BY JIM WELLS
You can put a stamp on it. Mail it home. The verdict is in. The hype was real. Canterbury Park saved the best for last.
The race of the year was just that.
As anticipated when the race was written, the best horses showed up. The lineup was one for 2017 and for time to come.
The best babies stabled here in track annals, one of them a Minnesota-bred, went head-to-head and gate to wire in a show of talent and maturity beyond their ages on the final day of racing.
The season ended with a couple notable changes. Paddock analyst Brian Arrigoni filled in for track announcer Paul Allen, on assignment as the Minnesota Vikings radio voice. Arrigoni filled in admirably, calling the races with the voice and insight of a seasoned pro. His spot was taken over by former paddock analyst Angela Hermann, who brushed off the cobwebs and was in typical fine form.
The race of the year featured speed and then some, with three two-year-olds that had dominated their previous opposition with lopsided wins lining up in an eight-horse field to face one another a first time.
Would they continue the shows they had previous staged — winning by 16 ½, 15 ½ and 13 lengths — when facing one another, the filly Amy’s Challenge against two standout colts, Mr. Jagermeister and Soul of Discretion.
Yes, they did. In the case of Amy’s Challenge and Mr. Jagermeister, gate to wire.
Although the skies were overcast and the air a bit autumnal — chilly by some standards — the feature races, the $50,000 Tom Metzen HBPA Sprint and the $75,000 Shakopee Juvenile, offered something considerably more appealing.
Sir Navigator brushed off a challenge from Smooth Chiraz to win the Sprint, and then Amy’s Challenge, whose 91 Beyer speed figure is tops among the nation’s two-year-olds, fought off a game, hard challenge from Mr. Jagermeister.
Soul of Discretion was left well back, in fourth, along with the rest of the lineup, struggling in the wake of the two leaders.
Amy’s Challenge, the 4/5 favorite, broke first and maintained her lead to the top of the stretch where Mr. Jagermeister, at 6/5, got his head in front and appeared primed to take over in what quickly became a two-horse race in the stretch.
Amy’s Challenge fought back and had ¾ length on him at the wire, with the next closest another 18 lengths back.
“I heard the other horse coming and he got a head on us,” said winning rider Jareth Loveberry, the champion rider of the meet. “Then she dug in and kept digging and digging.”
The winning time and the fractions for the race were better than even older males who ran on Saturday’s season-ending card: 21.95, 44.48, 56.67 and 1:09.58.
Valorie Lund, the trainer of Mr. Jagermeister, was hopeful that what she had just read on her smart phone might portend good luck for her horse, who had lost only once. The winner of that race had just won at Churchill Downs. “The colt that beat us just won the Grade III Iroquois,” she said hopefully.
Afterward she approached Mac Robertson, Amy’s trainer, and gave him a hug, relieved that the race was over and that regardless of the outcome the colt she owns with two of her sisters is still maturing and is a speed demon.
Amy’s Challenge, on the other hand, is owned by Joe Novogratz of Chanhassen and has attracted offers of $1 million or more.
Robertson also saddled the winner of the other stake on the closing day card, the Tom Metzen Sprint.
Sir Navigator, ridden by Israel Hernandez took an inside route to the winner’s circle, finishing 1 ½ lengths in front of Smooth Chiraz and Loveberry and another ½ length ahead of Adens Dream
Owned by Jerry and Marlene Myers, Sir Navigator won for the fourth time in 2017, exceeding $120,00 career earnings with Saturday’s win.
Then, at 6:55 p.m. Betyar crossed the finish line — leading rider Jareth Loveberry in the irons, leading trainer Mac Robertson collecting one more win and Joe Novogratz, in the final race of the meet, winning the title as leading owner for 2017.
With that the season came to a close.
WIENER DOG RACES
The smart money was on a little gal called Mustang Sally in the 2017 wiener dog championship, and she backed up her backers in grand fashion, putting on a late rush to hit the finish line a clear winner.
Then again, Sally is not a stranger to these things. She recently won a mixed dog race at Remington Park
That’s right, Oklahoma City. Sally, her owner Pamela Coffey, friend and starter Luann Annerud and Texas friend Carmen Villalobos made the 10 hour drive from Nola, Oklahoma for the second time this summer and came away with the gold.
They were prepared and so was Sally, who trained regularly at the Harmony Training Center for horses, running up and down shed row in addition to longer jaunts on the track.
Her owner also had Sally run alongside the rail next to the track while her friends, several grooms and trainers, hooted and hollered to prepare Sally for noise she would experience during the Canterbury championship run.
The fears that accompanied Irma for some Canterbury riders and personnel as she bore down on Florida recently were replaced by relief and gratitude in the days that followed the hurricane’s landfall.
Rider Nik Goodwin, for one, had concerns about the family home in Ocala, and was relieved afterward upon finding that it was spared by the killer storm. “Everything is fine,” he said.
Jockey lounge custodian and clerk of scales Mark Anderson and his wife had lesser concerns. They were planning a trip to Nassau for the second year and wondered if that trip, too, would not take place.
A year earlier their planned Caribbean jaunt was cancelled when employees at the resort went on strike.
CANTERBURY’S 2017 CHAMPIONS
Horse of the year: Amy’s Challenge
Quarter horse of the year: The Fiscal Cliff
3-year-old colt/gelding: Hot Shot Kid
3-year-old filly: Double Bee Sting
2-year-old: Amy’s Challenge
Older horse: Hay Dakota
Older filly/mare: Honey’s Sox Appeal
Sprinter: Honey’s Sox Appeal
Grass horse: Some Say So
Claimer: Monday Confession
Thoroughbred trainer: Mac Robertson
Thoroughbred jockey: Jareth Loveberry
Thoroughbred owner: Novogratz Racing Stables
Quarter horse trainer: Jason Olmstead
Quarter horse jockey: Oscar Delgado
Quarter horse owner: Thomas Scheckel and Dean Frey (tie)