BY JIM WELLS
Ask any rider or trainer and you will get the same reply. They might express it differently but the thought is the same nonetheless:
There is an invisible wall that has to be scaled before he or she truly feels part of the action, a real participant, an authentic factor. It might come on day one, as it did for Dean Butler, who did it not once but five times on opening night. Or it might not happen until, say, Saturday, as it did for three riders and three conditioners.
The first win of the meet.
None of them was any more pleased than Ry Eikleberry, the defending riding champion in Shakopee, who didn’t get a winner until his 17th mount of the new meet, a gelding named Blue Bomber, conditioned by defending training champion Robertino Diodoro, who went wire to wire under Eikleberry. The win came in the seventh race on the card, and Eikleberry breathed a sigh of relief.
“It’s good to get the monkey off my back,’’ he said. “But wins are like bananas. They come in bunches. Now, I need about 15 more.’’
The reference was to what it will take to catch Butler, who has 12 wins, including one on a steward’s ruling that moved his horse from second to first in the second race on Saturday.
“That’s better, Eikleberry said as he bounded down the steps from the winner’s circle.
Geovanni Franco made winners of two trainers for the first time in the meet while winning his first and second races. He brought in Bear Facts for Valorie Lund in race three and was aboard Red Zeus for Dan McFarlane in race five.
Franco’s wins are usually accompanied by music from the Godfather and a practiced Sicilian accent from track announcer Paul Allen, who lamented that he was ready following Geovanni’s win but his colleagues in the sound department were not.
Nonetheless, the issue was thrown about in the jockey’s room for a while where it was decided that each rider should select his own song, a few bars of which would be played whenever he or she wins a race.
“They do that at some other tracks,’’ said jockey room custodian Mark Anderson.
The idea was countered in the pressbox, where media relations director Jeff Maday vetoed the matter unless he is allowed to make the musical selections himself.
Geovanni also made a first-time winner of Dan McFarlane on Red Zeus in race five on the grass. McFarlane was glad to get the first one out of the way. “Absolutely,’’ he said. “That’s why I ran this one on the grass. Some of these horses from Turf (Paradise) are not fit enough yet to race here. Good to get one on the grass.’’
Lori Keith, winner of two Mystic Lake Derbies, got her first win of the meet aboard Score More in race four, nosing out stablemate Bella Izabella in a photo finish. “I thought I was beaten,’’ she said.
What she more certain about was that she lost her stick somewhere along the way. “I don’t know what happened to it,’’ she said. Upon watching a replay of the race she saw the stick leave her hand at mid-stretch. “There it is,’’ she said. “The thing about winning the first one is that it makes you want to win more and then more.’’
Tom Amoss, who trains for Midwest Stables, will have many wins this summer in Shakopee. Midwest did not compete in Shakopee last season but won the owner’s title in 2013. He got his first win of the meet with Lunar Gaze in race six for Late Night Stables LLC, and his second in the nightcap with Arsenalofdemocracy for Midwest.
“It doesn’t matter at what level you win it,’’ he said. “After the first one it’s kind of whew and it gives everyone in the barn a good feeling, ready to go after another.’’