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News and Notes on Festival Eve



The season will wind up today for trainers, riders, owners and the horses themselves with the Festival of Champions.

Many of them are sore, tired and ready for a vacation.

That includes Canterbury Park’s perennial training champ, Mac Robertson, although a vacation is not in the cards.

“I’m tired. Exhausted, and I’ve got a broken foot,” Robertson said Saturday in the winner’s circle after Ry Eikleberry had ridden another winner for him, He’s No Piker, in the fifth race.
Robertson isn’t certain where he’ll go next after the meet winds up today. Either Remington Park or Hawthorne Park. He also has to save some energy for the Kentucky sales this fall. “My wife and dad and I will look at 3,000 horses,” he said. “They’ll help a lot but I have the final say.”

It has been an emotionally draining summer for Robertson, who won his fifth straight training title this meet.

“This spring really drained me,” he said.

Robertson referred to his flirtation with the Kentucky Derby, a trainer’s dream. When x-rays revealed a suspicious line on Win Willy’s leg during Derby week, Robertson decided on the side of caution, as he always does when a horse’s health is in question or at stake , and scatched the Rebel Stakes winner.

The decision exacted an emotional price, and Robertson started the Canterbury meet on a weary note.

The demands he placed on himself and staff in the barn have taken a toll as well, with no time to rest his ailing foot. He broke a bone playing softball. “I was supposed to stay off of it for eight weeks,” he said.

Fat chance.

“Hey, I’m not complaining,” Robertson added. “I’m just saying the way it is.”
Robertson demonstrated how it is and has been at Canterbury for five consecutive summers, just as the eighth race on Saturday’s card came to a stirring conclusion.

Derek Bell engaged Songanddancelady, owned and trained by Robertson, at precisely the right moment, and the daughter of A Fleets Dancer caught Concert Tour at precisely the right moment with the tip of her nose.

Robertson, who won twice as many races this season as his nearest competitor, Bernell Rhone, was walking through the main level of the grandstand in the direction of the winner’s circle as he caught the final jump on the race on a television screen.

As he did, Robertson used the rolled up program in his hand to smack the side of his leg, loudly enough to catch the attention of several bystanders.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s why Robertson was so tired on Saturday. Winning races can be an exhausting experience when you smack yourself as hard and often as he has this summer.

The 2009 meet will wind up today with the Festival of Champions, and horsemen will begin packing for the next stop on their nomadic annual journey.

Many of them will leave Shakopee with a nagging question on their minds: What does the 2010 meet, the 25th anniversary of pari-mutuel racing in Minnesota, hold in store.
Will state lawmakers next winter give the horse industry the much needed support it needs from them, or will racing in Minnesota continue its inexorable slide into mediocrity and beyond.
Without the approval of casino gaming (in the form of slot machines), Canterbury’s future appears bleak at best. Cutbacks this year in racing days and in employment are just the start without legislative help.

Minnesotans will continue to cut back on breeding without the purse structure to support it, or drop their foals in other states where casino gaming strengthens purse structures and promises a return on investment.

It makes no sense to buy expensive horses or breed to expensive stallions and then compete for sub-standard purses.

“If they don’t get slot machines here this place is in trouble,” said Derek Bell, a six-time leading rider at Canterbury.

As much as he likes Shakopee, Bell is considering a return to Indiana and racing there because he can make a better living competing in a longer meet for considerably larger purses.

“I might end up there,” he said.

Many trainers, riders and horse owners will have to make such decisions in the coming months. For now, they are preparing to move on to other locales for the fall and winter months.

Leading rider Dean Butler will head to Remington Park in Oklahoma City and, when that meet ends, to Tampa Bay Downs. He will get a week’s vacation, however.

“Yeah, I got days,” he said.

Ry Eikleberry, the quarter horse riding champ, will finish the thoroughbred meet among the top three riders. He’ll head home to Phoenix for a week, then spend two weeks at Prairie Meadows before returning home for the meet that opens Oct. 2 at Turf Paradise. “I’m pretty sore right now,” he said.

Paddock analyst Kevin Gorg plans to take a couple of days and watch the races at Arlington Park, before returning home to begin filming television spots for the hockey season.

Trainer Troy Bethke will run a couple of horses at Prairie Meadows in the next couple of weeks and perhaps in Chicago. Then it’s home to the farm in New Germany to break babies.

Trainer Bryan Potter will made San Antonio his winter headquarters and keep about 15 horses there, sending his best runners to various tracks. “It’s eight hours from Oaklawn Park, seven hours from Zia, six from Louisiana Downs and five from Delta Downs,” Porter said.

Hall of Fame trainers Doug Oliver and Dave Van Winkle will head out of town this week for their homes in Phoenix and the upcoming meet at Turf Paradise, as will Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens.