Closing day on Monday generated the usual sentiments, salutations and farewells that accompany the end of any race meet. Many of the horsemen were on the road shortly after the meet finished or will be on Tuesday, some of them fighting headaches from a long night of celebratory partying at nearby watering holes.
There was one common sentiment among the many shared as the meet wound down on Monday and it typically began with this query: “Are you glad it’s over?”
“Yes, but in two weeks I’d like it to start all over again.”
So it went on the final day, the 67th day, of the 2008 race meet. Canterbury experienced a slight decline in attendance, an 8.59 percent drop in on-track wagering but a 2.64 increase in import handle this summer.
Maybe the best line of closing weekend or any weekend for that matter came from Gretchen Eaton, who raises and races horses with her husband, Art.
Jockey Derek Bell was suffering from a kidney stone during Saturday’s races. “I can still ride,” said the resilient Bell. “Let’s hope the stone isn’t too heavy,” said Gretchen.
Bell passed the stone overnight and was back on his game again the next day.
Closing day included the presentation of trophies to the various champions. Bell received his as the first rider in Canterbury Downs or Canterbury Park history to win six riding titles. He finished the meet with 93 wins. Bell has been a steady, reliable rider who outhustles the competition with his talent, work ethic and ability to hook up with good stables, most notably Mac Robertson’s
Robertson was honored as well as the leading trainer for a fourth straight year (he had 77 wins) and that process produced one of the day’s many smiles.
Paddock analyst Kevin Gorg, America’s favorite public handicapper, introduced Robertson in the winner’s circle, describing his season with something roughly approaching a short story’s worth of praise.
So it went on another closing day, the 14th under the direction of the Sampson family.
In a truly thrilling race, the Shakopee Stakes, a horse not given much of a chance, 16-1 Let It Rock, the longest-priced horse in the five horse field, demonstrated that the PPs, fractions of a race and everything else handicappers rely upon are sometimes simply irrelevant.
Sometimes it is the grey areas of racing that determine winners. Maybe in this case the fact that Let It Rock shipped in for Judi Hicklin and whipped a field that included Wayzata Bay, another Hickin horse with lifetime earnings of $615,000-plus, as well as the locally stabled stars Prospective Kiss and Eagle Storm was simply a matter of fresher legs and lungs.
Eagle Storm, five-for-five and the winner of the Claiming Crown Rapid Transit, was a 5-2 choice. Wayzata Bay, a multiple graded stakes winner, was sent off at 6-5 and Prospective Kiss was an 8-5 choice.
At the head of the lane all five horses were across the track, but at the wire first, coming out of the clouds, was Let It Rock, making just his fifth start of the season as opposed to the sixth for Wayzata Bay, the 11th for Eagle Storm, eighth for Manningtoharrison and ninth for Prospective Kiss.
Or, maybe it was simply a matter of a horse rising in ability or that the heavy, humid air didn’t bother this horse. By any explanation, the result was still the same _ a $34.80 winner.
Curt and Sharon Johnson were honored for the third straight year as the top thoroughbred owners. Al and Claire Lundgren and Jim Olson tied for that honor in the quarter horse owners’ rankings. Ed Ross Hardy won his eighth quarter horse training title, and young Ry Eikleberry, 19, was introduced as the quarter horse riding champ.
Eagle Storm, owned by the Johnsons and trained by Justin Evans, was named champion older horse, sprinter and Horse of the Meet.
The $50,000 Dean Kutz Stakes produced another thrilling race, with Angel Smoke (the gray filly splitting horses in the photo), owned by Jer-Mar Stable, trained by Robertson and ridden by Bell, outfighting Polynesian Kitty for the win.
Photos complements of Maggie Gray.
In the next to the last race of the season, Wally’s Choice, with Paul Nolan up, won his first race in 2 ½ years after undergoing surgery, beating nine rivals at a mile and 1/16th in a turf allowance race.
And the 2008 came to an official close with a mile and 1/16th claiming event on the turf. The winner…need we say it:
Smoke Baby, owned by Jer-Mar Stable, trained by Robertson and ridden by Bell.