It’s a minor detail to some, a big improvement to others, long overdue to a few and about to happen in any event. The subject at hand is the return of the chute on the grass course, abandoned sometime in the late 1990s primarily – according to Canterbury lore – because a number of riders objected to the dogleg turn onto the main track, a problem essentially only for horses without speed breaking out of the first two or three holes.
The consensus among the railbirds, though, is that the anomaly adds another element to the handicapping approach.
It doesn’t matter. “Chute racing” is about to return, delayed only by the arrival of a few more pieces to complete the necessary railing.
Track superintendent Ian Gamble explained that the original chute railing was used over the years to replace damaged pieces on the main track. The replacement railing has arrived with the exception of a few pieces. About 700 feet of railing, including 70 uprights and 70 pins at a cost of around $12,000, was needed to rebuild the chute.
Used for one mile and 1/16 races, the chute can reopen as quickly as the missing pieces arrive.
Gamble recalls some of the complaints riders lodged leading to closure of the chute.
“Basically, the riders didn’t like the cavalry charge out of the gate to get position as the field angled onto the main track,” he said. “I think some of them realize that there might be more of a hazard now because the main track is getting so chewed up moving the gate around.”
The chute gate can stay in place throughout the season.
Gamble says that the turf in the chute has gotten the same attention over the last five years given the main track. “When we aerated the main track, we did the chute too,” he said. “When we fertilized the track, we fertilized the grass in the chute, too.”
The gate leaves tire tracks as it’s moved around the course that turn yellow as the grass dries. That creates different reactions from different horses that are sometimes hazardous to all involved.
“To the horses it looks like a hole or a shadow. They don’t know whether to jump over it or stop,” said Canterbury Hall of Fame rider Derek Bell. “Sometimes they slow way down.”
Bell believes the racing will become safer once the chute is returned to use. “I like it,” he said. “I’d much rather start out of there. It’s safer for everyone. You can get position before we hit the first turn.”
Bell says the turn onto the main track is not a problem if the inner rail is not moved out too far. “If you move it out too far then you get that hook and that can be a little dangerous,” he said.
Gamble said the width of the course will probably be left at the full 70 feet with the chute in use.
Scott Stevens, Canterbury’s other active Hall of Fame rider, had a succinct response to the impending return of the chute.
“We have it. We might as well use it,” he said.
THE “ITALIAN” CONNECTION
Each time Geovanni Franco enters the winner’s circle, track announcer Paul Allen plays a piece of music from the Godfather and uses his best Marlon Brando impression on the sound system to imitate the marble-mouthed star of the hit film.
Franco cannot help grinning each time he hears the music.
He was grinning on three separate occasions Thursday night.
The hat trick got under way in the second race when Franco brought in Brite Dreamer for trainer Miguel Angel Silva.
Franco heard the music once again in race six when he brought in Vinny V., again for Silva.
Franco and Silva were smiling once more after race seven with Lucky High.
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.
Photo Credit: Coady Photography