Racing Secretary Rob Junk
BY JIM WELLS
There is much to learn certainly, starting with the lay of the land, the ins and outs of this particular racing domain, who to call when a stall needs preparation or a leaky faucet needs fixing, what trainers truly need the number of stalls they’ve requested and, perhaps the largest question of all, what horses are available and what races to write for them.
That’s merely scratching the surface, of course, for there are countless other matters to consider.
Yet, Rob Junk has been through all of this before, countless times, just in different locations. Some of the people he sees daily in the racing office at Canterbury Park he already knows and has for years. Others he will meet and get to know just as he has at other race tracks.
Junk, 55, replaced Doug Schoepf, who retired last winter after 20 years as racing secretary at Canterbury Park and brings with him 30 years of experience in racing. He is the racing secretary at Sunland Park Racetrack in Sunland Park. N.M., and also held that position at Ruidoso Downs in addition to being the assistant racing secretary at Turf Paradise in Phoenix.
He had never set foot in Minnesota, however, before arriving here on May 1. Yet, there have been plenty of invitations over the years for Junk to give Canterbury a try. “I’ve been hearing about how good this place is for years, from trainers and others in the business,” he said.
Including a certain Canterbury Park Hall of Fame rider.
Junk was a jockey agent seven years for Scott Stevens at Turf Paradise, when six of those seasons produced riding titles.
“Oh, I’ve been working on him for years to give Canterbury a try,” said Stevens, who is now involved in a role reversal of sorts. Junk now encourages Stevens to return to Canterbury for the summer meet, something the two-time riding champ here is resisting but hasn’t ruled out altogether.
Stevens typically rode at Turf Paradise during the fall and winters meets and then at Canterbury, but took last summer off and is doing the same this year except for select riding assignments at basically Southern California sites, Santa Anita and Del Mar.
He is scheduled to ride a horse for his nephew, Satchel, at Prairie Meadows on May 17.
Satchel Stevens, 18, got his training license in Phoenix last winter when he stayed at his uncle’s home.
Scott, meanwhile, stays in condition when he’s not riding through religious use of his new bowflex machine and by riding the wooden exercise horse at his Phoenix home. “I ride it every day,” he said. So, that is the schedule Stevens plans to keep….unless. “Who knows,” he said. “I might get bored.” At the very least his Minnesota fans could get a chance to see him the last couple of weeks of the current meet if he does as he did last summer when he dropped in and won a dozen races the last few racing days that made the journey well worthwhile.
Stevens is certain that Junk will excel at his new job in Minnesota just as he did for him as an agent at Turf Paradise and at the other racetracks where he has been racing secretary. “He was an amazing agent,” Stevens said. “I might have won a seventh title with him but I got hurt that year. He truly knows the horses in every barn, and he has a photographic memory.” Stevens, meanwhile, has won consecutive riding titles at Turf Paradise the last two years for his seventh and eighth titles there.
Junk continues to study the stock he has on hand and is expecting more horses as other meets finish and horsemen begin making the transition from other locales to Shakopee. The arrival of some horses was delayed by matters out of his control.
Horses at Fonner Park were in quarantine throughout May due to an outbreak of equine herpes. “That delayed a number of horses we expected from them,” Junk said.
The underlying reason that Junk resisted previous opportunities or invitations to Minnesota in the past is now resolved. He has wanted to be no more than a three or four –hour’s drive from his son and daughter, Kyle and Jordan while they were in school. The Junk twins graduated from Paradise Honors High School in Surprise, Ariz., this spring.
Junk’s impressions of Minnesota in the last month have been largely positive. “I love the area,” he said. “The track is beautiful. The people are very friendly. It’s very nice to be someplace where everyone makes you feel like you belong.”
He is overwhelmed by the size of Canterbury crowds, describing some of them as larger in a single day than other tracks attract for an entire season.
Still, he understands there are barriers to surmount and relationships to establish.
Although he met Schoepf briefly only twice in the past, he knows this much:
“When a guy was in a job as many years as Doug was you know he was probably doing a lot of things right. What I need to do is make improvements where I can and continue doing other things that have been done right all along.”
Part of that self-made assignment includes taking in the local culture when he can. He has already checked out Running Aces harness racing in Forest Lake and next week “I hope to venture downtown (Minneapolis) and maybe even go to a ball game.”
Watching the Twins, he’ll likely discover, will make his job seem a piece of cake.