BY JIM WELLS
There was a gentleman just outside the grandstand on the apron Saturday afternoon waiting to embrace Tony Rengstorf after the fourth race.
The fellow was his father,Dave, and the greeting was a welcome home of sorts, coming as it did after Tony’s first two wins of the meet.
Rengstorf had saddled Bert’s Little Sister, a winner for the Sampson stable, in the third race, and Desert Alley , the winner of race four, for Bonnie Baskin’s Blue Heaven Farm.
Rengstorf was once a regular trainer at Canterbury but has been gone the last two years, running a training center in Hot Springs, Ark., employment that kept him close to his family throughout the year.
Rengstorf was at home in Hot Springs last Christmas when he got a phone call.
Russ Sampson was at the airport on his way to Australia for a holiday and decided to give Rengstorf another pitch, continuing an earlier conversation. “I had a list and Tony was at the top of it,” Sampson said Saturday.
Curt Sampson had purchased 10 2-year-olds at the Keeneland sale, and Russ wanted a trainer to handle the family stable at Canterbury Park this summer.
Rengstorf, of course, was well known at Canterbury, where he cut his teeth in 1985-86-87 working in the stable of Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg.
He knew little or nothing about racing when he first arrived at Canterbury, and what he knew about horses would have maybe filled a thimble.
“I grew up on a Dairy Farm (outside Nicollet, Minn.),” Rengstorf said. “But we didn’t have horses.” He was introduced to them by his girlfriend and future wife, Carol, who began galloping horses for Bernell Rhone.
Tony, essentially, followed her to Canterbury, learned the trade, and in 1989 took out his training license.
That was his passion and livelihood until two years ago. “I just burned out,” he said, “and wanted to spend more time with my family.”
That nearly changed last year when Russ Sampson thought he had Rengstorf convinced to return to Minnesota. “He was needed at the training center and never showed up,” Sampson recalled.
He is here full force this summer with 28 horses, 23 of them for the Sampsons. .
His two boys, Levi, 16, and Noah, 12, are with him for the summer, staying at a place Tony bought in 1988 on Spring Lake, a mere seven-mile hike from the track. Tony and Carol’s daughter, Katelyn, graduated high school this spring. “The girls just headed back to Hot Springs,” Tony said. “They’ve been up here for a family wedding. We had Katelyn’s graduation party here, since most of our family is too.”
Rengstorf had one additional ulterior motive for returning to Minnesota, the place on Spring Lake. “I have a lot of work I want to do on the place,” he said.
QUARTER HORSE SUMMER SCHOOL
The Minnesota Quarter Horse Racing Assn. conducted its annual Youth Day at the Races on Saturday, with 11 junior and senior high school students participating.
It began with a tour of the backside at 8 a.m., a visit with a couple of trainers and a stop at the racing office. The group watched the first race of the day from the stewards’ room at the top of the grandstand and was then given a test covering what they had learned throughout the day.
There were 45 questions in all, covering topics pertaining to distribution of purses, training duties, racing terms, equine medications and the racing commission.
The winner of the competition for most points scored on the test was Mindy Sommer of Fairfax, who picked up a $1,000 scholarship. Second was Claire Jensen of Edina. Third was Katelyn Siltanen of Barnum.
They are eligible to participate in the AQHA national competition during the Challenge Races at Los Alamitos in October for additional scholarship money.