By JIM WELLS
The first thoroughbred stakes race of the season not restricted to Minnesota-breds, the $35,000 Honor the Hero Express, attracted a stellar field of 11 horses for the five-furlong turf sprint.
The field was sliced in half with five scratches when the race was moved from Canterbury Park’s soggy grass to the main track.
A field of 11 or a field of six, both were irrelevant. This was truly a one-horse race.
Humble Smarty, a seven-year-old chestnut gelding by Mutakddim from Humble Danzig, looked like a million bucks in the paddock and easily added another 21 grand to previous earnings of $272,117, going gate to wire with Dean Butler in the irons as the 3-5 favorite.
So, the move from grass to dirt?
“It really didn’t matter,” said winning trainer and owner Brett Creighton.
An 11 horse field cut to six horses?
“That didn’t matter either,” said Creighton.
Humble Smarty, the winner of the 2010 Claiming Crown Rapid Transit at Canterbury, was an easy winner in track record time of 0:56 flat, 7 ¾ lengths in front of Sharkiowa.
“That was one great horse. Fun to watch,” said a track-side observer, one of 6,671 patrons on hand for the Memorial Day card . “It made the day.”
OBSERVATIONS, OPINIONS AND DOWNRIGHT FACT
Monday’s third race presented an interesting observation in regard to Ry Eikleberry, the talented, young rider who cut his teeth on the backside at Turf Paradise in Phoenix and Canterbury Downs.
Eikleberry is tall _ 5-10 or thereabouts _ for a rider, but keeps his weight under control nonetheless with a disciplined lifestyle. That discipline is evident in just about every aspect of his life, private and professional.
Take the third race on Memorial Day. Eikleberry put My Sweet Revenge on the lead and kept her there for a mile, thwarting all challengers by asking just what was needed at a particular juncture in the race and no more. That assured him of enough horse to get the job done over the final strides. He wasted no horse and had enough left when it counted most , finishing a 1 ½ lengths in front of Dear Hrishi and Paul Nolan, who mounted a challenge at mid-stretch but were rebuffed when Eikleberry responded by jiggling the reins.
What race fans won’t see and might have no way of knowing is that Eikleberry, like his mentor, Scott Stevens, is much more than a mere race rider. Those two riders know horses and are able to communicate that knowledge to trainers after workouts and races.
On Sunday, for instance, Stevens rode a winner named Cherokee Woman for the respected horseman Joe Merrick.
Merrick commented on his choice of rider afterwards. “Why wouldn’t you want someone who’s won 4,500 races. That’s a no brainer,” he said.
There was more.
“He can tell how a horse feels, what’s bothering him, what he needs,” said Merrick. “It’s the same with Ry Eikleberry. They aren’t like a lot of young riders who grew up playing video games and could care less. They know horses.”
It was suggested to Merrick that perhaps that was true away from the racetrack, too, in department stores and big corporate outlets whose young employees have little interest in doing anything beyond the most basic customer service.
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” said Merrick.
Word got around on Sunday that trainers Bernell and Cindy Rhone were celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary.
That will happen on occasion when the news is leaked out on the toteboard TV screen as it was in this instance.
It didn’t take long for horsemen to begin responding, with congratulations and, in some cases, banter and good- natured ribbing in others.
“So, what do you get for 35 years of this,” someone said to Cindy with a nod toward Bernell.
Earlier, Bernell suggested that the race four result might be plenty enough anniversary gift after Martin Escobar gave Cornetto a winning ride.
The horse is trained by Bernell and owned by Cindy and Tom White. Cindy, in fact, ponied the horse to the track, but had a poor vantage point for watching the race from horseback.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said later, having learned that her horse had indeed won the claiming sprint.
That should take care of things for now, Bernell suggested. “Maybe dinner later on.”
That opened up a whole new round of banter. MacDonald’s has senior coffee that’s real good, someone suggested. Bernell responded with a suggestion of his own. “Maybe I should round up a bunch of senior citizens for a party,” he said.
“Hey. How did everyone find out anyway?” Cindy asked.
“It was on the tote board, ” Bernell responded.
“Who told them,” Cindy wondered.
“Your mother did,” someone told her.
With that, Cindy Rhone looked over a nearby table and offered a salutation to a gentleman sitting there all alone.
“Hi, dad,” she said. “Where’s mom, anyway?”