By JIM WELLS
The man who brought horse racing to Minnesota in 1985 had a special way of explaining situations in which the planets, the seas, the wind _ all the forces of nature _ seemed to conspire for a positive outcome.
“We were kissed by an angel,” Brooks Fields, the president and CEO of Canterbury Downs, would say on such occasions.
The heavens were in perfect order on Sunday. How else to explain an afternoon of absolutely balmy weather, ideal for being out of doors until the Festival races were concluded and only the final event on the card, a maiden claimer, was ready to go and the rain began…briefly.
On the most special day of the year for Minnesota horsemen, the weather, the fans and the horses themselves contributed to the show in the 18th running of the Minnesota Festival of Champions.
A crowd of 11,214 was on hand for the 10-race card offering more than $400,000 in purse money, the largest recorded turnout since 1992, the first year of the Festival. The on-track handle was up 17.7 percent.
Intermingled throughout the afternoon were tears of joy, elation and, in some cases, maybe even residual grief.
Who wouldn’t cry, as Gretchen Eaton did, after hers and husband Art’s Bella Notte won the $50,000 Minnesota Distaff Sprint Championship for the third consecutive time.
How many pictures do you need, Gretchen?
“We’ll, we’ve got employees, friends?”
Will twenty-five handle it?
“It’s an easy game,” said winning rider Derek Bell. “Just hang on.”
Bella Notte’s win drew applause from the nearby crowd, another reason for tears.
Who wouldn’t feel deep emotion when the last horse broken by your recently departed husband just won the $50,000 Northern Lights Futurity, as Heliskier, now 2-for-2, did for Marlene Colvin.
Bun Colvin, a respected and well-known horseman at Canterbury the last three decades, died last January. Marlene used to watch him ride the 2-year-old Appealing Skier colt in the pasture outside their South Dakota home. “Yes, it’s the perfect tribute,” she said.
“That’s a nice horse,” said Mac Robertson, whose horse, Private Warrior, ran out of the money in the race. “Bun broke him, a nice job. I would have broken him.”
Who wouldn’t feel joy, vindication and gratitude when a horse you just claimed for $15,000 wins a $50,000 race first time back, as Jaival did for trainer Valorie Lund and owner Peter Seals and Eight Ender Stables as the third pick in the Minnesota Classic.
That race presented an obvious question:
How do you like Minnesota-breds so far, Valorie?
The best answer in this case might be an old axiom: buy low, sell high.
In any event, the horse was Lund’s first Minnesota-bred. “We gave him a lot of schooling,” she said. “In the paddock, in the gate. I was nervous, not having a race before this one.”
Not to worry. The favorite Black Tie Benny and second choice Suddenly Silver locked up on the front end, before Benny took a bad step on the turn and Martin Escobar pulled him up. At that point, Jaival and Rusty Shaw took dead aim at Suddenly Silver.
Can you feel anything but overwhelming glee when your horse makes mincemeat of his opponents to win the $35,000 Minnesota Turf Championship as Tubby Time did for trainer Mac Robertson and owner Jeff Larson?
Tubby Time moved to the head of the line for Horse of the Year with the win, in light of Sheso Dazzling’s puzzling no-show in the $50,000 Minnesota Distaff, won by Tez Savitri under Eikleberry for Bernell Rhone and Kissoon Thoroughbreds.
“I had a lot more horse than I planned on,” said Eikleberry.
“It was perfect timing by the jockey, a great ride,” said Deon Kissoon.
How might you feel if your name is Cam Casby and your Keewatin Ice just ran down Jills Summer Raine inside the 16th pole to win the $55,000 Northern Lights Debutante.
“Wonderful,” pretty much sizes up Ms. Casby’s attitude afterward.
How would you react if your horse, Nomorewineforeddie, is winless in three starts this year and can’t seem to find a race but comes up big when he does, in the $50,000 Minnesota Sprint Championship for the second consecutive summer.
“Congratulations,” said Richard Grunder, Ry Eikleberry’s agent,to the winning owner, Anthony Didier. “Where did you (Bizet) finish,” Didier responded. “Second just like last year,” Grunder said.
Dale Haglund had to feel a measure of pride as the owner/trainer of Streak N Hot, who blew away nine foes in the card opener, the $15,000-added Minnesota Quarter Horse Futurity under Wilfredo Arroyo. After all was said and done, the race was worth $19,400.
Pithia, who lost big to Lien On Me last time they met, reversed that result in the $15,000-added Quarter Horse Derby under Eikleberry. Ultimately, that race was worth $18,650, and the winner’s worth increased, too. That left owner Rodney Von Ohlen of Alpha, Minn., feeling a bit better about sale prospects for the three-year-old filly in the November Oklahoma sale.
All in all, Robertson had to feel pretty good himself by day’s end. His three stakes wins put him the training lead, one in front of Bernell Rhone and two in front of Mike Biehler.