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Stakes in Festival of Champions Honor Four Exceptional MN-Breds

by Dave Valento

Canterbury Park’s Festival of Champions has always been one of the most popular racing days on the calendar at the Shakopee oval. It brings together the top Minnesota-breds in highly anticipated match-ups at various surfaces and distances. The 2021 version is scheduled for Wednesday, September 8th.

Four of the stakes races on Festival of Champions Day are named for legendary Minnesota-breds from days gone by (Princess Elaine, Blair’s Cove, Crocrok and Bella Notte).

Princess Elaine Minnesota Distaff Turf Championship (1M 1/16 Turf)

Princess Elaine was trained by Peter David Knoll and owned by Win Stephens. She won 9 of her 27 career starts including 6 stakes races.

After winning the Lady Slipper and Minnesota Breeders’ Oaks for Minnesota-breds as a 3YO, her career took off when she beat open class allowance foes at 8-1 in her first start on the grass. She followed that up with a win in the Red Wing Handicap, again vs. open class, on the turf in her next start. To close out her 3YO season, she beat allowance foes at glitzy Churchill Downs at 10-1 during Breeders’ Cup week.

She really showed her talent as a 4YO when she beat the multiple stakes winner Cool Deal by 7-lengths in track record time in the July 4th 1989 U.S.A Handicap. That race included another local legend, Hoist Her Flag, who was trying turf for the first time.

Princess Elaine picked up checks in stakes both locally and at Arlington Park in Chicago. She was the first Minnesota-bred to run in the money in a graded stakes when she was third beaten two-lengths by Fieldy in the Grade 3 1990 Lady Canterbury.

Blair’s Cove Minnesota Turf Championship (1M 1/16 Turf)

Blair’s Cove

Blair’s Cove was the first horse to put a Minnesota-bred on the map. The Noel Hickey trained-Irish Acres Farms owned colt made his debut in the historically significant Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs. The race had been run since 1902 and was won by serious colts like Summer Squall, Favorite Trick and Classic Empire. Blair’s Cove shocked the field in the 1987 running by winning at 21-1. He was a Minnesota bred making his career debut in a Churchill stakes. It seems 21-1 might was an underlay.

Blair’s Cove was active from 1987 to 1992 and won 17 of 58 starts. He retired as the all-time Mn-bred earner with $533,528. He kept that title until recently usurped by Mr. Jagermeister and Hot Shot Kid.

Trainer Noel Hickey raced him at many locations. In addition to running in Minnesota and Kentucky, he competed in New York, California, Florida, Ohio and even raced in a Group 1 at Sha Tin in Hong Kong (finishing 7th of 14).

Blair’s Cove was the 1988 Canterbury Horse of the Year after winning 7 of his 14 starts that year. In his career, he won 6 times at Canterbury Downs and all were stakes.

His last stakes win was the Grade 3 Stars and Stripes at Arlington Park in 1991. The horse he beat, Opening Verse, would win the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Mile 4 starts later.


Crocrock Minnesota Sprint Championship (6 Furlongs, Dirt)

Just like Blair’s Cove a dozen years before him, Crocrock made his debut in a stakes race


and won in an upset. He took the MTA Stallion Auction Laddie Stakes on August 1st, 1999. Despite it being his first career start, he showed a gameness that would become his trademark. He went to the lead and was pressured the entire way by the classy Tez Tarak. Crocrock won gamely by a head on the wire at 6-1 odds. It was 14-lengths back to the third place finisher.

Trained by Francisco Bravo and owned by Dale Schenian, Crocrock campaigned during 7 seasons from 1999 to 2005. He won 14 races at Canterbury Park, 9 of which were stakes. The 14 local wins are third most at Canterbury behind Hoist Her Flag (17) and John Bullit (17).

Crocrock won the Minnesota Sprint Championship (which is now named for him) four times from 2000 to 2004. His lone other start in the Minnesota Sprint Championship was a tough-luck neck defeat in 2003.

Like Princess Elaine and Blair’s Cove, Crocrock is in the Canterbury Hall of Fame.


Bella Notte Minnesota Distaff Sprint Championship (6 Furlongs, Dirt)

Bella Notte won 11 of 23 starts in her career. She was trained by Mac Robertson and owned by

Bella Notte

Art and Gretchen Eaton. Of her 11 wins, 9 of them were by more than 4-lengths and twice she won by more than 13-lengths. She often traded punches with another Mac Robertson Mn-bred filly, Thanksforthetip.

She won 5 stakes races locally and, while most of her best efforts were sprinting on the dirt, she also took the 2010 Princess Elaine Stakes wire to wire going 1M 1/16 on the grass. She won the Minnesota Sprint Distaff, which is now named for her, three times (2009, 2010 and 2011).

Bella Notte’s female family goes back to Hall of Fame mare Tomsah who was the Champion 2YO filly in 1964 and Champion 3YO filly in 1965. She is now a broodmare herself with one horse to have made a start.