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Upsets in Minnesota Oaks & Minnesota Derby

Both the $60,000 Minnesota Oaks and the $60,000 Minnesota Derby went to underdogs on Saturday afternoon at Canterbury Park. However, had you looked at the nominations earlier in the season, it is likely that the winner of the Minnesota Derby, Black Tie Benny, would have been your favorite to win the race.

Winner of the $55,000 Northern Lights Futurity last August, Black Tie Benny had only been seen once this summer, finishing fifth in the Victor S. Myers Stakes on July 23 – the local prep race for the Minnesota Derby. Following that race, trainer Bernell Rhone took the blame saying his horse simply ran a bad race.

“I shouldn’t have scratched him [out of an allowance race prior to the Myer],” Rhone said. “I didn’t want him to run over a wet track, but in hindsight, he really needed that race to get fit.”

However, Benny was more than fit enough to stretch his speed over a route of ground in the Minnesota Derby and took the field wire to wire under the guidance of jockey Martin Escobar. Rhone was pleased with the effort.

“I wasn’t thrilled with the early fractions,” Rhone said. “I thought they were going much too fast, but he obviously appreciated the extra ground.”

Following the race, Rhone and owner Barbara Rehbein both said that they intend on skipping the Minnesota Festival of Champions and will instead point to an allowance race while keeping an on the $400,000 Oklahoma Derby to be run on October 19 at Remington Park.

“We’ll likely run him one more time at Canterbury this year,” Rhone said. “I don’t want him to face older horses quite yet and he will likely need to try open company before we make any final decisions on his fall schedule.”

If Black Tie Benny heads to the Oklahoma Derby, he will try to follow in the footsteps of fellow Minnesota-bred Wally’s Choice, winner of the 2004 Oklahoma Derby, owned by Curtis Sampson and Wally and Joyce McNeil.

Sampson had something to celebrate himself on Saturday as Bert’slittlesister held off the prohibitive favorite Polar Plunge in the $60,000 Minnesota Oaks. Bert’slittlesister, owned and bred by Sampson (in conjunction with Craig Biorn), stalked the pace and was able to keep a nose in front of the favorite who encountered traffic trouble on the far turn.

Races for Meet Leaders Heating Up

The races for leading jockey & trainer for both quarter horses and thoroughbreds are heating up. Dean Butler, defending champion jockey, held a six victory margin over six-time leading rider Derek Bell entering the day and looked to land a heavy blow when he swept the early double with Blue Ra Ra and Tabby Lane. Derek Bell fired right back winning the day’s third and fourth races aboard Chick Fight and Heliskier, but Butler got the last word winning both the fifth and seventh races on the card. The four-bagger left Butler with an eight win lead with nineteen race day remaining on the card.

Bernell Rhone once again looked to draw clear of his competition for the leading trainer crown by notching three victories on Saturday (one being the aforementioned Minnesota Derby). The victories gave him a three win lead over Mike Biehler and an eight win lead over six-time defending champion Mac Robertson.

Thomas Wellington, featured yesterday on this blog, currently holds a one victory margin in the quest for leading quarter horse rider. Jennifer Schmidt, leading quarter horse rider in 2007, is second in the standings and trails Wellington by only one.

Bob Johnson won the day’s first quarter horse race and in doing so pulled himself into a tie atop the leader board for leading quarter horse trainer with Brent Clay. Both Clay and Johnson have nine training victories so far this year. Nine-time defending training champion Ed Ross Hardy trails both Clay and Johnson by one victory.