Over the past decade Canterbury Park racing fans and gamblers have watched and wagered on some of the most popular and richest racehorses in the history of the track. Hold for More, who raced under the care of Francisco Bravo, is on that list. Mr. Jagermeister is as well. His brilliant speed earned hundreds of thousands of purse dollars for trainer and co-owner Valorie Lund. Honey’s Sox Appeal, A. P. Is Loose and the recently retired Hot Shot Kid, who ended his career as the all-time leader in purses won by a Minnesota bred, are all on that list. The latter three had a common denominator in trainer Mac Robertson.
So do four others who have retired in the past two years, earning $2.6 million combined: Beach Flower, Cinco Star, Clickbait and Ready to Runaway.
These were horses that racing fans wanted to see in person and they came to Shakopee to bet, or often to single in a multi-race sequence, as the horses almost always fired. John Mentz had
ownership, either outright or in partnership, in each member of that quartet and the importance of their popularity is not lost on him.
“When Ready to Runaway ran I would hear her name being mentioned as I walked through the crowd. That was pretty cool,” he said.
Mentz’ entrée to racehorse ownership began with going to the track and betting in the ‘90s. “Gambling got me interested,” he said.
Through a friend he met trainer Pat Cuccurullo who was training in Chicago. Cuccurullo was a three-time leading trainer at Canterbury in the Downs Days and still holds the record for starts, 351, and wins, 91, in a single season. Mentz and partner Chris West teamed up with Cuccurullo. One success from that partnership was a horse Mentz still remembers: Secret Squall. He was claimed for $6,500 at Arlington Park in the summer of 2001 and two starts later won the $50,000 Claiming Crown Iron Horse at Canterbury, the marquee day of racing in those years.
When Cuccurullo stepped away from training, Mentz was introduced to trainer Hugh Robertson, Mac’s father. Through Hugh he met Mac. Both continue to train for Mentz. He eventually got involved in breeding and buying horses at auction, sometimes on his own but often in partnerships. That is something he does not shy away from. “It’s just as much fun winning a race with a horse I own in partnership as it is on my own,” he said.
Mentz co-owns the mares Beach Flower and Clickbait with Hugh Robertson and Jeff Larson. Beach Flower, a Kentucky bred purchased at auction, last raced in 2022. She won 12 times in her career, nine coming at Canterbury, and $576,665 in purses. Beach Flower, pictured above winning the 2019 Lady Canterbury, is in foal to Mystic Guide.
Mentz, Larson and Robertson purchased Clickbait from the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association Yearling Sale. Nineteen of her 21 career starts and all eight of her wins came at Canterbury. She finished top three 18 times.
“She did not run a lot but in Minnesota on the dirt she was awful good,” Mentz said. Clickbait was retired this summer and will be bred. She retired with career earnings of $378,663. The partnership will decide where to drop the foal.
“We’ve had some good horses,” Larson said. “Now [the partnership] will be breeding and see how that goes.”
Larson has been involved in the breeding process for many years producing other top Canterbury runners like Teddy Time and Sioux Appeal.
He got interested in horse ownership while attending one of Steve Erban’s Kentucky Derby junkets. Erban has been at one time or another a trainer, an owner and a breeder. Larson joined a partnership with Erban and has been involved in racing since the ‘90s.
“[Ownership] checks a bunch of boxes,” Larson said. “You own your own sports franchise. There’s the gambling aspect and there’s the business aspect.”
It was also Erban who referred Larson to Mac.
Luvin Bullies, trained by both Mac and Hugh, is a Kentucky bred Larson purchased. She ran out $305,526 and is now in foal to Catholic Boy. The stakes placed mare won races at Arlington Park, Fair Grounds and Delaware Park. Luvin Bullies also raced many times in Shakopee.
“It’s nice to be able to watch them run at Canterbury,” Larson said. “I don’t travel around a lot to watch my horses.”
Mentz has also had success breeding racehorses. He bred Cinco Star in Minnesota. From 2018 through 2021 Cinco Star ran 28 times and won nine earning $406,640. In his final season he was on the board in all six starts locally, winning three times and setting a track record for one mile on the turf in his final race. He was voted Canterbury Park Horse of the Meet. Cinco Star also holds the 7 1/2 furlong turf record.
“We were hoping to run him [in 2022] but he could not get completely healthy,” Mentz said. So instead Cinco Star was retired and is living in Illinois.
Ready to Runaway earned more money racing at Canterbury than any other mare. She won in Shakopee 14 times, finished second seven times; $533,400 of her $564,640 in earnings came locally. Nine wins were stakes.
“She only missed the board one time,” Mentz said. “She’s been so good.”
Robertson claimed Minnesota-bred Ready to Runaway for Mentz in her fourth career start. The story as to who made the decision has changed over the years, but regardless the results were extraordinary.
The claim came in a $25,000 non-winner of two lifetime claiming sprint where the filly won the nightcap drawing away by more than seven lengths. The date was June 22, 2019. Earlier that night Beach Flower had won the Lady Canterbury Stakes.
“I actually forgot we put a claim in that night,” Mentz said. “Beach Flower won the Lady Canterbury on the day of the claim. We went out to celebrate with friends so I was not at the track when Ready to Runaway ran. She was in the last race of the night. I was reading the results the next morning and said ‘Oh that’s right. We put in a claim on her.’”
In her next start, Ready to Runaway won the Frances Genter Stakes for 3-year-old state bred fillies. Then came the Minnesota Oaks romp and finally the Glitter Star Minnesota Distaff Classic
Championship beating older by eight lengths. She would have to wait to earn Horse of the Meet honors as Hot Shot Kid was busy winning everything in sight that summer but the daughter of First Dude was voted Three-Year Old Filly of the Meet.
The following season at Canterbury Ready to Runaway won four of five starts, finishing first in three stakes and second in one. She was recognized as the best horse of the season.
Ready to Runaway raced again the next two years winning twice from six starts in 2022 including the Glitter Star for the fourth consecutive time.
She returned to training in 2023 and worked four times in the spring at Hawthorne however Ready to Runaway never made it to the races again and was retired.
“She’s 100 percent mine,” Mentz said “I will breed her and she will foal in Minnesota. With all the Minnesota connections I want to foal here.”
Ready to Runaway is nearly certain to enter the Canterbury Hall of Fame as is Hot Shot Kid. Cinco Star, Beach Flower and Clickbait also have strong resumes that must be considered. There were flashes of brilliance again this past season with other stars on the rise but replacing such a strong group of horses, all racing in the same window of time, will take some doing.
“There are many ways to get horses,” Mentz said. “We got horses every possible way. We claimed, we bred, we bought.”
And Mentz continued buying at the most recent MTA Yearling Sale after taking a break for a year or two.
“I didn’t like not having 2-year-olds around,” he said.
Mentz purchased Hip #31, a Minnesota bred colt by Maximus Mischief out of Smarty Prance, consigned by Richard Bremer and Cheryl Sprick.
“This was the horse I liked the most,” he said. “A half to (stakes winner) Jose Patio. I talked to Mac and we decided the limit was $50,000. The bidding got to 49. Almost did not get him.”
Hip #31 was the sale topper.
Mentz estimates he has all or part of 20 to 25 horses including broodmares, weanlings and yearlings.
When asked about his favorite horse, Mentz paused for just a moment. “My favorite horse has to be Ready to Runaway. We ran her during the pandemic of 2020. Attendance at live events was limited. We were only able to bring a handful of friends to the races. Watching her run brought a lot of joy and fun during that time.”