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Racing Loses A Prominent Owner


Sheldon Kaplan loved his chosen profession as an attorney as much as he did fishing on Lake Minnetonka, where he lived, or, for that matter, on any pond that might yield a good catch. He also fell in love with a sport new to the Minnesota scene in 1985 called horse racing.

Kaplan got involved with thoroughbreds shortly after Canterbury Downs opened that year with a group that included his law partner and future racing commissioner Ralph Strangis as well as Mike Lynn and Jaye Dyer, with whom he served on the board of the Minnesota Vikings.
Strangis recalled this week the first horse they owned together. “The horse’s name was Barbara’s Legacy,” Strangis said. “Turned out to be a dud.”

A horse called Cachuma was anything but. Cachuma was a hard-nosed , stakes-winning fan favorite in those early days and drew crowds of backers every time he ran. The group also owned other familiar names on the grounds in those days, including Socrates and Bye for Now (who holds the track record at 3 ½ furlongs, set in 1985).

The members of that group dropped by the wayside in the intervening years, but Kaplan stayed involved. A horse he and his wife, Helene, owned along with Paul Strangis, Ralph’s son, and HBPA president Tom Metzen, ran on opening night at Canterbury this spring. Fight on Gino was named for a fellow battling cancer, just as Kaplan was.

“I think he really appreciated that,” Metzen said.

Kaplan, 96, died on Tuesday.

“He had a passion for fishing, for the law and for horse racing,” Ralph Strangis said.

Kaplan was born in Minneapolis, graduated summa cum laude from the University of Minnesota in 1935 and received his LLB from Columbia Law School. He and his brother Sidney formed the law firm ‘Kaplan, Edelman and Kaplan’ in 1946. That firm later merged with another Minneapolis law practice to become Maslon, Edelman, Borman & Brand, where Kaplan practiced 34 years.

He was chairman of Kaplan, Strangis and Kaplan from 1980 until his death.

Kaplan’s sense of humor was well displayed in two time-honored family stories. He and Helene were married on Dec. 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. President Franklin Roosevelt was not alone in referring to it as a “Day that shall live in infamy.”

A cushion in Kaplan’s boat at Lake Minnetonka bore the embroidered words “we interrupt this marriage for the duration of the fishing season.”

Metzen recalled that Kaplan moved to a condominium in downtown Minneapolis a couple of years ago so he could walk to work through the skyways. When it became no longer advisable for him or Helene to drive, Kaplan would engage the doorman at his condominium building to drive them to Canterbury for dinner and to watch the races.

Kaplan is survived by Helene, his wife of 70 years, by four children, Jay, Jeffrey, Mary Jo and Jeanne Burton; by six grandchildren, three great grandchildren and a niece, Ann Phillips.
Arrangements are pending.

Dean Butler, Canterbury’s two-time defending riding champion, reached a milestone Friday night riding three consecutive winners to reach 1,500 for his career.

And he did it in dramatic fashion, getting his first win of the night in race two aboard a 14-1 longshot, Colonel Joe, trained and owned by Donald Cheloha.

That was worth $31.60, $11 and $3.20 to anyone who bet the horse across the board, as his owner did.

It was race three, though, in which Butler shook up family relations a hair.

He was aboard Ambassador of War, who actually ran second to Excessive Essence and Brittany Arterburn. Here is where you have to pay attention.

Arterburn’s horse was taken down and placed second for interfering with Ambassador of War in the stretch drive.

Ambassador of War is trained by Bernell Rhone. Arterburn is engaged to Scott Rhone, Bernell’s son. Butler is married to Leann, Bernell’s daughter.

“You certainly stirred up the family with this one,” a bystander said to Butler.
“Well, I hated to do it,” he said. “It’s one of those things. I felt bad, but you have to protect the public.”

Arterburn was clearly unhappy with the decision. “I might have pushed him out, but I didn’t bump him,” she said.

Excessive Essence, by the way, is trained by Lonnie Arterburn and owned, in part, by Doris Arterburn, Brittany’s father and mother.

For his part, Butler told them that he didn’t think he could have beaten Excessive Essence anyway. “That horse looked at mine and rebroke,” he said. “I wasn’t going to beat them.”
On the other hand, nobody was going to beat Butler and Cactus Son in the fourth race. That was No. 1,500.

Did he remember his first year?

“Sure do,” Butler said. “It was at Suffolk Downs, June 7, 1993 on Rex’s Express.”

Butler took a moment after the race to pose for a picture with his wife, Leann, and two children, Kayleigh and Kendall.

The race truly was a family affair.