When Tracy Hebert rode home a winner named Top Authority recently, few racing fans gave it much thought.
Then again, few fans knew that horse and rider shared a similar handicap.
They both have sight in only one eye.
Perhaps handicap is the wrong word in this case, because neither Hebert nor Top Authority seems limited by the missing eye. They’ve both adjusted quite well.
Hebert lost his eye when he was 16 years old.
A friend was playing with a shotgun and it went off, striking the ground. Several bee bees from the shell ricocheted and struck Hebert in the right eye.
“I’m glad I was young when it happened,” Hebert said. “I’ve been able to adjust.”
Top Authority, a six-year-old, had sight in only his left eye, too, when trainer Red Rarick claimed him at Turf Paradise last year. “He had placed in several stakes in Canada (earlier in his career),” Rarick said. “I heard that he lost the eye after getting hit with a dirt clod. But you’d never know it. He went on to more than $150,000.”
The missing eye couldn’t stop Top Authority but a torn suspensory did. He injured the suspensory in his left front leg a year ago, and Rarick nursed him back.
“He tore it pulling up after Tracey won on him,” Rarick said. “Now he’s done. We’ll have to turn him out on a farm.”
Hebert, on the other hand will keep right on riding. He adjusted to the loss of the eye as a youngster, and has adjusted quite nicely to his new surroundings this summer as well.
He was struggling to get mounts while riding for the first time at Presque Isle Downs, and he got a call from an old buddy, Chuck Costanzo.
Costanzo learned to ride from Hebert 20 years ago and now, as an agent, it was he who was returning the favor.
Costanzo told Hebert he’d keep him busy if he came to Minnesota and has made good on the promise. Hebert was fifth in the riding standings heading into Friday night’s card from 141 mounts, second only to the 149 mounts ridden by Costanzo’s other rider, Paul Nolan.
Hebert had 19 wins, 23 seconds and 22 thirds with earnings of $266,271.
He’s glad to be working but… “I’d like to be riding better horses,” he said.
“But it is what it is. I wasn’t doing any good before I got here.”
Costanzo has watched Hebert ride for 20 years and insists that the loss of his right eye isn’t a limiting factor. “He can’t see to his outside but he can sense horses coming on that side probably sooner than another rider can see them coming,” Costanzo said.
Hebert’s strong suit as a rider is getting a horse out of the gate quickly.
“He can get any horse on the lead,” Costanzo added. “That’s first. Second, he has the ability to slow a horse down without screwing up its action. He’s a master at backing up the pace, and he’s also able to finish.”
Clearly, the missing eye hasn’t slowed Hebert any.
“It can’t be much of a problem. He’s been riding that way for 30 years,” Costanzo added.
And he has been on nearly 3,300 winners.
Adding to that total will be limited somewhat over the next week or so while Hebert finishes out days for careless riding.
Costanzo, and just about anyone else who has watched Hebert ride this summer, is betting that Canterbury Park’s Cajun addition to the jockey colony, will continue to expand that total once he returns.
BLAIR’S COVE STAKES
The Blair’s Cove Stakes presented a handicapping delight for Friday night’s fireworks turnout, but the Dean Kutz Stakes entertained (or disappointed) the large crowd with some early pyrotechnics.
Cam Casby, the owner of Chaska, summed up the $50,000 Blair’s Cove for many analyzing the race: “On any given day any one of these horses could win this race,” she said.
On this particular evening, however, Joni’s Justin, under a smart ride from Dean Butler, set the early fractions and was first at the wire as well, outdueling Cubfanbudman, under Jose Ferrer, for the win. Sir Tricky, with Derek Bell in the saddle, finished third in a field of six.
A lot of interest was paid to Wally’s Choice, who started the race $54,000 short of overtaking Blair’s Cove as the all-time earner among Minnesota-breds; he did little to cut into the difference on Friday and will have to await another opportunity.
DEAN KUTZ STAKES
The $50,000 race honors the first jockey elected to the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame, the late Dean Kutz.
Three immediate members of the Kutz family, all siblings to the late rider were present _ Claire, Connie and Wade, along with their spouses and several nieces and nephews.
Oakley Zink, a grandson to Dean’s best friend, Dean Zink, gave the two-minutes to post warning from the track announcer Paul Allen’s booth, and Wade handed out the winning trophy to….???
He had to wait while the stewards reviewed an inquiry for interference involving the first two horses.
As fans and riders alike watched a replay, Tracy Hebert, who rode Big Push to victory, spoke about Kutz, with whom he rode in Kentucky, and at the same time wondered if his horse would be taken down.
“I can’t believe they’ll do it,” he said. “If you look at what’s going on, it’s fifty-fifty between our horses.”
Hebert paused and turned his attention to Kutz, who died of throat cancer. “I rode with him a long time. He was a solid guy, a good man,” Hebert said.
The second-place horse, Fufty Too, was ridden by Scott Stevens. He reasoned that his horse should get the win. “We’re away from the rail on the turn, then we’re in and then my horse came way out. There’s only one way my horse comes out like that, if he’s pushed.”
The stewards concurred, much to the joy, consternation or, in some cases, fury of the crowd.
One and a half hours later, the actual fireworks display got under way.