The pageantry, color and thrill of Indian relay racing returned to Canterbury Park on Thursday night as riders from the Shoshone-Bannock, Crow and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes took the stage.
The riders compete for $50,000 in prizes over the next three days, with two races scheduled Thursday and Friday and two more on closing day Saturday.
The three-mile races require two mount changes, which take place in front of the grandstand and frequently involve scenes normally reserved for rodeos, as riders dismount a horse (sometimes still moving) and jump onto an awaiting steed.
“Watch yourself. Don’t stand too close,’’ an observer said to a young man leaning against the fence Thursday. “These horses could go cowboy on you any time.’’
It does happen. A horse has been known to rear up, lifting a handler at the shank off the ground as he does. Riders on occasion dismount and try to bounce so quickly onto the remount that the startled horse is not beneath them fully when they land. Sometimes the ground is. Other times they wind up hanging on desperately to mane or anything available as they rejoin the race like an Indy 500 car leaving the pit.
C J Miner, a 28-year-old member of Cheyenne River Sioux, won the first heat on Thursday despite an incident that had him wondering if he might finish well back if not last.
The horses in some cases are former racehorses accustomed to the track. Miner’s horse was used to breaking from a gate, not jumping into a race from the sidelines as occurs in relay events.
“He didn’t want to leave at first,’’ said Miner, whose primary profession is trucking, driving a semi-trailer to various locations in the West. “Then when he saw those other horses running he took off.’’
Miner spotted the field plenty of ground with the late start, which left him wondering if he had enough in the tank to make a race of it. He still had two horses in front of him coming into the turn. His horse was up to the task. “He was able to run both of them down,’’ said Miner. “He did a great job.’’
Clyde Jefferson, a Crow rider for the Holds The Enemy team, won Thursday’s second heat despite losing the lead on the second mile. He was back in the race quickly on the final lap and built a stretch lead large enough for a comfortable victory, by many lengths.
JOCKEY RACE TIGHTER THAN A SAILOR ON LEAVE
With a hat trick on Thursday’s card defending riding champ Dean Butler vaulted to the front of the jockey standings. With 62 wins he in one in front of Ry Eikleberry and Alex Canchari.
Mac Robertson continues to lead the trainer’s race with 45 wins, two more than Robertino Diodoro. Each saddled a winner on Thursday.
Al and Bill Ulwelling appear to have the owners’ title locked up after adding two more wins on Thursday. With 23 winners, they lead Miguel Silva by eight.
DEDICATION OF EXPO CENTER
The new Expo Center was dedicated Wednesday afternoon just in time for its first tenants, the Indian Market, a nice accompaniment to the Indian Relay Races.
Track president/CEO Randy Sampson and board members Dale Schenian and Curtis Sampson participated in the ribbon cutting.
Several vendors were set up on Thursday evening with additional items for sale expected Friday. Many hand-made Native American items and clothing are for sale through closing day on Saturday.