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Jack Kaenel’s Improbable Ride

The movie reel in his mind began rolling with the first strains of Maryland My Maryland Saturday afternoon, reeling off the events of that special occasion in vivid technicolor. Jack Kaenel was on the mezzanine of the grandstand at Canterbury Park watching the 137th running of the Preakness Stakes on the 30th anniversary of his stirring, improbable victory in the very same race aboard Aloma’s Ruler.

As I’ll Have Another was stirring the passions of the racing world by putting another piece in place for his run at the Triple Crown, Kaenel had mixed feelings. He was rooting for his buddies Mike Smith and Bob Baffert who were teamed up with Bodemeister. Yet he was satisfied that racing had another shot at a Triple Crown winner.

Then, the old movie reel started to play and the sequence of events began to roll across the surface of his memory.

He was 16 years, a mere kid, and here he was aboard Aloma’s Ruler, holding off the incomparable Bill Shoemaker and 1-2 favorite Linkage to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown. The year was 1982 and the win thrust him into the spotlight of the racing world where he was known thereafter as Cowboy Jack Kaenel.

Saturday, this film of Aloma Ruler’s Preakness stopped momentarily on the moments after the race, just long enough for Kaenel to recall a troubling moment that afternoon.

“I don’t talk about this usually,” he said Sunday afternoon. “But I was really aggravated afterwards when I was going to change my silks and ride in the next race.”

There were interviews to conduct and pictures to be taken. Kaenel was told that he wouldn’t be riding in the next race, that he had been taken off his mount to conduct the business of being a Preakness Stakes winner.

“I was [angry],” he said. “It was a $4,000 race but I knew I could win it and I wanted to ride,” he said. “The money wasn’t important. I wanted to win that race.”

No one ever questioned Kaenel’s desire to win or his talent on a horse.

He has been described variously over time as a horse whisperer or an equine psychologist, able to interpret a horse’s feelings, read their minds, calculate what they have left, ask of them only what they truly have to give.

And he could watch a race unfold, detect everything going on around him and respond accordingly.

“Obviously, he has great talent,” said trainer Lonnie Arterburn. “He won quite a few races for me in California. He’s a smart rider, an asset riding a horse.”

Kaenel hitched a ride from Remington Park to Shakopee with trainer Jerry Livingston, who put him to work exercising horses from his barn.

Livingston and other trainers, like Arterburn and Casey Black are rooting for Kaenel, willing to help him get back into the sport. The 16-year-old winner of the Preakness Stakes has won more than 4,000 races in his career but his career has been a series of fits and starts because of alcoholism, relapses, seizures, a brain surgery and other maladies.

His career is replete with stories of his colorful, zany antics during alcohol-fueled escapades: He rode a Brahma bull into a saloon in California, hitched it to the bar while he had a drink and engaged in match races at midnight while stark naked.

His friends say he always liked a good time.

“He’s a great guy,” added Livingston. “We just don’t know if he can withstand the scrutiny if he starts riding again.”

Again, the talent has always been there. “We’d like to help him out, get him going again,” said Black. “Get him back in the saddle. He’s a natural, just like a super football player, a (John) Elway, somebody like that. It’s like a gift of God.”

Kaenel rode at Canterbury during the track’s first couple of years and made a return attempt to ride here in 2005, shortly before a seizure required brain surgery to save his life.

Now he is back once more, hoping to catch on, hoping somehow to produce a fitting final segment to the story of his career.



There were noteworthy local footnotes to I’ll Have Another’s wonderful story in the Preakness Stakes on Saturday. The winner of the $100,000 Maryland Sprint Handicap was a horse name Hamazing Destiny, ridden by Corey Nakatani, trained by D. Wayne Lukas and owned by Minnesota native and Canterbury regular Barry Butzow along with Westrock Stables.

There were two riding doubles on Sunday’s card at Canterbury. Senor Juan Rivera brought in (his namesake?) Ize On Juan in race one and Dazzling Marna in the sixth.

Tanner Riggs, who truly sits tall in saddle, won the fourth race on Frankie Dapper and the card finale on Sputey’s Cabin.

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

Photo Credit: Coady Photography