ONE BUNCH CAN RUN, THE OTHER CAN DO THAT AND PASS, TOO
Jerry Livingston started bringing horses to Canterbury Downs in 1987 and kept a stable here every year until last year when he was strongly considering retiement from the quarter horse racing business.
Racing, like a number of other sporting ventures _ boxing comes to mind off hand _ does not often let go of its proponents easily, and that is what happened to Livingston, who is back at Canterbury this spring with a string of 10 horses.
Livingston won training titles at Canterbury for three straight meets beginning in 1995, and titles of that nature _ again we allude to boxing _ make leaving the limelight all the more difficult.
The 60-year-old trainer intends to see the meet through before pulling up stakes, although he does plan to take a short break at one point to attend to another coaching adventure _ training is sort of like coaching, right? _ and that is the 7th and 8th-grade football teams at Santa Teresa Middle School near El Paso, Texas. Livingston, it turns out, has developed a second passion that takes a dedication similar to what is required in the barn each day.
The seventh and eighth-grade teams were winless the previous year and went 5-3 after Livingston took over last season. He directed the offense and a colleague coached the defense. Now, Livingston has the head job all to himself since the colleague pulled out of the arrangement.
Livingston needs to be available for a short training camp July 23-25 and then takes over in earnest with the opening of practice on Aug. 18.
Livingston says he came by the job “by pure accident. I ran into the wrong guy at the wrong time.”
The fellow asked Livingston if he would help out and the trainer said, “I’m not interested in any way, shape or form.”
One day he stopped by practice.
“And it looked like a lot of fun,” said Livingston, who played high school ball in Lewellen, Neb. “I’m a quick learner and nobody else wanted the job.”
So, which is easier, handling seventh-grade football players or skittish two-year-olds in the barn? “That’s a good question,” Livingston said, taking a pause. “I guess I’d say seventh-grade football players.”
Livingston’s team was leading by five points with 30 seconds to play in the last game of the season when the other team took a timeout. “Hey, coach,” his players implored, “let us take a knee.”
“I guess they had seen it on TV,” Livingston said. Livingston was opposed to the idea, but the players persisted.
He relented. The defense held, and his team prevailed.
One of the opposing coaches crossed the field to congratulate Livingston. “Weren’t you nervous?” he asked. “You didn’t even blink an eye. I was so nervous I threw up.”
Livingston had an answer waiting.
“When you’ve lost a hundred horse races by the bob of a head at the wire, a seventh-grade football game isn’t apt to make you nervous,” he said.
IT’S ALL IN THE FAMILY
Trainer Troy Bethke was part of the groundbreaking ceremonies at Canterbury Downs in 1984, attended by various politicians, including Gov. Rudy Perpich, and others in Shakopee city administration and in the horse industry.
Bethke grew up with horses in the Stillwater area and, with his brother Bill, had ridden in quarter horse and thoroughbred races at country fairs and local meets. As his part of the groundbreaking ceremony, he galloped a horse around for documentation by the local media.
Bethke recalled the occasion the other day in the racing office, on the site once occupied by farmland. “There were three farms out here,” he said. The farms had been sold to make way for a different part of the ag scene, horses and racing.
There was a windmill on one of the farms that caught the attention of Bethke’s mother and father, who still live in rural Stillwater.
“That windmill is on their farm today,” Bethke said. “It’s not functioning, but they wanted it there.”
A new generation of Bethkes will have memories of another kind to tell 20 years hence.
Bethke and his wife, Susan, have three children _ Holly 16, Olivia four, and Scott, eight.
Scott accompanied his father around the track and in the grandstand last week, taking mental notes through the eyes of an eight-year-old.
“He knows the names of all the horses in the barn and the color of all the silks,” Troy said.
His eight-year-old sensibilities are sometimes affected by the realities of racing.
He was all teary-eyed the other day moments after the Bethke young-ones’ favorite horse, Isaiah, didn’t run to expectation.
Troy got an explanation from Susan, who had mentioned earlier in the season that they would have to get rid of any horses that weren’t running up to snuff.
“He had it all figured out the moment the race was over,” said Troy, who has assured the Bethke children that Isaiah is still a member of the family.
WHEN WINNING DOESN’T QUITE FEEL THAT WAY
Sometimes, even when you’re a winner, you don’t feel like one.
At least that was the case with trainer Keith Bennett, who has a stable in Shakopee for the first time this meet, after the first grass race of the season this weekend, a mile and 1-16 event.
Bennett is familiar with Ry Eikleberry, who rode frequently for him during a very successful campaign that just ended in Phoenix. Bennett won the training title there, and Eikleberry was often on his winners.
Eikleberry got the call on a horse trained by Bennett named Estrelita D’ Cielo and guided the seven-year-old horse to a commanding victory in the grass claiming event with a $10,000 purse.
In second place was Current Miss, also trained by Bennett and ridden by another Phoenix veteran, Juan Rivera.
Not a bad way to finish a race, one-two, right, Keith?
“Oh, I just hate to race two of them in the same race like that,” he said. “But what are you going to do when they’re both ready to run.”
The winner is owned by Adam R. Lewis of Moapa, Nev. The second place horse is owned by Perry Bruno of Salt Lake City.
And Bennett wound up with mixed feelings for his owners.
“Now I’ve got one guy happy with me and the other one upset,” he said. “What are you going to do.”