Sunday, for instance, there was a different rider in the winner’s circle after each race.
Competition is the name of the game, for mounts of any kind for most and the best mounts for the elite few.
A recent surge has three-time riding champion Dean Butler in front by five wins, with 29 to Lori Keith’s 24. Ry Eikleberry and Alex Canchari, who had a bangup week with seven winners, have 20 apiece. Eddie Martin, jr. and Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens have 18 each. Derek Bell, a six-time riding champion, has 17.
It’s been a competitive, wild race.
“Yes it has,” said Bell.
Take the third race as an example of how every inch counts. Saving ground frequently is the difference. Silver Rock Star and Keith came off the turn several horses wide and made a tremendous run at Sugar Storm and Butler up front. The difference? Not more than an inch, two at the most. Move Keith’s horse even one path nearer to the rail and it’s a different outcome.
“That would have been enough,” she said. “When I made my move I was five wide and then got fanned out.”
Paul Allen’s race call at the finish summed it up:
“It’s so, so tight,” he said. “I think it’s Sugar Storm, but it’s tight.”
Thus, Butler moved five wins in front of Keith.
It’s competitive at Canterbury this summer and the pressure is beginning to show. The hottest story on Sunday was the issue of one jockey taking a poke at another, the result of leftover tensions from the racetrack or elsewhere.
Stevens has put on a couple of textbook riding demonstrations this meet, including the seventh race on June 30 with the ride of the season.
The veteran jock is widely regarded for intuitive ability with horses, an ability to coax out whatever remains in the tank in those final strides, and that was the difference in this particular stretch dual. His horse, Alphabets Tuff Gal, had the lead from the gate, with half length leads at the half-mile and three-quarter poles. Then Alex Canchari and Dolly Peach engaged the leader, taking the lead by a half-length at the stretch call. Yet, Stevens found remaining resolve in his horse and claimed back the lead to win by a head.
Switch back to Sunday afternoon and the second race. Stevens was aboard a Mac Robertson-trained horse named Limo, the only Minnesota-bred in the six-furlong allowance. Whispering, rubbing or any form of persuasion other than the stick were useless in this instance Stevens knew, driving his horse to a win by whiskers over Thatlleavemark and Juan Rivera.
Skeptics who’ve written off Stevens because of age or injuries the last couple of years are eating their words. “He rides as if he’s a lot younger,” said one observer. “You can’t guess his age out there.”
But you can guess this, the observer added:
“Watch for Mac to start making his move now,” she said. “He’s starting to heat up.”
WAS THE GLOVE A WHITE ONE?
Jilique Eikleberry, a press box assistant in charge of player development, underwent surgery at St. Francis Hospital recently. Jilique is married to Ry Eilkeberry, one of Canterbury’s top riders.
Beforehand, her father, Jerry, mentioned that maybe her food would be served by former Canterbury rider and current trainer Luis Canchari, who also works at the hospital as a room waiter. Senor Canchari delivered Jerry’s food when he was hospitalized in the past. Jilique laughed off the possibility.
Sure enough, last Monday night,Canchari, known as Louie the glove during his riding days, arrived with Jilique’s dinner.
“I think he was a little confused at first,” she said. Canchari was familiar with Ry but not his wife.
“He knew Ry and recognized the last name and wasn’t certain who should get the food,” Jilique said.
The matter was quickly straightened out and dinner was served.
The Glove continues to deliver.
RECORDS BY THE HANDFUL
A change in the configuration of the turf course and gate placement for a majority of turf races run at “about” distances – in addition to the recent lack of rain and the subsequent firm turf course – has resulted in several track records over the past few days.
The addition of a the chute late last season and the desire to bring back a distance on the grass (one mile and seventy yards) last used in the early 1990s are partly responsible for a change in the way that “about” distance races have been conducted this year. In fact, when Teletimer – the track’s official timing company – came out to wire the course at the beginning of the meet and reconfigure the timing mechanisms for the one mile and seventy yard distance on the turf, they helped track officials properly realign the starting gate for the start of all “about” distance races. As a result, patrons are likely to see a few more track records over the course of the season… most likely at “about” distances on the lawn.
Thus far, the records have come too quickly for a rider to savor the occasion long.
Take Eikleberry who set a record on the grass this week and requested a picture for his memorabilia collection.
“It was only a record for a couple of races and another one was set,” he said.
Yes, for sure, it is a fast-paced world.
This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.