By Jim Wells
Photos by Coady Photography
Sunny skies, cool breezes and a surprise or two provided the perfect conditions for the annual Minnesota Festival of Champions at Canterbury Park with a card designed exclusively for Minnesota-bred horses on August 21.
The card included a bit of everything, including what might not have been a race for the ages but surely for this particular meet. There was an upset of a solid favorite, a longshot winner from the American Quarter Horse ranks, a honey of a winner in the Bella Notte Stakes, a dry-land winner by the name of Shipmate and a crowd of 7,622 that wagered $268,140 as its contribution to a total handle, including simulcast, of $890,140, the largest total since 1999.
Sometimes a trainer can pick up valuable tips from a rider after he has worked a horse. How often he or she listens is another matter. Doug Oliver takes such things to heart, and his horse wound up in the winner’s circle with a check for $36,000 as the upset winner of the $60,000 Wally’s Choice Minnesota Classic Championship.
All of the smart money was on odds-on favorite A P Is Loose in this one. The smarter money, it turned out, was on 3-1 second choice Speed Is Life, the Oliver-trained 5-year-old.
Jockey Andrew Ramgeet has been telling Oliver after working his horse that he was on a winner.
“He kept telling me he could win with this horse,’’ Oliver said. “He’d come back and tell me, ‘He needs this or he needs that,’ ” Oliver said. “We took off the blinkers; we took off the shadow roll.”
The result was a neck victory for the gelding by Scipion owned by Ez-Az Thoroughbreds LLP and bred by Daniel Kelliher and Vincent Caldwell.
There was just an instant there, with three-quarters of a mile to go, that Sioux Appeal looked like she had some competition in the $60,000 Glitter Star Minnesota Distaff Classic Championship. The front-runner in this 1 1/16-mile race had been in charge from the break, but now Blues Edge looked ready to usurp that command, sticking her head in front.
It was only an instant in a race run in 1:38.62.
Heading into the stretch, Dean Butler got his filly back in front by a length and increased that to 2 ½ lengths by the time she hit the wire.
Sioux Appeal, out of the Mac Robertson barn, was sent off the 5-2 favorite despite a winless record in 2016 with two starts. Much of the trust placed in her was based on her win last year in the Minnesota Oaks and the Northern Lights Debutante.
The Successful Appeal filly runs for breeder Jeff Larson.
In the $85,000 Northern Lights Debutante, there was a bit of a mystery filly who was two-for-two career-wise with both races at Prairie Meadows. There was nothing mysterious about the jockey, however. Canterbury Park Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens, highly regarded for his ability on 2-year-old horses, was in the irons, having arrived in Shakopee only a week earlier.
Stevens was on a filly named Bold Sharokee in the 1992 Debutante as part of the inaugural Festival and brought her home, his first of, after this edition, four winners in the race.
This time he was on Shipmate, a Midshipman filly. He tucked her in safely along the rail and she dictated the fractions for this race, stepping it up at the top of the lane with a 4 ½-length lead. With perfect timing, Stevens got her to the wire three-quarters of a length in front of Pinup Girl.
That made winners, also, of trainer Karl Broberg and breeders and owners Cheryl Sprick and Richard Bremer, who also owned a starter in the first Festival Debutante.
Honey’s Sox Appeal had fan appeal—big fan appeal—and for good reason. The 3-year-old filly, owned by Bob Lindgren and trained by Mac Robertson, was sent off the 8-5 favorite in the $60,000 Bella Notte Minnesota Distaff Sprint Championship and lived up to those expectations in fine fashion.
A winner of two allowance races and second in her previous two starts, the Frances Genter and the Minnesota Oaks, the daughter of Successful Appeal was ready and waiting. She won this race with room to spare, kicking clear in the upper stretch under Geovanni Franco to win by 2 ¼ lengths over Rockin the Bleu’s.
Lindgren, who bred the filly with Paul Knapper, said afterward that he wanted the rider to stay close, not more than three lengths back, and then go for it—precisely what Franco did.
Lindgren celebrated this one and then hoped the half sister to this winner, Thunder and Honey, would score in the $60,000 Glitter Star. Only the first half of his daily double came through for him, although Thunder and Honey did finish third in her race.
There was enough star power in the $60,000 Crocrock Minnesota Spring Championship to have rolled out the red carpet. This was a match-up of track stars, horses that have made their marks in numerous ways at Canterbury Park the last few years. It was a lineup that included Heliskier, a two-time Horse of the Year at the track; Hold For More, the 2015 Horse of the Year; and Bourbon County, the two-time defending champion in the race.
There was also Smooth Chiraz, four-for-six lifetime and winner of the Victor S. Myers Stakes his last time out locally. This one created all sorts of speculation. Heliskier alone had everyone guessing. He hadn’t run in two years, losing to Bourbon County in his last race. He had undergone at least two surgeries to repair knee damage since. Was he ready? Could he run again at this level?
“We wished we could have gotten a race in him,” said owner Marlene Colvin.
In a three-horse photo finish, Hold For More, under Dean Butler, got the win in front of Bourbon County and Smooth Chiraz, a neck and a head separating the top three with Heliskier two lengths back in fourth. The race was named for a four-time winner of this sprint, Crocrock, owned by Dale Schenian, who owns Hold For More. Francisco Bravo has been the trainer for all five of those victories.
“This was a phenomenal group of horses,” Bravo said. “It was just a beautiful race.”
Schenian did his trainer one better.
“This is the best Minnesota-bred race in history,” he said. “God bless America.”
Hey, where’s the fire?
That was the perfect question at Canterbury as Fireman Oscar unveiled his stretch run, increasing his margin of victory by a nose, a head, a neck, a half, a length…until he hit the wire 6 ¾ lengths in front of Devil’s Teeth in the $85,000 Northern Lights Futurity.
What a way to break your maiden, with a check for $51,000.
There’s not much to go on sometimes with these 2-year-olds, although there was something about the Fireman, who was making his second start. He made his debut just two weeks prior, finishing second to another competitor in this race, Chaska.
With Larren Delorme in the irons, trainer Dave Van Winkle sent out the Fireman as the 5-1 second choice to even-money favorite Devil’s Teeth, who was a nose in front of Fridaynitestar at the wire.
Fireman Oscar become the first winner for stallion Law Enforcement. He was bred by owner Peter Mattson.