Countless animals have passed their way since the Bensons bought their farm in 1971. They’ve purchased horses, sold horses, bred horses and boarded horses. A veritable bread and breakfast of the equine world.
Teresa and Dean were hauling horses to Arkansas and various other locations during the days before racing was part of the Minnesota landscape, selling them to buyers wherever the market took them. Then, when Canterbury Downs opened its gates in 1985, the Bensons had a new, local market for their thoroughbreds. During those early years some well-known trainers from Kentucky and other points south who were competing at Canterbury began calling upon the Bensons for their various services.
Bernie Flint, George “Rusty” Arnold, and other hardboots from Bluegrass country, turned out horses in need of rest or rehabilitation with the Bensons. Friendships evolved and with them new connections for breeding and participating in the thoroughbred market.
The Bensons began hauled their mares to Kentucky and breeding them. “It was really great,” said Teresa Benson.”We got in touch with a lot of good people, people who helped us in Kentucky and elsewhere.”
Naturally, the Bensons have seen and worked with their share of horses in the past 40 years, but not one in all that time quite matches the story of Civil Independence, a horse with a timetable for racing that was entirely his own, that didn’t coincide with any available racetracks. Not that anyone knows of, at any rate.
He was dynamite in the morning – a fast, fast horse. Wouldn’t run a lick after the noon hour.
“He was a real morning glory,” Teresa recalled.
Naturally, there is more to the story. The Bensons stood Civil Ceremony, owned by the heiress to the Campbell Soup Company, at their farm and bred and raised a colt named Civil Independence, foaled in 1986, who would one day acquire the nickname “Lucas.” They later sent the colt to Chicago with a trainer to learn his trade. When he returned to Canterbury Downs to begin his career, Civil Independence displayed an independent streak.
He considered afternoons and evenings for the barn, showing his speed in the morning. Racing against fellow thoroughbreds? Not so much.
Word gets around in the thoroughbred world. The Bensons discovered in conversations with horsemen from Chicago that their horse was being trained in most unorthodox fashion in the Windy City. Civil Independence was being used to pony horses to and from the track by the trainer.
“Apparently the trainer didn’t think he could run, either,” said Teresa.
The Bensons weren’t exactly greenhorns in the thoroughbred business. They had been in the Minnesota thoroughbred circle from the early 1970s, part of the early group that formed the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association. They knew when it didn’t pay to hang onto a horse that wasn’t willing to run.
“He had four starts here and did nothing,” Teresa recalled.”He never performed and ended up making $384 total. He was the only foal of his mother’s who didn’t win. Racing was not his cup of tea and we didn’t want him to become just another pasture pal.”
The Bensons contacted a local dealer who had Chicago folks interested in just such a horse.
That owner never adjusted to Civil Independence’s tendency for rounding his back when he completed a task (she fell off a couple of times), and the colt wound up in the hands of owners of a large equestrian center near Chicago.
Lo and behold, Civil Independence had found his niche and he became known as Lucas. “They had hunter-jumpers there,” Teresa recalled.”A lot of elites in the field trained there. In his very first year there he became a sensational horse, placing third in national competition among 3,500 entries in the amateur/owner division. I grew up with hunter/jumpers. This guy was athletic and just loved to do it.”
The Morning Glory had found his station in life and acquitted himself quite well.
Not all thoroughbreds are real racehorses. Not all racehorses are hunter/jumpers, not like Civil Independence anyway.
“That first year of his was absolutely phenomenal. Really superb,” Teresa added.
Senian Retreat had three other foals that were winners on the racetrack. There is no record that any one of three matched Civil Independence in his particular field.
That’s one of many stories the Bensons can tell about their lives with horses over the last 40-odd years at their Wood-Mere Farm, the top consignor in several MTA yearling and Two-Year-Old in Training sales.
There is the inspiration for their farm’s name when they first bought the land, for example. “Well,” Teresa said, “there is a forest of trees (wood) across the road when we look out at it. We thought of mere as a “mirror” of what we wanted when we looked out at those trees.”
The Bensons have six foals on the farm, three of them theirs, and there are five broodmares, one of them an Unbridled mare. When you consider just how long the Bensons have been in business, how long they’ve had for gathering stories, consider this: Unbridled won the Kentucky Derby in 1990. That was 23 years ago and almost two decades after they started their farm.
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.