On the morning before the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes, the racing community at Canterbury Park said goodbye and paid its respects to a man who would not only have been present but at his boisterous best if fate had not intervened.
There was after all the disappointing defection of a horse pointed toward the Triple Crown. That would have drawn a comment or two of outrageous nature from the fellow in question here.
There was the heat and early morning humidity enveloping the assembled group in the paddock. Even his best friend, Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Radio 1500, made reference to the distaste for such weather by the fellow in question.
One story followed after another about the fellow in question, George Chapple or, as the world knew him, Dark Star.
What was revealed about Dark Star, who died June 1 at age 66, was right out of a George Roy Hill production.
What became quite clear during the proceedings to honor Dark Star’s life was that if you thought you knew him, you really didn’t. If you thought you had seen it all, you really hadn’t.
The long-held contention that Dark was one-of-a-kind proved to be not nearly adequate as a description for the man.
As the stories unfolded from one friend after another, it became obvious that we clearly underestimated his talents for pulling off a scam.
More on that matter later.
Kevin Gorg and Paul Allen agreed, for different reasons, that Dark would have been all over Union Rags in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, the on Saturday.
“He always bet the favorite,” Allen said.
“That was his Derby horse. He would have wanted to prove he was right,” said Gorg.
On Saturday, the Dark Man got his winner.
Just as Dark’s friends and acquaintances got a glimpse of him theretofore not seen during the morning tribute to the man.
Eric Halstrom, the former Vice President of Racing at Canterbury Park and now the GM of the Fairgrounds in New Orleans, told the story that still had loose ends until he, Joe Friedberg and Reusse conferred.
In a nutshell:
During a recent visit to New Orleans, Dark and Halstrom were strolling the French Quarter when the Dark Man stepped into a furniture story. Dark disappeared somewhere in the store moments later. Meanwhile, a man collapsed on the floor near Halstrom.
Long story short:
Dark appears moments later claiming to be a fellow named Dr. Herman Brown. “Stand aside,” Dark said to the small gathering around the man, which included Halstrom. The Dark Man, meanwhile, begins his ministrations which included asking the man if he is diabetic.
Then the paramedics arrive, rescuing the Dark Man from what would have become a tough situation. He tells them that he has diagnosed the man in a diabetic shock. They go with it and it turns out he is right. The storeowners are impressed and inquire of Dark the Doctor what they might do to repay him.
The Dark Man chooses a $700 table he has been eyeing in their store, for a young niece he wants to surprise and asks that it be shipped.
Halstrom has no idea where the table was shipped, until Saturday when he’s speaking with Friedberg. “I know where it was shipped – to Reusse,” Friedberg said.
Not until Saturday was the full story told. The table was shipped to Reusse, and Dark later picked it up.
Friedberg added the story of how he represented Dark in an insurance case. The Dark Man claimed that a baseball card collection worth more than $300,000 had been stolen from the trunk of his car at the Minnesota State Fair.
Friedberg was still asking himself Saturday why a man would leave such a valuable item in the trunk of his car at the state fair. Nonetheless, legitimate questions be damned, Dark won his insurance claim and collected $285,000.
Perhaps he used some of that money, to put a steam room into the apartment he rented. Which raised a question of a different sort from Reusse.
“What man in his right mind,” Reusse wondered, spends $37,000 to install a steam room in a rented apartment?”
Dark Star, that’s who, a man who would have had the Belmont winner on Saturday.
MINNESOTA STALLION BREEDERS’ AND NORTH CENTRAL QUARTER HORSE DERBY
Amber Blair refuses to read a word of any kind about a horse she trains before a race. She will check it out afterward upon returning to the barn.
Whatever she reads about a 3-year-old gelding she trains named Painted Lies will pretty much match what happened on the race track Saturday afternoon.
The overwhelming favorite in the 400-yard race, Painted Lies streaked to the wire under Cody Smith just in front of fast closing Feature Dreamgirl and Explosive Guns, in a winning time of 20.339.
Blair’s only concern before hand?
“Bad luck,” he said. “I’m very superstitious.”
The winning owner Tom Maher of Pierre, S.D., was as excited about the agreement between Canterbury Park and Mystic Lake as he was his horse’s victory.
Maher has been coming to Shakopee since 1985 and was enthralled by the agreement.
“I’m delighted with it,” he said. “It is really something that the Sampsons made the deal, thinking of us horsemen first. I’m really impressed with it.”
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.