By Jim Wells
There was a collective yelp from a group packed around a television set on the second level of the grandstand Sunday afternoon. Announcer Paul Allen supplied an answer for the excitement moments later with this announcement:
“The Twins beat the New York Yankees, 6-3.”
In Yankee Stadium nonetheless.
While the local baseball heroes were salvaging what looked like another worthless trip to New York, Canterbury Park was winding up opening weekend on a hopeful note, too.
To paraphrase the thoughts of president/CEO Randy Sampson:
Not spectacular, but not a bad way to start a summer-long celebration of racing in Minnesota.
“The crowds have been great. The handle is down slightly but still good,” he said. “We were really worried about going up against the fishing opener. We didn’t know what to expect, how it might impact us.”
For that reason, Sampson isn’t certain what to make of the free admission Canterbury will offer this season. Did the open turnstiles help replace horse-playing anglers who preferred to troll in their favorite ponds over the weekend?
Only time will tell if free admission has a significant impact on attendance..
Something else is more certain: The jockey race this summer could turn into a free-for-all.
The presence of veteran Eddie Martin, Jr., fast starts from Ry Eilkelberry, who won the riding title in Phoenix this winter, and from defending champ Dean Butler, three-time former champ Scott Stevens and six-time champ Derek Bell auger well for a competitive summer.
“He just outrode everyone,” said trainer Gary Scherer, who was impressed with Martin for other reasons following an incident on Saturday.
Martin was kicked in the side by a horse in the walking ring and struggled to his knees, clearly hurt and finding it difficult to breathe. “They got on the radios to get another rider right away,” Scherer recalled. “There’s Eddie, on his knees, gasping for air and his first words are: ‘Hey, I didn’t say (gasp) that (gasp) I wasn’t going to ride.’/I”
Martin not only got back on the horse. He won the race.
Despite the lingering pain he was at Canterbury Sunday morning to gallop horses. “He got on four for me,” said Scherer.
Adolfo Morales brought home Wicked Vow for trainer/owner Charlie Smith in the fifth race despite nearly being unseated out of the gate.
“Charlie said to get the lead but he stumbled so badly out of the gate that we had to go to plan B,” said Morales.
Plan B worked as well as plan A.
Typically, a 5 ½-furlong race for maidens would not garner much of a look, but the sixth race won by a three-year-old filly named Sheso Dazzling was another matter. Trained by Kelly Von Hemel and ridden by Alex Birzer, this maiden left her rivals in a cloud of dust.
“That’s an impressive maiden,” said a knowledgeable bystander. “They better start looking for a stakes race for her right away.”
“Kelly and his crew did a good job of getting her ready,” said Birzer. “We worked her a couple of times at Oaklawn and she worked nicely for him the other day.”
She ran nicely on Sunday, too.