BY JIM WELLS
The flags were at half mast in deference to the 10th anniversary of 9-11, the card was under way 2 ½ hours early to allow time for viewing the season-opener in San Diego for the Minnesota Vikings _ who had cheerleaders in the winner’s circle before the fourth race of the day _ and the 2011 race meet came to a conclusion at Canterbury Park Sunday.
It was a season of highs and lows, in other words a typical race meet (nothing new in the industry), perhaps low-lighted by the 20-day shutdown that cost Canterbury 12 racing days. The track and the HBPA worked out a deal that restored six of those days, hence the late ending to the season on Sunday.
Still, the shutdown cost horsemen 53 races. There were 512 races run in 2011 as opposed to 565 the year before. Another track/HBPA arrangement guaranteed in specific instances money lost by horses entered to run during the shutdown if they ran in later runnings of those races after racing resumed.
Nonetheless, Canterbury lost $1 million during the shutdown, which included the track’s card club.
On a more positive note, Canterbury averaged 6,143 daily attendance, a 4.9 percent gain over 2010. Average daily on-track handle of $171,995 was up 0.8 percent. The import handle improved 6.2 percent. Keep in mind, of course that there were six fewer racing days this year. The total handle was $30,554,020, down from $33,288,766.
The feature event on Sunday’s card was the $35,000 Shot of Gold Stakes, featuring Atta Boy Roy, running for the first time since his last place finish in the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Stakes at Saratoga. His chief opposition appeared to be Humble Smarty who won the Honor The Hero Stakes at Canterbury in track record time for five furlongs in a meet best 110 Beyer speed figure.
Atta Boy Roy was simply too good for six foes, despite training for route distances as opposed to the six-furlong sprint on Sunday. With Rusty Shaw hand-riding, he finished a head in front of fast-closing Just Jebicah and Brittany Arterburn.
“He did what he had to,” said trainer Valorie Lund. “I was working him two miles every day and just hoped I hadn’t taken too much speed out of him.”
For his part, Shaw simply guided the son of Tribunal to the wire. “Val had him ready. All I had to do was hang on,” he said.
Dean Butler was honored as the leading rider, for the third consecutive year. He had two more wins on Sunday to finish with 83 for the meet.
“I got lucky,” he said. “I had some very good horses to ride, thanks to (his father-in-law trainer Bernell Rhone). And I stayed healthy.”
Butler will head to Remington to ride and then it’s on to Florida. “My family’s there so it’s always good to get there,” he said.
Mac Robertson won a seventh consecutive training title. He appeared to have it locked up after increasing his lead to five on Saturday and left no room for doubt with three more on Sunday. He had 43 wins for the meet, eight more than Rhone and 10 ahead of Mike Biehler.
Race three, in which Derek Bell brought home Grace of Greatness, owned by Jerry and Marlene Myers, seemed to sum up Robertson’s year. Grace of Greatness didn’t kick in until the final 50 yards and then appeared shot out of a cannon. Robertson trailed Rhone and Biehler most of the year until the final two weeks when he began pouring it on.
Derek Bell, who had three winners on Sunday’s card and finished in second place for the meet with 69, commented after the third race.
“I wish the meet lasted another month,” he said. “He (Robertson) has a lot of bullets left.”
The Ulwellings, Al and Bill were honored for as leading owners for the second consecutive year, although Al was represented by his daughter, 12-year-old Hunter and son, 10-year-old A.J.
They won the title a year ago with 25 wins and were confident they could match that again this meet but had to settle for 15 wins. “They competition was a lot tougher this time,” Bill said.
Horse racing has truly taken hold in the Ulwelling household. Hunter wanted to become a jockey for a long time, but with urging from her father now hopes to pursue another field. “I want to become a veterinarian,” she said.
The Ulwellings use Mike Biehler and Gary Scherer as trainers and will send their horses with Biehler to Remington Park in Oklahoma City and with Scherer to Hawthorne and Arlington in Chicago.
The last winner of the 2011 season was Jestintime, a seven-year-old gelding owned by Pete Glidden, trained by Harvey Lowell Berg and ridden by Patricia Trimble. The win was perhaps a good luck token for Trimble, who will marry Shaw in Phoenix on Nov. 11.
She was greeted as she dismounted in the winner’s circle, as were the other eight winners on the card, by clerk of scales Jerry Simmons, who as a show of patriotism on this solemn American day, was wearing a tie that pictured the statue of liberty and an American flag showered in fireworks.
Lori Keith departed Shakopee for Phoenix with a much-desired win after riding First Captain to a narrow victory over Jaival on the turf in the eighth race for the Goebel family of Almar Partners and trainer Vic Hanson.
She finished fourth in the standings with the win, her 32nd of the meet, and was the first female rider to finish in the top five since Paula Bacon in 1995.
“I was really happy to win this one, for the owners and for Vic,” she said. “I’ve been riding a lot of horses for Vic and have had a lot of seconds and thirds the last two weeks.”
Closing day is always a bittersweet occasion. Everyone is eager to do something new but is saddened the meet is coming to a close at the same time.
Rider Luis Robletto is considering a short trip to Remington Park. “Maybe a week or so,” he said. Then on to Louisiana.
“I know why you like Louisiana,” jockey lounge custodian Bill Chestnut cracked. “Because they don’t have extradition there.”
Robletto chucked and ambled off.
The meet officially came to a close with a comment made earlier in the day by pressbox media assistant Kate Ulrich.
“Never settle for good,” she said, “when you can have great.”
2011 Divisional Champions
• Horse of the Year- Tubby Time (owner: Jeff Larson; trainer: Mac Robertson)
• Older Horse – Tubby Time (owner: Jeff Larson; trainer: Mac Robertson)
• Grass Horse – Tubby Time (owner: Jeff Larson; trainer: Mac Robertson)
• Older Filly or Mare – Sheso Dazzling (owner: Eric Von Seggern and Kurt Kindschuh; trainer: Mac Robertson)
• Three-Year-Old Colt or Gelding – Wild Jacob (owner: Stanley Mankin; trainer: Stanley Mankin)
• Three-Year-Old Filly – Polar Plunge (owner: Camelia Casby; trainer: Gary Scherer)
• Two-Year-Old – Heliskier (owner: Marlene Colvin; trainer Mac Robertson)
• Sprinter – Just Jebicah (owner: Lonnie Arterburn and Ron Stolich; trainer: Lonnie Arterburn)
• Claimer – Just Jebicah (owner: Lonnie Arterburn and Ron Stolich; trainer: Lonnie Arterburn)
• Quarter Horse – Cruzin the Wagon (Terry and Mary Louise Pursel; trainer Brent Clay)