By JIM WELLS
With two horses in the $50,000 Princess Elaine Stakes on Saturday, owner Cam Casby was torn.
The best she could hope for was a dead heat involving Seasahm, the five-year-old mare she owns with Carol Curtis, and Minnesota Mafia, the four-year-old filly exclusively hers.
Casby is typically very nervous before her horses run and refuses to watch them. She’ll watch the replay, but not the race itself.
Saturday’s situation was even worse than usual. Casby felt divided, and both halves were nervous.
Casby watched the horses prance into the paddock minutes before the race, and then watched as Seasahm turned a bit rank, requiring the steady hand of trainer Mac Robertson to take over from the groom and restore her equanimity as the horses circled the paddock awaiting their riders.
“You know, Mafia is healthy again,” Cam said. “She came back from every race last year on three legs.”
Minnesota Mafia was kicked in the left rear hock either entering the gate, while lined up, or shortly after the break in her first start at Canterbury Park in 2008. Although she didn’t recuperate fully the entire summer, she still managed to win two races in August.
She looked very healthy on Saturday, settling under rider Juan Rivera and relaxing after wanting to run off with him at the start.
“She hadn’t raced in more than a month and really wanted to run,” Rivera said. “I had to fight her the first 300 yards before I got her to relax a little.”
Rivera let his horse settle within striking range of Seasahm and Derek Bell. “I knew I had to follow the two horse,” Rivera said. “That was the horse to beat.”
Once Mafia relaxed, Rivera thought his chances were excellent.. “At the half-mile pole I thought so,” he said. “I had a lot of horse.”
Enough horse to take charge over the final 16th for a 1 ¼-length victory over Seasahm, who had a half length on Bella Notte and Dean Butler, who set the pace. Sam Sweetheart was another ¾ length back.
The winning time was 1:42 and 3/5ths, a tick off the stakes record set by Dot’s Moment in 1999. Dot’s Moment, it so happens, was owned by Cam Casby’s mother, Sylvia, in partnership with Art and Gretchen Eaton.
The Eatons own Bella Notte, and Gretchen was reminiscing a bit in the paddock before Saturday’s race. “You know, Dot’s Moment beat Plana Dance in this race in 1999,” Gretchen said, “and Plana Dance had won the race the two previous years. ” She said it in a way that sounded hopeful that maybe, just maybe history would repeat itself, that Belle Notte, a 4-1 choice in the race, would get the best of 2-1 favorite Seasahm, the defending Princess Elaine champion.
Alas, that was left to Minnesota Mafia, the 7-2 selection in the race, a 7-2 very healthy selection, which meant that Casby was celebrating in the winner’s circle after this race for the third straight year.
LAKE TO GET ROYAL TREATMENT UPON ARRIVAL
Scott Lake is scheduled to arrive in Shakopee on Sunday morning, a few hours ahead of three horses he will saddle in next Saturday’s Claiming Crown.
Lake, the leading trainer in Claiming Crown history with eight wins, will send out Fancy Runner in the Jewel, Divine Master in the Emerald and Met A Miner in the Glass Slipper.
Once he beds down those three upon their arrival Sunday evening, Lake will be escorted to St. Paul by none other than stall superintendent Mark Stancato, who is joining Equibase’s Lisa Johnson and David Miller for a trip to the Happy Gnome, a St. Paul bistro owned in partnership by Miller’s brother, Nick.
So, the real question is whether the Happy Gnome carries Stancato’s favorite brew, Peroni, an Italian beer.
“It’s quite hard to find,” Stancato said. “It’s a bit pricey, too, $13.00 a 12-pack and worth every penny.”
Sometimes you have to look no further than your own backyard, as Stancato discovered this year.
Friday night’s beer specials at Canterbury just happen to include Peroni, and Stancato has made several trips to the grandstand from his dorm room on the backside this meet to enjoy his beer of choice.
“It’s good, very good,” Johnson said after Stancato recommended the selection to her.
Stancato couldn’t agree more. Paddock analyst Kevin Gorg suggested that Stancato hold himself to a six-pack on Friday night. “I ran out of time,” Stancato said. “I got to five when I had to head back to the dorm room, so I drove my bike, hanging onto the handlebars with one hand and a Peroni in the other. I arrived back at my room without incident and then had another when I got there.”
SOMETIMES OUR HEROES AREN’T WHO WE THINK THEY ARE
Late in the card Saturday, announcer Paul Allen told the grandstand crowd that free t-shirts were about to be propelled into their midst from the winner’s circle by Miss Minneapolis.
Allen was pulling their legs while having some fun with Canterbury employee Katie Barta.
It seems that on Friday, Miss Shakopee and several other contestants for that title were at Canterbury, and Allen asked Barta, facetiously, if she was a Miss Shakopee contestant. “No, she responded,” Miss Minneapolis.
So his announcement on Saturday was meant in good humor, except for one thing.
A young girl approached the winner’s circle with her mother hoping to get an autograph from Miss Minneapolis.
She appeared close to tears when Barta told him the truth.
“I thought she was going to cry,” Barta said.