by Jim Wells
Call it subdued, somber, or merely cautious, yet live racing will resume Friday night without the usual fanfare and high expectation that normally accompany a fresh start or a new season.
The reason is obvious:
No sign from the Minnesota legislature that it intends to help the horse industry by voting in the Racino needed to keep Canterbury Park the vibrant entertainment palace it has been with minor exception since 1985.
Indeed, a Racino is necessary to keep Canterbury in operation over the longer haul (which grows shorter each season) and preserve the hundreds of jobs it produces on site and throughout the state horse industry.
So, horsemen appear to be taking a wait-and-see attitude before making any pronouncements on the forthcoming race meet, which gets under way with a one-mile maiden claiming affair at 7:05 p.m.
Nonetheless, there were a couple of hopeful, promising and downright optimistic tidbits gleaned from a pilgrimage through Canterbury’s stable area on Thursday morning:
Eddie Cervantes, a Shakopee regular in years past, last rode in 2004 but is galloping horses for Mike Biehler and weighing a decision to climb back in the saddle as part of the local jockey colony.
Who knows, he said with a shrug of the shoulders. “I could fit in here,” he said. “I’d need to drop about 10 pounds. I could do it.”
Or how about this ray of sunshine:
Remember Sheldon Kaplan, a member of the Minnesota Vikings group who once owned Cachuma among other horses during Canterbury’s halcyon days?
Kaplan and his wife, Helene, are partners in a horse named Fight On Gino, a 3-year-old chestnut gelding in today’s second race.
The horse was named for a cancer patient. Kaplan himself, 96, currently is undergoing chemotherapy.
“He’s an amazing person,” said HBPA president Tom Metzen, a partner in the horse as well.
People such as Kaplan and Cervantes provide the hope where very little appears sometimes to exist. Successful horsemen often eschew hope for hard work and realistic expectation.
Take trainer Mac Robertson, the champion conditioner in Shakopee since 2004, who is boarding 36 runners at Canterbury while sending some of his better stock elsewhere to take a run at better money.
Indeed, Canterbury’s ability to draw horsemen and stables in recent years has everything to do with the hospitality it extends to them and the commitment management demonstrates day in and day out to live racing.
It has considerably less to do with the money available.
That was clear in Robertson’s response when it was suggested that everything is right at Canterbury except perhaps the money.
“This is a very nice place,” he responded.
Today’s opening card will feature eight races. Robertson will saddle horses in the fourth, sixth and seventh races. The track’s two-time defending riding champ, Dean Butler, has mounts in the first, third, sixth, seventh and eighth races.
And, in aother very bright note on the card, Scott Stevens, injured seriously in a track accident during last year’s meet, has mounts in the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh races following a successful meet at Turf Paradise in Phoenix over the winter.
Twenty-four trainers who competed last year did not return for the 2011 meet. They are replaced by 24 trainers who were not here a year ago, although several have been here for previous meets. Among the promising newcomers is Mike Chambers, who has won several training titles in Phoenix.
He is making his first appearance in Shakopee, along with his rider, Anne Von Rosen, a native Minnesotan who tied for second in the jockey standings in Phoenix last winter.
A welcome back luncheon was held on Thursday after a late morning meeting in the Dean Kutz Memorial Chapel, held chiefly to educate horsemen on new medication tolerances which go into effect this season.
In addition, Petra Hartman from Industrial Labs in Denver, Colo., was on hand and presented a power point demonstration on her company’s medication testing procedures.
Afterward, a horsemen summed up the presentation thusly: “I didn’t learn anything new at all. It was a waste of time. I could have been working in the barn.”
Perhaps, but then he would have missed the luncheon, featuring brats, hamburgers, potato salad and beans.
On this day, any way, horsemen discovered there is an exception to every rule.
On Thursday, courtesy of the HBPA and backside chapel, they discovered that on some days there is such a thing as a free lunch.
A tasty one at that.