Patrons knew there was something different awaiting them on their way through the main gate Friday night, situated as they were on one side by a 50-foot high inflated zombie figure.
For those who hadn’t paid attention or are not frequenters of racing, the giant zombie surely raised a question or two. Many others were fully aware that it was Zombie Night at the races.
Zombies patrolled the grandstand, in the flesh portrayers of the living dead. Some of the youngest children on hand were absolutely delighted. Others were absolutely terrified.
Canterbury offered a contest for the best examples of Zombiedom and those who revel in such things went to great lengths to participate.
The final event of this particular promotion took place when several jockeys agreed to attach flags to their waistbands and then run through a maze of zombies in front of the grandstand without having their flags removed.
Not a single jockey lost his flag.
The real festivities of the evening, of course, surrounded the 10-race card that featured nothing particularly unusual aside from the continually growing evidence that leading rider Dean Butler will be tough to catch, regardless of how you define the cliché, and that even trainers who might rather be home before midnight sometimes discover something good about staying up late.
We’ll deal with the first statement first. Butler, on his first mount of the evening, put on a textbook ride aboard Costaud, a 4-year-old gelding trained by Dallas Keen, for a clear win at about a mile and 1/16 on the turf.
Nothing particularly attention-absorbing about a $14,500 claiming race, although Butler’s ride was worth noting, taking Costaud as he did to an easy win against six rivals.
Noteworthy was the manner in which Butler put Costaud on the lead and controlled the pace the entire race, saving enough horse at the same time to run another half mile and still win. Butler studies the races he rides thoroughly in the Form and often rides the winner because he understands the tendencies of the horse he is on and those he competes against.
Thus, he rode his 51st winner of the meet, 11 more than the second place rider, Leandro Goncalves, who cut it to 10 again by riding the winner of the ninth, Bourbon Holiday. Nonetheless, Butler had $1 million in winnings by the midway point of the 70-day meet. “He could theoretically hit $2 million which no rider has ever done here,’’ said trainer Bernell Rhone. Butler’s winnings exceeded $1.1 million on Friday, the 40th day of the meet. He seems certain to surpass the all-time record that he set in 2014 of $1,386,030.
Trainer Jerry Livingston typically saddles a horse in one if not both of the quarter horse races that start a card and heads home a short time later during the evening programs to avoid shortchanging himself on a night’s sleep.
That was not the case on Friday night. Livingston saddled a horse named Everet Hitch in the first race and had to stay put until the seventh race when he saddled one of the three thoroughbreds he trains, Valet.
Valet, with Marcus Swiontek up, cut a wide swath coming out of the turn but straightened out and won handily, clearly the best horse in the race.
“Would you be willing to stay up late for a result like this as a matter of course?’’ Livingston was asked afterward. “Well, that sounds like something we could possibly talk about,’’ he responded.