There was something for everyone during Extreme Day Saturday:
Short races for anyone in similar financial straits, a race run simultaneously on the turf and the dirt for those who watch a couple of NFL games on side-by-side television sets, camel races for those trying to surmount a hump of one kind of another and, of course, the zebra races for fans of all stripes.
Extreme Day typically attracts large crowds, a plethora of strollers, first-time patrons, colorful hats and dresses, awestruck youngsters, long lines at the concession stands and a mad rush for the doors after the last promotional event of the day (in this case the zebra races).
Orchestrating the events from his microphone at trackside while demonstrating his bucket-list plans could include a job as carnival barker, Paul Allen kept the fans engaged and the performers sometimes struggling to negotiate the nuances of a second language whenever his irony or parody was misconstrued as straightforward.
All in all, that majority of the crowd seemed to enjoy themselves. In fact, it was the third race on the card that grabbed the attention of even novice fans.
Horse racing doesn’t get any better than the stretch drive of that event, a mile and 70 yards, with Steviefromstanley, ridden by Leandro Goncalves, and Demi Blue, with Dean Butler up, exchanging leads throughout the stretch drive and then wondering, along with the crowd, about the distinct possibility of a dead heat as they awaited the result of the photo finish.
The nod went to Butler and Demi Blue by no more than a whisker. “Great race,’’ a bystander said to Goncalves. “It would be better if I had won,’’ he responded. “But that’s the way it goes. Win some, lose some.’’
Not often in such dramatic conditions, however.
DASH IN A FLASH STAKES
The first extreme race on the card was for quarter horses at 110 yards, a virtual drag race. A race that short requires a perfect break, and that’s what the Stacy Charette-Hill trained Defiant Red Rooster got.
“It’s just so short you have to get a good break,’’ said Jorge Torres, who this race for the third straight time as the stable’s first-call rider.
It meant a lot to Torres’ son, clearly. He was asked by a passerby later on whether he was having a good day. “Yup, ‘’ he said. “My dad won his race today.’’
Finishing third wasn’t bad either, the way Jim Olson saw it. Irish Brew, owned by Olson and Paul Knapper and trained by Jerry Livingston, ran third. “Not bad for a Minnesota-bred,’’ Olson said afterward. “We knew we’d have to outbreak that horse (the winner) to win and we didn’t do that.’’
A SHORT ONE, FROM A TB’S POINT OF VIEW
Two furlongs is a mere warmup for most thoroughbreds. Nonetheless, Oscar Becerra rode Wildcat Moon for Dayson LaVanway to the winner’s circle in the two-furlong Spurt in the Dirt in a winning time of :21.39.
BATTLE OF THE SURFACES
This race matched a field of 17, nine of them on the turf and eight on the main track, and for the second consecutive year the dirt runners dominated. “You can’t give them a 70 yard head start,’’ one trainer said about the extra yardage required of the turf runner.
All but one of the main track horses finished ahead of the first turf runner. The winner of Another Gear, owned by Al and Bill Ulwelling, trained by Mike Biehler and ridden by Lori Keith.
The first turf runner to finish was Seven Tuff, trained by James Robertson, owned by J&J Stable and ridden by Dean Butler.
A conversation ensued afterward between Butler and Keith after she was asked if she had any view of the turf runners from the main track. “I had all I could do to race by horse,’’ she said.
“I was hoping my horse would catch sight of the (main track horses) and that would (inspire) him,’’ said Butler.
The order of finish was Another Gear, Pendulum and Mystorynmstikntoit.
THE ZEBRAS INSPIRE
You won’t see this happen in a quarter horse or thoroughbred race:
Dave Pinon, assigned to another zebra, instead hopped aboard the perennial winner in this race, a Zonkey (half zebra, half donkey) and raced to victory.
“I had no idea. I just jumped on a zebra and raced,’’ he said afterward.
He picked the right one. The other riders were unseated from their zebras. “Mine started bucking right out of the gate,’’ said Marcus Swiontek.
THE WEATHER WAS SUITED TO CAMELS
Pari-mutuel wagering was not included but anyone inclined to make a side bet on the camels Saturday needed no more handicapping wisdom than a look at the runners’ names on the warmest day of the Minnesota summer.
Take Donald Hump as an example. You knew he’d be near the lead in emulation of his namesake, who has been near the front in the GOP polls.
Or how about Cam El Chapo, whose namesake many people believe can never be caught, not after that clean start in his latest break.
As often happens with the thoroughbreds or quarter horses, not all went according to form, even though Donald Hump, hesitant but steady, won going away. It simply became a one-camel race. Cam el Chapo and rider Dave Pinon, Call Me Camel Cait and Leonel Olgvin and Rock’N’Spit and Nicholas Zufelt resembled the Belmont field following Secretariat down the stretch. The winning rider was Scott Bethke (yes, his father is the trainer, Troy). The 15-year-old sophomore at Waconia High School has been on plenty of horses but was making his first ride aboard one of the tall, smelly beasts.
After addressing all of the perfunctory questions, young Mr. Bethke averred that yes, he is willing to do it again.
After all, he had just provided evidence that winning camel races is quite possibly a genetic skill. His father won this race a couple of years ago.