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Lessons Learned…

Cowboy_Luke_Papa_Dick%27s_75th_Birthday_Race_06-22-13_CBY_FinishThe adjectives are endless for sizing up the race meet at Canterbury Park this spring/summer/fall/winter. The biggest question has been how to accurately characterize this strangest of seasons.

“I can’t remember a meet with weather this crappy ever, anyplace I’ve been,” said jockey room custodian Jerry Simmons. That covers a bit of ground. Simmons has been in racing 55 years and worked some 40 to 50 racetracks.

There has been water, water everywhere, not terribly different it seems than the scene portrayed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Instead of “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner,” however, this bit of poetry is playing out in the stables and racetracks of Minnesota’s only thoroughbred/quarter horse facility.

“Rain, rain go away” has become the silent mantra of trainers, riders, valets, owners and track management itself.

It is hard to recall a race day on which riders have returned to the jockeys lounge without mud caked to their faces and riding silks – aside from winners on the front end, of course.

In spite of rain and storm delays during cards, in spite of enough mud to build a mountain, in spite of wet grounds, soggy turf and raindrops as large as robin’s eggs on occasion, the racing surfaces, main track and turf, have stood up remarkably well to elements heretofore unseen during a Canterbury meet.

“I haven’t seen anything like it,” Simmons said.


“Except for the one day we had to shorten the card (the track superintendent was out of town), this track has been superb,” said Ry Eikleberry shortly after winning Saturday’s third race aboard the No. 3 horse, Cowboy Luke.

“The man (Javier Barajas) taking care of this track is worth every penny he gets. He really knows what he’s doing. He has my full respect.”

Despite the tropical conditions, soggy weather is not the first thought on every horseman’s mind.

“Exciting” was the first word from Lori Keith when asked to size up the meet. Reminded of the of the wet conditions, she added, “‘wet summer,’ if I can get two words in.”

Yet ”exciting”, particularly from her viewpoint, is certainly appropriate.

Here is how the day started in the thoroughbred jockeys standings:

Dean Butler 19 wins, Keith 18, Eikleberry 15, Eddie Martin, Jr. 14 and Nik Goodwin 12.

And the winners Saturday from the aforementioned group?

Eikleberry, Butler and Martin.

The track started out “sloppy” on Saturday and was listed “good” as the day progressed.

It didn’t seem to matter to Canterbury favorite Heza Wild Guy, making a return to Shakopee to wind up his career.

An Indiana-bred, Heza has been running at Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs but was brought home by his owners, Jerry Pint and Will Carlson, to complete his career.

After all, ”he’s 12 years old,” said Pint. “We just wanted to bring him home and race him a couple of times and then retire him.”

Pint knew this much about the gelded son of Wild Event:

“He might be 12 but he’ll compete. He still wants to win.”

Heza did just that, challenging for the lead as long as his old legs would carry him. For all of that, the 12-year-old got up for show money.

“He still has the heart,” said Butler, the winning rider.

Mud or water aren’t about to bother a veteran like Heza, who is 32-6-13 from 87 career starts.

There are other Canterbury regulars with their own thoughts about the meet.

First thoughts that come to mind for the Oracle?

“Not as many favorites winning, the mud, new faces , competitive.”

And for paddock analyst Angela Hermann?

“Learning how to make money in the mud,” she said.

Those are life lessons in regard to horse racing for many of Canterbury’s veterans this season.

They are quite different from the lesson learned and overheard by a bystander waiting in line at the admission gate on Saturday.

“It’s been years since I’ve seen you, what, seven or eight?” a woman said to a fellow standing across from her. “I was a little heartbroken, what do you think,” she said.

The outline to the story seems apparent. The details we’ll never know.

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.