Trainer Joel Berndt, a regular at Canterbury Park over the past years, won the first graded stakes race of his career when Hay Dakota stormed down the middle of the turf course Saturday evening at Churchill Downs, getting up to win the grade three $100,000 Commonwealth Turf Stakes by a neck at odds of 29 to 1 with another Canterbury connection, jockey Denny Velazquez, aboard.
“I wanted to add that to my resume,” Berndt said Sunday of the graded stakes win. “I was confident last night. He overcame a rough start. Denny did a great job.” He had reasons to be based on Hay Dakota’s troubled summer in Shakopee.
Berndt, originally from South Dakota, has been training for 25 years. He began his career at Fonner Park in Grand Island, NE in 1991 but moved to Chicago, where he had spent much of his youth, in 1993 and now calls the Windy City home.
Hay Dakota raced near the back of the 11-horse field in the 1 1/16th mile Commonwealth. The 3-year-old gelding was fanned 10 wide entering the top of the lane and had more than 10 lengths to make up.
When he began rolling down the middle of the track Berndt “knew we were going to get a check” but those thoughts quickly changed to victory as Hay Dakota was gobbling up ground. Velazquez urged Hay Dakota on and passed favored Bondurant just before the wire. He returned $60.20 to win.
Hay Dakota raced five times at Canterbury this past summer, breaking his maiden and winning a restricted allowance before finishing third by a neck in the $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby, a race where he had simply too much ground to make up on a course kind to horses near the pace. One Mean Man won the Mystic Lake Derby and was also entered in the Commonwealth but was no match for the winner and settled for seventh beaten more than three lengths by Hay Dakota.
“We sort of turned the tables on One Mean Man and beat a salty field,” Berndt said.
Hay Dakota raced on Canterbury’s closing day and suffered through a very tough trip where he was stopped more than once. His next start at Hawthorne resulted in a pristine trip and a win in a gallop at 9 to 1.
“Those people that watched him at Canterbury this summer knew the trouble he had,” Berndt said. “Sometimes you know what you have; he just didn’t get trip.” Hay Dakota more than made up for that Saturday at Churchill.
Berndt will now consider the $125,000 Claiming Crown Emerald at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 3 as a possibility. “We will take a look at the nominations and decide. It’s only three weeks away. The good thing is a race doesn’t take a lot out of him. He bounces back quickly. And he really only laid himself down for a quarter mile yesterday.”
Photos courtesy of Coady Photography