By JIM WELLS
On the biggest day of the year _ attendancewise _ Canterbury Park Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens made it even bigger, punctuating the festivities with a personal milestone.
Stevens rode two winners to reach 4,000 (mixed breed) wins for his career by winning consecutive races, and both happened to be $50,000 stakes.
It was Extreme Day at Canterbury, an annual festival that includes exotic races and animals _ camels and ostriches with riders on their backs, and a crowd in excess of 15,000 (it seemed closer to 20,000) was on hand.
None of it could diminish the accomplishments of one of Canterbury’s all-time favorite riders.
Jockey Paul Nolan and track superintendent Ian Gamble doused Stevens with a bucket of ice as he was being interviewed by paddock analyst Kevin Gorg after he reached his milestone.
In an emotional interview, Stevens thanked the large turnout, talked about his love for Minnesota and Canterbury in particular. “I consider this my second home,” he said.
Phoenix, of course, is his first home but Turf Paradise does not draw the crowds that Canterbury does.
“These big crowds are what racing’s about,” Stevens said.
“This couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,” said Gorg.
“You know, he’s maybe the toughest rider I’ve known,” said jockey agent Richard Grunder. “I remember when I was calling races in Portland, he was there riding with a broken ankle.”
As it was, Stevens was riding this week with a badly bruised left shoulder _ the result of a gate incident last week. It was bad enough that after his second win on Sunday, he took off the final race on the card, the marathon, a 2 1/16 mile event, won by Paul Nolan on Lioron Jotace, a Chilean-bred owned by Dale Schenian, a director on Canterbury’s board.
“I don’t think I could go the two miles,” Stevens said as he removed his silks and rubbed his aching shoulder and informed jockey room custodian Jerry Simmons that he was taking off the horse.
Stevens rode winner No. 3,999 in the Brian Barenscheer Juvenile Stakes and _ emphasizing his talent with two-year-old horses _ guided 14-1 longshot Cejka to a front-running victory, holding off a late challenge from Launch Light, who was later placed seventh in favor of Raton Pass for interference.
Even more impressive _ Cejka was a maiden, who was sick after his maiden appearance on July 19 and ran third.
“That was disappointing,” said Stevens. “This horse is a lot better than that.”
Trainer/owner Bryan Porter agreed but was still second-guessing his decision to run the horse as a maiden in a $50,000 stakes race.
As late as the fourth race, he approached Stevens to get his opinion on possibly scratching Cejka. Stevens thought the horse should run, and that was the only confidence booster Porter needed.
Stevens, in addition to his riding skills, is respected for his ability to judge and gauge horses’ potential. He is particularly good with young horses.
Horsemen theorized how nice it would have been for Stevens to reach the 4,000 mark with Cejka, a maiden long-shot stakes winner. Others thought it might be nice for him to do it by winning two nice stakes in a row.
In a stroke of irony, Stevens rode 5-1 outsider Trying Brian for trainer Mac Robertson to a front-running victory in the John Bullit Stakes.
Stevens once rode John Bullit. And he also rode winner No. 2,000 of his career, a horse named Doc Hollywood, to a winning effort in the first running of the John Bullit Stakes in 1996 for trainer Steve Assmussen, who’s since become the leading conditioner in the nation.
Stevens was in pain and obviously hurting after the second stakes, but it was a day nonetheless that he will remember for much different reasons in the years to come.
Trainer Charlie Smith occasionally spanks the fans who overlook his horses and that was the case once again in the blazing Saddles, a 3 1/2 -furlong dash as part of Extreme Day.
The race was the fifth on the card and included Celluloid Hero, the Mac Robertson trainee who was 4-for-4 in Shakopee.
The record of local perfection ended as Miss Missile, a 4-year-old filly by Golden Missile, and rider Anne Von Rosen made it a ladies only appearance in the winner’s circle.
They not only beat the boys, they did it in track record time of 38.4 for the distance.
Miss Missile is something else.
Including Sunday’s sprint, Miss Missile has won at 11 distances with earnings just under $385,000 during her notable career. She is 14-1-3 from 28 career starts, and hadn’t raced in Shakopee since her only previous local appearance on July 21, 2007 in the Canterbury Lassie.
“She’s something else,” Smith said.
Now, here’s where a good memory comes in.
Miss Missile paid $11.40 to win, and press box guardian Jeff Maday took note of her presence on Sunday’s card with a trip to the pari-mutuel machine.
“I’ve been waiting two years for her to come back,” he said.
TWO IN A ROW FOR THE LUNDGRENS