BY JIM WELLS
On a glorious May day, the first level of the grandstand was empty most of Saturday afternoon.
Minnesotans don’t waste weather like Saturday’s hanging out indoors. Industrious souls work on the lawn or clean out the garage. The rest of us choose the lake or backyard barbecues, maybe the golf course or , in Canterbury Park’s case, the grandstand apron.
If you like racing, there is no better spot to watch it on a magnificent afternoon. Unless you prefer the outdoor extension of the second floor.
The temperature was near 70 degrees, accompanied by low humidity and light breezes and the paddock viewing area was filled race after race with health conscious individuals hoping to bolster their vitamin D levels.
Even a modest card such as Saturday’s is irrelevant under such conditions for the majority of folks who revel in people watching, admiring shiny, smooth thoroughbreds or quarter horses and like to eat.
John Nerud, the revered Hall of Fame trainer who was once the president and general manager of William McKnight’s Tartan Farms, recently addressed the subject of thoroughbred racing and the current economic crisis.
Nerud, 96 years of age, has experienced the best and worst of America’s economy during his life.
“Racing will survive in this economy,” he said recently. “Where else but the racetrack can a man with $25 get an entire afternoon’s entertainment any longer for that kind of money.”
The point has been well taken by the crowds that have visited Canterbury since it resumed live racing on Preakness Friday eve. It was again the case on Saturday afternoon.
On an afternoon devoted to maidens and claimers, with some modest level allowance races thrown in, the majority of Canterbury’s crowd seemed to care less.
They enjoyed the food, the camaraderie and the horse racing.
Canterbury’s media man Jeff Maday put together a group of 60 owners with a three-year-old filly named Tahitian Queen, who broke her maiden on opening night in Shakopee and made it two in a row in Saturday’s opening race under Jose Ferrer. She also provided sizzling trainer Tammy Domenosky, trainer of the week twice already this meet, with another win.
Cousin Sue, trained by Vic Hanson and ridden by Anne Von Rosen, held off Aloha Richter’s stretch challenge to win the second race on the card, a six-furlong claiming dash.
“Finally, we get one not willing to give it up,” said Hanson. “We’ve been searching for one like that.”
Bernell Rhone, who trains Aloha Richter, hopes his horse will be more like Cousin Sue next time out.
“She wasn’t as fit as (the winner),” he said. “This race will help.”
Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens appears to be reaching his stride. His goal is to ride a winner a day. So far, so good this week.
He had one Friday and on Saturday took Zack Cape wire to wire over six furlongs for trainer Mac Robertson and Jer-Mar Stable.
The hottest jockey on the grounds this week is Juan Rivera. He had a racing hat trick with three winners on Friday’s card.
Saturday, he rode two more. He stunned seven rivals in the fourth race by guiding IIlikechocolatemilk, at 12-1, to a (about a)mile victory on the turf for maidens.
“He didn’t like the dirt in Phoenix and so we tried him on the turf,” said Rivera. “He didn’t win in two tries but ran green and showed he liked the grass,” Rivera said.
Saturday, Ilikechocolatemilk got a clean trip and was a clear winner. “I knew he was ready to do it today,” Rivera said.
The winner is trained by Canterbury Hall of Fame trainer Dave Van Winkle and owned by Rodney Miller of Howard Lake. Miller was at a wedding and missed seeing his 3-year-old gelding break his maiden .
The winner of the fifth race at a mile and 70 yards was a seven-year-old gelding by Gulch named Chasm, trained by Troy Bethke and ridden by Tracy Hebert.
Owner Carin Offerman was told before the race that everything seemed in order for her horse to come through. Even if the stars are all aligned, Offerman cautioned, a person still needs luck.
She had all she needed in Hebert, who has demonstrated his talent in the saddle every day he’s ridden at Canterbury this spring.
Chasm withstood a challenge in the stretch drive by Top Authority and briefly by 3-5 favorite Tytus because of Hebert.
When Chasm was challenged, the rider revealed one of his major strengths, the ability to keep a horse within himself and save something for such occasions. It was almost as if he simply shifted to another gear. After nearly a mile Hebert had unused horse for the final 1/16th and that earned the Offerman stable and trainer Troy Bethke a victory.
There is more of the same, with even warmer weather included, at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.