named Sue.