It is one of those ironies of horse racing that Arnie Palmer was once part of a group named Six for the Gold since those who knew him all agree that he was indeed a man with a Midas touch.
He loved horses and had a passion for horse racing and was involved in the sport long before the Canterbury Downs opened its doors in 1985, competing in bush races and helping stage county fair races as well as promoting a bill allowing pari-mutuel racing in Minnesota.
It was in that role, as a member of Minnesotans for Horse Racing, that Palmer promoted fund-raising dances at the Medina Ballroom in addition to other activities to pay for bumper stickers and other expenses associated with the group’s efforts to bring pari-mutuel racing to the state.
Long before voters approved the pari-mutuel wagering bill in 1982, horse racing was conducted in the bushes of western Wisconsin and throughout Minnesota and Palmer was part of that as well, staging races at the Anoka County Fair and competing himself with horses at various bush-track sites and racetracks in Nebraska and Canada.
He was a man of many hats, successful in real estate, a tile business, with his horses and even in the precarious enterprise of professional boxing as the one-time manager of, among others, nationally recognized heavyweight Scott LeDoux.
Palmer, 87, died on January 15. Memorial services were held Friday at Lord of Life Church in Maple Grove. He is survived by Patsy, his wife of 65 years, a son, Scott (Pam), daughter Cynthia Iverson (Russell), grandchildren Bjorn and Kasha and a great granddaughter, Zoey.
Jockey Vicki Warhol, her brother Jay and parents Rhoda and Ted were prominent figures at Canterbury Downs during its first years of operation and were closely connected to the entire Palmer family.
Rhoda and Jay were both trainers and Ted, a former prominent bareback and bull rider on the national rodeo circuit, assisted in those efforts. The family lived on one of Palmer’s farms, where Rhoda and Ted trained and cared for the horses.
“Those are some beautiful memories,” said Vicki, who is working horses at Turf Paradise in Phoenix this winter. “We all kind of grew up together,” she added, confirming the memory with an iPhone picture of her and Cindy Palmer on horseback, at the front of a parade, perhaps in the 1970s.
“This must have been before the Anoka race meet,” she said.
Warhol has cherished memories of those days. Asked what she recalled best about Palmer himself, she didn’t hesitate. “He was a great guy,” she said. “And everything he touched turned to gold. It’s absolutely true.”
Pat Krause formed the group Six for the Gold “maybe about 1980,” he said. The group’s first horse was a mare named Lucky Lou. “She was the mother of six babies who all won races,” Krause recalled.
One of the group, Jack White, died in 1980 so the mare’s first foal was named for him. “We named her Jack’s Lucky Play, “ Krause recalled.
Current Minnesota HBPA president Tom Metzen was also a member of Six for the Gold and recalled the group’s trip to Louisiana Downs to race Lucky Lou’s first foal, the odds-on favorite in a $165,000 stakes race. “They had trials for the race two weeks earlier and our horse won by 11 lengths,” Metzen recalled.
The horse went off as the odds-on favorite in the stakes and appeared headed to the winner’s circle until pulling a tendon on the turn for home.
“That was a long plane trip home for all of us,” Metzen said.
Palmer’s daughter Cindy recalled the days before Canterbury and the change afterward with fondness as well. “All of us would head to Fonner Park or Omaha, Winnipeg, wherever,” she said. “And, then, we got a racetrack in Minnesota, and I am so proud that dad had a role in making that happen. We were so fortunate to get a racetrack here.”
At the same time that Vicki Warhol was racing at Canterbury, Cindy Palmer was working in ticket sales and helping with track promotion. “Those were really great days,” she recalled. “Wonderful days.”
Which is how her father always talked about the sport’s beginnings in Minnesota as well. “He always pushed for pari-mutuel and we finally got it through,” Patsy Palmer recalled.
Palmer was too ill to attend the services for his long-time friend, Pioneer Press sports columnist Don Riley, with whom he shared a mutual love for horse racing and boxing. Riley died several days before Palmer, so Patsy and Cindy, friends of the Riley family themselves, represented their family.
Which did Arnie like best himself _ boxing or horse racing? “He really liked them both,” Patsy said.
Nonetheless, he did have a suggestion for her during his final days. “He told me I should get another horse,” Patsy said.
BY JIM WELLS