BY JIM WELLS
On splendid day for doing anything out of doors, with a strong sense of autumn in the air, the 2009 Canterbury Park racing season came to a close with the Festival of Racing on Sunday.
Nine Minnesota-bred horses were crowned winners in their respective races and the champion trainer, owner and jockey were honored.
What was not surprising was that Mac Robertson won a sixth straight training title and addressed the crowd in typical Mac fashion.What keeps him coming to Minnesota every year when he could easily compete at tracks with more money?
“Minnesota has some owners who are OK, I guess,” Robertson deadpanned.
What was surprising this season was that, although wagering slipped as expected, attendance remained strong.
Curtis Sampson, chairman of the track’s board of directors and the man who put up the money to save Canterbury Park when he bought the closed facility in 1994, thanked the fans for their support this season.
“Especially with this economy, I want to thank all of the fans who continued to support us and help raise attendance this season by nearly eight percent,” Sampson said near the end of the card.
Dean Butler, who won his first Canterbury riding title, thanked his wife and daughter who are in Oklahoma, promising to join them tomorrow, and Jerry and Marlene Myers of Minneapolis were named leading owners.
You wouldn’t have made enough to pay the paper boy, but had you bet the farm on Bet Your Boots in the $60,000 Northern Lights Futurity, the first of the Festival thoroughbred races on Sunday, you would have been on a solid winner.
Ridden by Paul Nolan, trained by Troy Bethke and owned by Cheryl Sprick and Richard Bremer of Lake City, Bet Your Boots stalked Gladden’s Bromance down the backstretch, began his move on the turn and was in charge heading into the stretch after taking the lead from the fast tiring frontrunner.
Bethke trains both horses so he knew well what could happen. “That colt on the lead is a fast, fast horse,” he said. “They won’t know what to do with him in those short races at Prairie Meadows next year.”
Bet Your Boots and Nolan knew what to do on Sunday.
Yet, for a few moments, Nolan wavered as horse and rider encountered Sunday’s deep tiring surface. “From the 3/8ths pole to the quarter pole, we weren’t going anywhere,” Nolan said. “Then his class (Bet Your Boots is by Birdstone) kicked in.”
End of race. Start, perhaps, of great story.
Chick Fight was a 2-5 favorite in the $50,000 Minnesota Distaff Classic Championship, and those odds reflected the 3-year-old filly’s class. With the track’s leading rider in the saddle, Chick Fight won easily, adding that trophy to the one she won last year in the Northern Lights Debutante. Owned by Jeff and Deb Hilger of Grant Township, trained by Mac Robertson and ridden by Dean Butler, Chick Fight is four-for-four in stake races.
Butler added the Canterbury riding title these year to those he won previously, four of them at Philadelphia Park and one at Atlantic City.
Chick Fight was another feather in the bonnet.
“I’m proud of this horse the way she beat these kind of horses,” said Jeff Hilger. “She did a nice job.”
A masterful job, in fact..
That was the first of two times that Butler rode a three-year-old winner against older horses on the card.
He was back in the winner’s circle after the next race, the $50,000 Minnesota Classic Championship, with Minnesota Derby winner Perfect Bull.
Perfect Bull is by Holy Bull, is owned by Red Dog Stables of Blaine and trained by Bernell Rhone.
He stalked Suddenly Silver, the defending champion, and began his move on the turn, taking charge at midstretch for a convincing win.
Asked by paddock analyst Kevin Gorg which three-year-old he would ride in a match race, Butler sidestepped the question. “I guess I’d have to somehow have a foot on both of them,” he said.
The two-year-olds always produce interesting results and the $60,000 Northern Lights Debutante was no exception.
First up were the baby girls.
Her Sweet Saint, owned by Wayne Simon of Tolstoy, S.D., ridden by Ry Eikleberry and trained by Vic Hanson, surprised the favorites at 3-1 with a convincing win in 1:13 and 3-5.
Sasha’s Fierce, the 5-2 second choice in the race under Paul Nolan, and Hidden Golden the 8-5 favorite under Anne Von Rosen finished in that order.
Eikleberry put the winner on the lead shortly out of the gate and she stayed there to the finish, by five lengths or better.
The secret, the strategy?
“We just took our time with her and prepped her for the race,” said Hanson.
Simple as that.
The $35,000-guranteed Minnesota Turf Championship included three Robertson horses and they finished one-two-three.
Derek Bell, unmatched on closers, demonstrated perfect timing once again, catching front-running Joni’s Justice and Butler at the wire aboard Sarahs Son, owned by Jerry and Marlene Myers of Minneapolis. The winner paid $8, $3.60 and $2.20.
A perfectly prepared Belle Notte was another winner for the Robertson barn in the $50,000 guaranteed Minnesota Distaff Sprint Championship.
Art and Gretchen Eaton had difficulty believing what they were watching as Belle Notte ran like a mare against weanlings.
“No I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t,” Gretchen said.
Bella Notte, with Bell in the saddle, was unbeatable on Sunday, turning a front-running victory into a masterpiece, winning by, oh, about here to Valley Fair, in a stakes record 1:09 and 2/5.
“She’s fast, really fast,” said Bell. “She’s a very nice horse.”
Named for Belle Notte in Lady and the Tramp, the 5-year-old daughter of by Quick Cut was under a triple hammerlock at the front of the seven-horse field and picked up a length every time Bell gave her a bit of rein.
“She just seems to get better with age,” said Art Eaton.
The Robertson-Bell connection struck again in the $50,000 guaranteed Minnesota sprint with Olaf Strand’s Bizet, who berat a field that included Nomorewineforeddie, Sir Tricky and A Steel Trap.
PETERSENS DOUBLE WINNERS
Sometimes it pays to talk to a horse’s owner before a race. It would pay even better if a fellow not only listened but acted _ at the windows.
While departing the paddock before the second race on the card, the $20,000-added Minnesota Quarter Horse Derby, Bob Petersen nodded his head in the direction of Traffic Cartel, one of his two horses in the race.
“I like the No. 8,” he said. “He has Stormy Smith on him and he can ride, ride, ride.”
Had a fellow taken that vote of confidence to the windows he could have made $12 on a $2 win bet, a much better return than any savings account currently offered. Traffic Cartel broke from the outside No. 8 hole, took over at midrace, and was in charge at the wire in 20.049.
Had he laid down a bet on the Bob and Julie Petersen’s Oak Tree Boulevard (a winner in 17.946) in the first race, the $20,000 Minnesota Quarter Horse Futurity, he would have had his daily double.
“You called it,” a well-wisher said to Bob Petersen upon entering the winner’s circle after the Derby. “Yup, little brother, big brother,” Petersen responded.
Oak Tree Boulevard and Traffic Cartel were both from the mare Chic N Traffic.
Traffic Cartel had previous gate problems, but not on Sunday.
“He was perfect in the gate and broke fine,” said Smith.
Apprised that Petersen had picked the horse in the paddock, Smith had a terse reply:
“He’s a smart man.”