By Noah Joseph
In 2015, the world of horse racing experienced a high like never before. American Pharoah became the first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown, and nearly every track in America wanted to have him make an appearance. Canterbury Park was one of those tracks, and they made an offer that Team Pharoah seemingly couldn’t refuse. Canterbury would raise the purse of its featured race of the season, the Mystic Lake Derby, from $200,000 to $2 million, move the race from the turf to the dirt, and move the race from Saturday, August 29th to Sunday, August 30th. The offer was turned down by American Pharoah’s connections after a couple weeks of the proposal’s release. Now Canterbury’s biggest race lacked a star competing in it. What was the track to do?
After shaking off the disappointment of not getting horse racing’s biggest star to come to Minnesota, Canterbury pushed ahead with the Mystic Lake Derby, and ended up drawing a small but competitive field of seven 3-year-olds for the one mile turf event. The top competitors included Barbados, winner of the Grade 3 Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream Park, Syntax, winner of the Grade 3 Kent Stakes at Delaware Park, and Gallery, who won the Manilla Stakes at Belmont Park. One horse who flew under the radar was Nun The Less. The son of Candy Ride came into the Mystic Lake Derby off of a third-place finish in the Grade 3 American Derby at Arlington Park. Longshots Shrewd Move, Flashy Jewel, and Space Mine filled out the field. A crowd of 10,845 showed up to watch and wager on the Derby.
At 7:31 PM, the Mystic Lake Derby combatants broke from the starting gate in a near perfect line. Shrewd Move went out for the early lead with Flashy Jewel and Space Mine following on the outside. Next came Gallery, followed by Barbados with Nun The Less to his outside, and the favored Syntax trailing. As the field went down the backstretch, there was no change in positioning, but as the field reached the far turn, the complexion of the race started to change, as Gallery and Syntax overtook Space Mine, while Barbados was coming up on the outside, and Nun The Less was composed along the rail. When the horses turned for home, Syntax found a hole on the rail and took the lead, but Gallery was coming fast right next to him and slowly took the lead. Unbeknownst to them, Nun The Less was angled out from the rail to the outside and was coming with a menacing rush. In the final 100 yards, it was down to Gallery and Nun The Less to decide who would be the winner. Gallery fought hard under Carlos Marquez Jr., but Nun The Less was just too good and outkicked Gallery to win the Mystic Lake Derby at odds of 4-1, with Gallery finishing second and the favored Syntax in third. Next came Barbados, followed by Shrewd Move, Flashy Jewel, and Space Mine finished last.
Nun The Less was owned by the Lothenbach Stables of Bob Lothenbach, a native of Minnesota who still has horses across the country and is currently atop the owner standings at Canterbury Park. Chris Block was the winning trainer, and the winning jockey was Florent Geroux. It was the second big race win for Geroux in as many weeks, as he won the Grade 1 Arlington Million aboard The Pizza Man two weeks prior to the Derby. Nun The Less had the spotlight on him in Shakopee that night, and his win helped etch his name in Canterbury legend, all well proving that sometimes, less is best.
One final note on American Pharoah. On the same day as the Mystic Lake Derby that year, American Pharoah ran the prestigious Travers Stakes at Saratoga, where he lost as the heavy favorite. Perhaps his connections were wishing that they took Canterbury’s offer after that race.