Quite appropriate. Very fitting. The trainer of a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner saddles the winning horse in a $35,000 overnight stake named for John Bullit, Canterbury Downs champion claimer in 1986, a horse ridden by Mike Smith, Julie Krone, Chris Antley, Scott Stevens and Dean Kutz among others.
Ian Wilkes, who conditioned 2012 Classic winner Fort Larned, sent out Moe Man, owned by Robert Lothenbach and ridden by Justin Shepherd.
The instructions were simple: “Ride your race.” Ride the race as it comes up.
“He’s a good rider. I know him from Kentucky,” said Wilkes, after Moe Man left a field of seven rivals eating his dust in a stretch burst, finishing 4 ½ lengths in front of Coconino Slim with Wild Jacob in third.
The easy victory left even Wilkes a bit stunned. “That was surprising, the way he came down the lane,” said Wilkes.
Wilkes, an Australian trainer, learned under a man well known to Canterbury fans – Carl Nafzger, who trained 1990 Kentucky Derby winner and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Unbridled.
If Wilkes was surprised by Moe Man’s easy win, so also were the Canterbury fans, who let him get away at 7-1. The favorite at 2-1 was Diamond Joe, who finished fourth.
John Bullit, incidentally, set track records in 1986 that still stand: on July 25, he ran 1 ¼ mile on the main track in 2:04 1/5. On Sept 26, he turned in a 3:11 2/5 for 1 7/8 on the turf.
He was trained originally by Clayton Gray, who bought the horse in a package deal and loved thereafter telling stories about how John Bullit would introduce himself to a new rider the same way each time: by sending the individual headlong into the rafters of the barn or the dirt in an arena.
The grand old gelding ran 31 times at Canterbury Down, winning 17 times.
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.