BY JIM WELLS
It’s called racing luck, and Canterbury Park was blessed with plenty of that ephemeral and indispensable racetrack necessity on Saturday. Bright sun and temperature in the low 50s ushered in the 2008 live racing season, putting to rest management concern that decidedly more inclement forecasts would prevail. “We caught a break with the sun,” said track president Randy Sampson, who fretted over the possibility that forecasts for snow early Saturday would keep many fans at home.”Randy was checking the weather reports hourly on Friday,” said Mary Pat Monson, head of special events.Here’s where the racing luck comes in.The foot of snow that was feared was replaced by a record turnout of more than 17,000 fans.The grandstand apron was packed with fans before the first race, who soaked up the rays as eagerly as sunbathers in California. Simply reaching the winner’s circle required negotiation of an obstacle course for horsemen after Dean Butler brought in the first winner of the season, a 6-year-old gelding , Sheba’s Charm, owned by Valerie Berg of Wright, Minn.”I predicted sun. I handicapped this,” said media relations manager Jeff Maday, who would own Canterbury if he could do the same thing with the horses.Management’s concern about the weather was well-grounded after a week of unseasonable cold, rain and soggy conditions that required a three-hour change in training time for horsemen, who didn’t get onto the track until 9 a.m. most mornings.Stocking caps, ear muffs and hooded sweatshirts or jackets were the order of the day most days, but on Saturday the weather broke _ at the perfect time for Canterbury and the opening to the 2008 live racing season.
Opening day included a bit of everything, including a DQ in the fifth race, in which Silver Wilbur, ridden by veteran Scott Stevens, was taken down from first and placed last for interference at the top of the stretch. That made a winner of Rock Ridge Road and trainer Percy Scherbenske, owner Gerry Herringer of Columbia Heights, and gave rider Paul Nolan a leg up on the season. Nolan was squarely in the saddle in the next race, the $50,000 Shot of Gold Stakes. Nolan was in the winner’s circle aboard Tytus, owned by his Bloomington neighbor, Matt Wiebke. Racing fans couldn’t have asked for a more thrilling finish to the first stakes race of the season. Tytus, Prospective Kiss and Derek Bell and Seneca Summer and Butler reached the wire as a trio. Tytus got his head down first for the victory. Nolan didn’t have a clue who broke the wire first. “Derek didn’t say anything and neither did I,” said Nolan, who got the call a head bob in front of Prospective Kiss, with Seneca Summer third. The margins separating the top three were a nose and a neck. Nolan was uncertain if his horse had won. Wiebke wasn’t. “I thought Paul was down at just the right time,” Wiebke said. “He knows where the wire is.” The stakes race is named for Shot of Gold, who entertained the racing public over a two-year period, winning six of nine starts locally.He was owned by Tom and Karen Metzen in partnership with John Voss, who claimed the horse for $50,000 at Santa Anita Park. Shot of Gold was the fastest horse on the grounds during the summer of 2,000.Tom Metzen is the president of the local chapter of the HBPA and is executive director of the branch in Phoenix. The Metzens were present Saturday to present the winning trophy to Wiebke.The Kentucky Derby was simulcast throughout the grandstand and the big crowd watched the favorite, Big Brown, overcome the No. 20 post and history to win easily and establish himself as the three-year-old to watch in the remaining two legs of the Triple Crown. It was the first time a horse has won the Derby with only three races under its belt since the filly Regret won in 1915 and the first time a horse has won from the No. 20 hole since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929. The crowd’s enthusiasm over the Derby was dampened considerably in the moments after the race when the only filly in the race, Eight Belles, who finished a game second, broke down on the backstretch and was euthanized.Racing fans were introduced to a new rider in the jockey colony who made an immediate impact. Jason Lumpkins, 37, a veteran who has ridden for years in Northern California, won three races on the card.The biggest winner on the opening day card was Jane’s Gold, owned by Peter Mattson of Burnsville, in the eighth race. Ridden by Jose Betancourt, Jane’s Gold paid $52.80 to win at 25-1