BY JIM WELLS
People sitting nearby couldn’t make out the words, but when the rider change for Rockin the Bleu’s was announced, the nature of the fellow’s exclamation was unmistakable.
He was clearly pleased, or as he later confirmed: “I was really excited.”
That reaction by Jeff Hilger was to an announcement that Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens had picked up the mount on Hilger’s horse in the Bella Notte $60,000 Distaff Sprint Championship in the Minnesota Festival of Champions Sunday.
Deb and Jeff Hilger are Canterbury Park Hall of Fame owners and breeders who are in the midst of selling their breeding operation near Stillwater, Bleu Valley Farm, which has produced numerous stakes winners and champions over the years, including two horses of the year, Bleu Victoriate and Chick Fight, along with In Moderation, Polar Plunge, Talkin Bout, and Careless Navigator to name a few. Fifteen horses have won Festival races after leaving their farm. Make that 17 now with two wins on Saturday’s card.
Stevens, of course, only arrived in Shakopee last week, having spent the summer in his motor home touring the West and riding at a number of racetracks while visiting various locations.
Friday night he had mentioned that he was named on perhaps the weakest set of horses he had ever ridden in the Festival. Saturday, when David Mello was stepped on by a horse, incurring a minor leg injury, a mount came open that would change Stevens’ mind at least for one race.
“I looked at the race and at this horse, Rockin the Bleu’s, and I thought it really had a chance. And I had ridden winners for the Hilgers before,’’ Stevens said.
Not long thereafter, the Hall of Fame rider and breeders stood together in the winner’s circle, Stevens and Rockin the Bleu’s, sent off at 16-1, having outdueled Gypsy Melody to win by ¾ length with defending champion and Horse of the Year Sky and Sea next by another four lengths.
“I was absolutely excited, happy that Scott got the mount,’’ Hilger added. “Couldn’t have been happier.’’
Anybody he’d prefer on a Hilger horse in a duel to the wire?
“Nobody,’’ he said. “We couldn’t have gotten luckier.’’
THE WALLY’S CHOICE MINNESOTA CLASSIC CHAMPIONSHIP
This one had two-horse appeal, matching as it did a horse gunning for his seventh straight win and Horse of the Year laurels and a horse who has demonstrated that he can take charge of matters up front.
The horse who took charge of matters up front won.
AP Is Loose, with Alex Canchari in the irons, demonstrated what he can do on the lead once again, dueling up front with Hold for More, who’ll likely be Horse of the Year despite this loss, and then was strongest in the stretch drive, winning by 3 ½ lengths.
Favored Hold for More, was second, 10 ½ lengths in front of Hansboro, demonstrating that this was clearly a two-horse race.
Meanwhile, winning rider Canchari said, “these are my lucky pants. They are my brother’s (Patrick’s).
“Yeah, well, he says that it will cost you $100 bucks to use them,’’ fellow rider Nik Goodwin cracked.
Pretty cheap for winning a $60,000 race.
NORTHERN LIGHTS DEBUTANTE
This one matched 10 two-year-old fillies for Minnesota bragging rights next summer, and the head of Canterbury Park shared in that privilege with a solid win.
Bred and owned by chairman Curtis Sampson, La Petite Cheri, trained by Tony Rengstorf and ridden by Hugo Sanchez, turned on the afterburners in the stretch drive to gain a 3 ½ length victory over Honey’s Sox Appeal, who had half a length on Moonlight Basin.
Thus, she will be the filly to beat when racing resumes next season among the three-year-olds.
NORTHERN LIGHTS FUTURITY
There are good finishes, exciting finishes and even more exciting finishes.
This one fits the last category.
Smooth Chiraz, Cupid’s Delight and Pensador approached the wire as a trio and brought a hoot, a gasp and a holler from the crowd.
The winner it turned out was Smooth Chiraz, who got his head in front of Cupid’s Delight, second by a half-length over Pensador.
The winner, ridden by Jorge Carreno, had special meaning to the Bravo family. Smooth Chiraz is trained by Francisco Bravo and owned by his wife, Lori, and Ann Sachdev.
