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News and Notes August 8



The John Bullit Stakes was minutes away on July 20 and Clayton Gray, who once trained the popular claimer, was engaged in a conversation with some of his former owners.

Gray has been training in Canada for several years but at one time was prominent on the Canterbury Downs backside as president of the HBPA and as a trainer, never more than when he conditioned John Bullit, a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.
Gray made the trip from Assiniboia Downs to present the trophy to the winning connections of the race named for his former star, and was involved in a conversation were trainer Percy Scherbenske and two of his owners, Bob and Marilyn Hovelson, who were eager to see a maiden filly of theirs run in the final race on the card.
John Bullit, the conversation revealed, indirectly got the Hovelsons more involved in thoroughbred racing.
It seems that the Hovelsons, for whom Gray then trained, had a pick six ticket one afternoon in the late 1980s with five winners on it heading into the final race. “We had John Bullit singled in the sixth of the pick six races and he was the favorite,” Bob Hovelson recalled.” The pick six pool that day was worth $100,000.”
The Hovelsons played the pick six on a fairly regular basis and previously held tickets that included five of six winners, always one short of the big prize. They were hopeful on this particular day, however, because they needed only John Bullit to fill out a winning ticket and he consistently rewarded his backers.
The Hovelsons’ spirits drooped when John Bullit ran second to a horse whose name they no longer recall. That disappointment was momentarily shelved when an inquiry was announced and minutes later was assuaged altogether after the winner was taken down for interference and John Bullit was placed first.
There were three winning pick six tickets that afternoon and the Hovelsons had one of them, worth $33,000 and change.
“The exotic betting was really strong in those days at Canterbury,” Hovelson added. “We had gotten five of six a few times and had just missed the pick six the day before. I had confidence we were going to hit it that day.”
The Hovelsons were involved in standardbred racing when Canterbury Downs opened in 1985. As Bob explained, they got into a limited partnership in a broodmare band as a tax shelter that didn’t quite live up to expectations and shifted gradually to thoroughbreds after pari-mutuel racing started in Minnesota.
They used some of those pick six winnings, as Bob recalls, to purchase a horse named Crown Vetch and also took a trip to Kentucky, where they bought a filly named Free Ransom in a yearling sale.
Gray oversaw the early conditioning of the filly and, although largely a grass horse, she broke her maiden in the slop at Churchill downs. “She earned just under $70,000,” Bob said.
Here’s where the tale takes off and truly connects the past to the present.
Free Ransom was retired to become a broodmare, maybe too early according to Bob. Nonetheless, she is dam to a four-year-old filly named Swingit who earned around $350,000 and is still running for the Hovelsons. Free Ransom is also dam to Sing It, who earned about $250,000 before being retired as a broodmare and sold.
Free Ransom, by Our Native (by Exclusive Native), stands at Briarbrooke Farm in Paris, Ky. for the Hovelsons. Her first baby was a filly named Polar Baby, who is now nine and stands at Scherbenske’s farm in Castlerock, Mn., and is dam to a horse named Playit.
In addition to their broodmares, the Hovelsons have three horses racing, two with Hal Wiggins in Kentucky and the other, Playit, with Scherbenske.
Last Saturday the Hovelsons stayed until the last race at Canterbury Park to watch Playit, who finished third her last time out – on the John Bullit card July 20 – break her maiden.


One payee was omitted in Thursday’s blog bits about local horses picking up checks in the Claiming Crown races last Saturday.
Onotheregoestokyo finished fourth in the $100,000 Emerald and that was worth $5,000.
The omission created an opportunity for additional discussion about this five-year-old gelding from the barn of Bernell Rhone.
Rhone claimed this Kentucky-bred son of Storm Creek (Storm Cat) from the Mac Robertson barn about this time last summer for HBPA president Tom Metzen and Bill Lethert.
Onotheregoestokyo is now close to $150,000 in career earnings. Rhone describes him as a horse who pays him own way. “He might throw in a bad race here or there but then comes back with a good one,” the trainer said.
Rhone regaled a blog bystander in his barn the other morning with a bit of additional history on the horse. “Somebody told me his name comes from a song by the Grateful Dead,” Rhone said.
The blog bystander checked an extensive list of lyrics by the Grateful Dead on several websites to no avail. There was nothing to confirm that the Grateful Dead indeed had extended their psychedelic influence over time and distance to a barn in Shakopee, Minn.
The topic, which had then reached a dead-end, was broached to media relations director Jeff Maday in the press box.
“Oh No There Goes Tokyo,” is a lyric from the song Godzilla, 1980, by Blue Oyster Cult,” Maday said without hesitation.
We all knew that, of course. We just forgot.