“I guess I don’t really know why,” he said, then offering a theory: “Maybe it’s because my mom and dad are Pam and Kevin and those are real common names.”
Ry, 19, is the youngest of the three boys but age is not the only distinction. Rustin, 26, is a fireman in Phoenix, Az., Rhet, 21, is in school in Australia, studying animal biology. Ry is currently riding thoroughbreds and quarter horses at Canterbury Park.
There is another distinction, too, probably responsible for the different career choices made by the three sons of Pam and Kevin Eikleberry. .
“I guess maybe different personalities,” Ry said, as an explanation for why he was attracted to racing and his brothers were not. They all had their chances to work in their parents’ stable. “We helped out at the racetrack during the summers when we were young,” Ry said.
“I remember that my brothers complained, but I liked it.”
The “racetrack” was Turf Paradise in Phoenix, and, as Ry recalls, his parents didn’t encourage the three boys, but actually kept them away from the track during the school year and while they were playing sports. “But during the summers I was always there,” Ry said.
Ry grew up in Cave Creek, Ariz., a ranching community 30 minutes north of Phoenix, as he put it, “a fourth generation cowboy.”
“My great grandfather started in Colorado, where my dad is from,” Ry said. Ry started riding in Colorado three years ago at Arapahoe Park.
He rode his first winner there, a thoroughbred named Chopin’s Crescendo. “I helped foal that horse in Cave Creek,” he said.
Ry didn’t ride a lot of horses that first meet. “About 20 head, basically for my dad,” he explained. “I wasn’t really ready to ride. They threw me on some easy horses.”
Eikleberry has more experience now and caught the attention of Canterbury fans this summer, particularly last week when he rode eight winners _ thoroughbreds and quarter horses _ in impressive fashion.
Eikleberry leads the quarter horse rider standings with nine wins, two seconds and a third from 19 mounts with $71,254 in earnings. He starts the week five wins in front of four-time Canterbury champ Tad Leggett.
Eikleberry is sixth in the thoroughbred standings with 10 wins, 14 seconds and 13 thirds from 67 mounts for $154,208 in earnings. He prefers thoroughbreds for a simple reason. “I grew up with them,” he said, “but a winner is a winner so it really doesn’t matter.
”He won the quarter horse riding title in Phoenix last meet and was third in the thoroughbred standings, behind Seth Martinez and Glenn Corbett, with 98 wins, 97 seconds and 92 thirds from 776 mounts.
Eikleberry was mentored in Arizona by journeyman Scott Stevens. “He really helped me a lot,” said Eikleberry. “I was a bug boy at the time.”
Stevens helped in other ways, too. Eikleberry got a scolding from the veteran after cutting off a rider in a situation serious enough to warrant days from the racing stewards. “A week’s worth,” he said.
Stevens gave him a tongue-lashing after the incident. “Coming from someone else I might not have taken it,” Eikleberry said. “But I respected him. I felt bad about the whole thing. I was a green bug boy.”
Eikleberry’s days as a rider might be limited at some point to quarter horses, simply because of his size. He is 5-feet-9 and tacks 117 pounds. He says that keeping his weight down is sometimes tough, but that he is handling it right now. Then again, shedding weight wasn’t a problem for him as a freshman at Cave Creek Shadows when he wrestled at 103 pounds.
Eikleberry had no plans to ride quarter horses as a bug boy here two summers ago, but was convinced to give it a try by trainer Jerry Livingston.
“He knew my parents and he came up to my mom and said, ‘you know, that boy needs to ride quarter horses,”’Ry recalled. “I owe some of my success to him.”
That said, he owes some of this year’s success to Keith Bennett, the training champ at Turf Paradise, who offered him a job if he came to Shakopee. Ry started out at SunRay Park in Farmington, N.M., with his dad after the Phoenix meet but later decided to take Bennett up on the offer. Bennett chuckled when that was mentioned the other day. “That’s a load of crap,” he said. “He came up here for the girlfriend.”
The relationship between trainer and rider started on the last day in Phoenix when Eikleberry made a winner of the only horse he rode for Bennett during the meet. The horse’s name was Richter Thrill.
“Ry won and he had to get on his belly to get it done,” said Bennett. “He got that horse to the winner’s circle.”
What impresses Bennett about Eikleberry is his mature attitude. “He’s very down to earth. He’ll pay attention if you get on him, but he grew up in the business. His parents are great people who raised him well. None of this has gone to his head.”
Equally impressive is the maturity that Eikleberry demonstrates in the saddle. “He has good hands and is patient,” Bennett said. “He can get a horse away from the gate and he can settle a horse, too. He knows how to pace a horse.”
Eikleberry isn’t certain why his parents were fascinated with names starting with the letter “R” for their sons.
Here’s another – loosely based – theory on the matter: They kept trying until they got one who could Race Ride.
Just a theory. Just a theory.
CANTERBURY PARK TO HONOR NATION’S VETERANS
The American Veterans Traveling Tribute, a 383-foot replica of the Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., will visit Canterbury from June 18-22.
The wall honors Vietnam veterans and includes tributes to WWII, Korean War and Iraq vets, in addition to 9/11 victims.
A number of events are planned from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily at the Wall and at Canterbury beginning on June 19. Among the invited guests include senators Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar and congressmen John Kline, Keith Ellison and Jim Ramstad. Senator John McCain has been invited to accept a wreath on behalf of veterans in the country. The series of events will get under way at 5:30 p.m. on June 18.
The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs will have a booth and will assist veterans with any number of problems they have.