But get this: The first three horses are all trained by Bravo.
Lori breaks the Bravo trainees at the family farm in Sulphur, Oklahoma, and runs things there when Francisco is training horses elsewhere. Nonetheless, they had five horses foaled in Minnesota who have won races this year.
Incidentally, Smooth Chiraz’s win was his second this year.
CROCROCK SPRINT CHAMPIONSHIP
Bourbon County won this race last year and Bernell Rhone had him primed and ready again on Sunday and the result was another trophy under Dean Butler.
Bred and owned by Scott Rake, Bourbon County ran last on July 18 and was settled well back in that one.
Sunday was another matter.
Dean Butler kept the son of Dehere behind the early leaders, began moving him on the turn and drove home to a ¾ length win over Let Da Cowboy Rock, who was 2 ¼ lengths in front of Prayintheprairie.
Thus, Bourbon County added another $36,000 to previous earnings of $192,932.
GLITTER STAR DISTAFF CLASSIC
Silver Magna was ready this time, and so, too, was Geovanni Franco, although they had to wait out a claim of interference to make a victory in this one official.
Silver Magna pressed the pace, rallied on the far turn and drove home in the stretch to win convincingly by 3 ½ lengths over Blues Edge with nemesis Sioux Appeal in third, another 2 ¼ lengths further back.
Bred and owned by Al and Bill Ulwelling, the winner picked up $36,000 from the $60,000 purse, winning for the third time this year, including the Frances Genter Stakes, and four times overall.
Silver Magna was second to Sioux Appeal in his last out, the Minnesota Oaks on August 8 and had run second to the same horse last summer.
Silver Magna was sent off at 4-1 as fifth choice in the race. Talkin Bout, the defending champion and favorite at 5/2, finished fourth.
QUARTER HORSE DERBY
Sometimes you hope for nothing more than a clean trip, a safe journey, and you wind up with the pot of gold.
Take this race on Saturday as a prime example.
A win bet on Fishin In the Brook, according to the betting public, was like fishing without a net. Or so they thought.
Sent off at 9-1, the son of Brookstore Bay, with Dale Beaty in the irons dug in at mid stretch and glided to a half length victory over Tty From Mr Pye, a 5-1 selection who finished a length better than 9/10 favorite Cokato Cartel, who had been uppity in the gate.
Owner/breeder Cynthia Besser was ecstatic about the win, a sentiment shared by her husband, Lorin, both of Sauk Rapids.
Having explained that you only hope the best for horse, rider and everyone in the race, it seemed to become apparent that the Bessers were as surprised, albeit a great deal happier, than many folks watching the race.
The Bessers were pleased with the entire season, having made enough with her horses this meet to make a purchase or two, or …..
“We bought four thoroughbreds,’’ they exclaimed.
QUARTER HORSE FUTURITY
Streak N Diamonds was all glitter and glow and had his A game on in the opening to the card, and he brought with him a sizeable gathering from Brooten. After all he was bred on the outskirts of that fair village with inhabitants numbering around 700, and several were on hand for Sunday’s race.
None of them was more pleased with the outcome than Haglund himself, unless it would become the absent Chuck Kaim, a partner in the horse, leaving Jorge Torres, the quarter horse riding champion, a close second in those sentiments.
“He left (the gate) pretty good,’’ Torres said, “and I didn’t have to ask him for very much.’’ That might have been a modest description, at least compared with the official chart, which described the winner thusly: “Broke sharp, drew off.’’
A son of Winners Version, the winner finished 1 ¾ length in front of 3-1 second choice V Os Filo and 3 ¼ lengths ahead of 19-1 outsider Sr Ur Fired. The winning time was 18.035
Kaim resides in Wahpeton, N.D. “I used to train for him,’’ Haglund said, explaining the relationship.
As he has been doing for years,, Haglund shipped the winner in as opposed to stabling him at the track, this time on Wednesday, which allowed plenty of time for Streak N Diamonds to acclimate himself.
The distance from Brooten? “it’s two hours and 40 minutes of hard driving,’’ Haglund said.
The drive home probably seemed a lot easier.