There was always this irony to Cam Casby, the owner and breeder of countless horses who excelled at Canterbury Park and other tracks across the nation:
She loved horse racing and the industry surrounding it and spent most days of the week at the racetrack, but she could never watch her own horses run.
At least not until after the results were in, at which point she would allow herself to watch replays of the races.
That was a clue to the emotional forces at work within her when her horses excelled, ran just OK or fell flat. That and the occasional watery welling of an eye whenever she had a winner. She could never bring herself to criticize a horse or its efforts, and when its racetrack days were over, room and board awaited the colt, filly, horse or mare.
Now they will require a new benefactor, as will the Minnesota industry in so many different respects. Services were held on Wednesday and Thursday for Casby, 63, who died on October 25. It is no surprise that the great majority of the condolences expressed in Twin Cities newspaper obituaries came from people who knew Casby from horse racing connections of one kind or another. For the past couple of decades and more, Casby’s life revolved around the sport, day in day out, week after week. She gave up a career as a criminal defense attorney and then committed herself heart and soul to the defense of the racehorse, throughout their careers and, in may cases, from birth to death.
Want more irony: Not only did Casby not watch her horses run, she didn’t bet on them _ and they frightened her. Their size and strength was intimidating. She was seldom in the paddock before a race and generally found the long way around the winner’s circle when it became necessary to accept a stakes trophy. In such cases, she had extracted a promise of protection from Canterbury president and CEO Randy Sampson, who usually awards the trophy after such races.
It is not stretching the point to say that Casby was a fixture at Canterbury.
For as long as anyone can remember, she had a table just a few short steps from the Homestretch lunch counter, even during it’s previous designation as the King’s Carvery, on the second level of the track, where she would sit with friends day after day talking, reading the Daily Racing Form and talking.
“She had so many friends out there, and no class system with Cam,” said media relations director Jeff Maday. “Anybody and everybody stopped by her table. It was really incredible, the kind of camaraderie she provided.”
Maday can’t recall another horseperson who spent as much time at Canterbury as
Casby. “She was there year round,” he said, “ and certainly the only breeder who was. She was there on days when her horses ran and when she didn’t have any running.”
Lori Locken of the Minnesota Quarter Horse Racing Association was a frequent guest at Casby’s tables for many years and accompanied her on trips to horse sales and other racetracks.
“Cam was kind of the glue that connected everybody,” Locken said.
“She had relationships with the bartenders at the track, the breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys, the fans and the gamblers.”
And she didn’t even wager herself.
“It was amazing,” Locken added. “She’d be standing next to someone who was rooting for her horse and end up inviting them into the winner’s circle after the race and then buy them a picture.”
Despite all that exposure to people, Casby always seemed uncomfortable with the spotlight. She preferred that it shine elsewhere. Yet stories abound around the track about something she did for this person or that, for a jockey, a groom, a hotwalker. They never came from her, always from a recipient of her largess or someone aware of it.
As happened to Sampson at the services for Casby.
“Somebody told me that she bought a trailer full of bicycles and had them delivered to the kids on the backside,” he said. “She really was one of a kind.”
In so many ways.
“She was really unique,” Sampson added. “She has retired horses out at Russ Rhone’s and was paying board to keep them there. She felt it was the right thing to do. If they gave their all for you, the least you could do is take care of them.”
Casby devoted herself heart and soul to horse racing, tirelessly reading breeding magazines, anything that provided information about the racing industry. It paid off.
“She was exceptionally successful as a breeder in terms of how many horses she bred and how many stakes and allowance winners she had,” said Sampson, whose family ran horses against her numerous times.
Originally Casby lived in Oakdale and would spend as many as three to three and one-half hours driving to and from morning workouts and back for racing that afternoon or evening. Some seventeen or eighteen years ago, she bought a townhouse in Shakopee, just five minutes from Canterbury Park.
Casby gave up law in 1990 and shortly thereafter bought a thoroughbred named La Muttering, her first. She won only once in 22 of 23 starts but became the foundation mare for Casby’s stable, the grandmother of the very familiar and successful Canterbury runner Keewatin Ice and the great grandmother of Polar Plunge. Along the way there was also Laurentide Ice.
She and her mother, Sylvia, also ran a number of quarter horses: CS Flashlight, CS Dee Light, CS Arc Light, CS Night Light and CS Limelight, among others.
Casby also served on the HBPA board at one time, and drew this comment from HBPA president Tom Metzen upon her induction into the Hall of Fame:
“She took a lot of interest in the horsemen and horsewomen,” he said. “She was very interested in seeing that they were treated well. And she was very philanthropic, too, a very good supporter of Canterbury and the industry.”
Canterbury paddock analyst Angela Hermann once told Casby that when Keewatin Ice was retired she wanted the horse.
“I would tell her that I’d keep Keewatin in my parents’ back yard. “That was my favorite Canterbury filly of all time,” Hermann said.
Casby did not raise horses solely out of self interest. “Cam had the best intentions for Minnesota racing,” Hermann added. “She wanted to breed to make the state better. She wanted to have people take notice of Minnesota racing.”
Casby might have been quite uncomfortable with all of the attention she received in the days following her death. Maybe just a few words, sizing up what she cared about so deeply, something such as the track president provided:
“She loved Canterbury, the horses, the people. We’re all going to miss her.”
by Jim Wells