BY JIM WELLS
A phone call interrupted Pat Swan while he was busy in the barn Friday afternoon.
“Give me five minutes,” he said, “I’m working on a horse’s foot.”
He’s been working on some aspect of a horse most of his life, starting with bulls and saddle broncs in high school and college and then on the rodeo circuit.
Injuries on the circuit are frequent and workers compensation is a foreign language, so he was looking for income one time while healing an injury administered by an uncooperative bull.
“I called up a friend at Bay Meadows,” Swan recalled, “and asked if he could get me work because I was going to be laid up for a month. He got me a job grooming horses.” That interlude acquainted him with a new aspect of the horse business, one that didn’t require staying in the saddle atop a nasty bronc or nastier bull.
Swan went to a couple of more rodeos after that but, after weighing the pluses and minuses, he made the switch to the quarter horse and thoroughbred racing.
Now 66, he was 24 years old at the time, so he’s been in the business four decades and is back at Canterbury Park once again this season, the second in a row, after competing in Colorado, his state of origin, for nearly a decade.
The enticement to return was the agreement with Mystic Lake and the subsequent purse enhancement that made a summer commitment to Minnesota viable once again.
“We love it up here,” Swan said, “It’s a welcome relief from the heat in Oklahoma. And they treat the horsemen well and keep the stables up. It’s a great place in the summer months.”
There was a minor qualification to that statement, of course, after the summer of rain and humidity that has plagued the 2018 racing season in Shakopee.
His point was that Shakopee generally offers a respite from the oppressive summer conditions of Oklahoma, where he and the family have operated a ranch the past 13 years.
“We have a pretty big operation there,” he added. “About 160 acres where we raise thoroughbreds and quarter horses.”
There are as many as a dozen mares at the ranch, a number that fluctuates. “We’ve had some people cull down their mares but we foal them out there in addition to our own.”
Swan will saddle the favorites in the two quarter horse stakes, the first races on Friday’s card. He’s sending out Hiclass Man in the 870-yard $24,000 Mean Competitor Stakes, and multiple stakes winner Bout Tree Fiddy in the 350-yard $25,000 Skip Zimmerman.
Morning line choices don’t mean much to Swan, who places a whole lot more importance on other factors.
“You know it really depends a lot on getting away from the gate, not being bothered by others, those that break in or out,” he said. “If everybody gets away clean, that’s what matters.”
Under those conditions, he says, the favorites just might produce the expected results.
He does have confidence in his Skip Zimmerman favorite.
“I like my chances with Bout Tree,” he said. “He’s been running very solid and really loves this racetrack. I wouldn’t trade him for any other horse in the race.”
Bout Tree Fiddy is a homebred Swan raised, along with another in the same race. “That’s his little half sister in the one hole, Olivias Jett,” Swan added. “They are both out of the same mare.”
The similarities end there.
“She has a tendency to get herself in trouble,” he added. “She’s a real fast horse, but I’m not sure she can outrun her big brother even without trouble.”
The horse that Fiddy is likely to engage is the Ed Ross Hardy trained
Hfr Miamor Tequilla, right next door to him in the seven hole. HiClass Man, the other hand, will be ridden by Brayan Velazquez, and has 3/1 second choice Blue Eyed Andy, trained by R Allen Hybsha and ridden by Berkley Packer, next to him in the seven hole.
Until then, Swan insists, that “bragging rights aren’t determined until they hit the wire.”