BY JIM WELLS
Jim Zahler buys horses, sells horses and occasionally has a horse bred to his mare. It’s safe to say that horses occupy a big portion of his life, that he loves racehorses.
But he won’t watch them run.
Not when they’re one of his.
Zahler’s name might be familiar to certain fans of the game. He started investing in thoroughbreds when the track opened as Canterbury Downs in 1985 and has been involved in various ways since, although not always locally.
If HIS name is not familiar, perhaps that of Speeding Kid is.
Speeding Kid was a winner on the first Saturday in May out of the barn of Miguel Silva, with Leslie Mawing in the irons. He ran twice thereafter with different results and different connections. He ran third on June 15 at 6 ½ furlongs and was second on the Fourth of July to the inimitable Mr. Jagermeister, the swiftest sprinter on the grounds.
In Zahler’s place, Lori and William Townsend were listed the last two races as owners of the 3-year-old gelded son of Law Enforcement from the mare Bright Star. Yet, the horse did not have to switch barns or, for that matter, families. Lori Townsend is Zahler’s daughter, who after years of watching her father’s enthusiasm for the game, decided to join the party, as did her husband.
It so happens that Speeding Kid and Zahler’s horse Clever Criminal are running in separate races on Friday night’s card. Speeding Kid is the 7/5 favorite in the $45,000 Minnesota Made Sprint at 6 furlongs, carded as race 9. Clever Criminal is a 15/1 outsider in a maiden special weight event at 5 ½ furlongs, carded as race No. 7. Silva handles both horses for the Zahler connections this season.
Lori says she and her husband decided to buy Speeding Kid after learning her father was going to sell him. “He sells everything that has some value,” she explained. “He sold the lakehouse, and now he was going to sell Speeding Kid, so we decided to buy him.”
Lori has an additional job whenever her father’s horses run and she is at Canterbury. “He never comes to the track,” she said “He gets too nervous watching his horses run.”
So, she films the race and texts it to him afterward.
Zahler, meanwhile, explains his reluctance to watch his horses race as simply a health precaution. “I have a good heart,” he said, “and I don’t want to weaken it.”
Zahler takes great pride in his judgment of horses, something he puts to work at sales and whenever he buys a horse outright. “Oh, yes, he does have a good eye,” Silva said.
And Zahler credits one of the original trainers at Canterbury Downs for the acquisition of that “good eye” and for whatever else he has learned about the business.
“Bernie Flint got me in the business,” Zahler said. “No one else but him, and everything I know about it I learned from him.”
Flint was among the top trainers in Shakopee during the track’s first couple of years and Zahler says he maintains a relationship with him yet. “We talk at least once a month,” he said.
“The man has been in the horse business quite a while,” said Flint, headquartered at Churchill Downs. “He doesn’t lose money in racing. He makes money, at least he has with me. We don’t fool around with horses that can’t produce.”
Resurrecting some of his memories of Canterbury in its infancy, Flint credits Zahler and late HBPA president Tom Metzen as being instrumental in bringing racing to Minnesota in the first place.
Zahler left the business locally when purses began dropping, but made a decision to return after Canterbury signed the purse agreement with Mystic Lake.
In the interim, he stayed in racing through pinhooking and other buying and selling aspects of the game.
He is partners with Silva in the ownership of Speeding Kid’s dam, now in foal to Liaison and also owns Bright Star’s sister, Speeding Lady.
“I own the whole family,” Zahler said, “and we’re going to add another member.”
Perhaps by then, Zahler will convince himself to watch his horses when they race. Flint had some advice along those lines.
“You know, owning horses is not a lot different than owning a football or basketball team,” he said. “Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but you are still an owner.”
And the impact racing has on a fellow’s heart?
“It’s actually good for you,” Flint said. “Watching your horse run can blow out those arteries, clean them up.”