BY JIM WELLS
Maybe there is a spiritual side to horse racing, a sign from above on occasion or a nudge in a certain direction from a celestial force.
After all, who directed a man to tap Bruce Lunderborg on the shoulder while he was video-taping a church service at St. John Lutheran Church in Fairfax a decade ago with an offer to buy a horse?
What guarantee was there Lunderborg would accept such a pitch under the unusual conditions, and what were the odds that he would win the richest quarter horse race in state history a mere 10 years later?
Yet, that’s what happened on Sunday after a photo finish in the $165,600 Mystic Lake Northlands Futurity, a finish pitting Lunderborgs’ PYC Jess Bite Mydust against stablemate CR Game Changer.
While they awaited the results of the photo, all sorts of thoughts weighed on the connections. Amber Blair, a partner with her trainer husband, Jason Olmstead, joined the women in the barn where the two horses are stabled, siding with the No. 8 horse CR Game Changer, a filly by Patriot. The men, presumably, were backing PYC Jess Bite Mydust, a gelding by Apolitical Jess, although as he headed to the winner’s circle Sunday Olmstead was “touting the 8 horse (CR Game Changer) because the running lane on the outside was pure crap,’’ as he termed it.
Yet, PYC Jess Bite Mydust, who took a right turn out of the gate, overcame the unfavorable conditions and was declared the winner by a whisker with a time of 17.792. The Lunderborgs, meanwhile, with intense vocal support in the jockey lounge from a brother to their rider, took a trip to the winner’s circle no other quarter horse owner in state history has experienced, not in financial terms at any rate. And Olmstead and Blair did all right for themselves at the same time, saddling the top two horses in the lucrative race.
In Olmstead’s view, the winning horse earned additional credit for his ability to overcome certain handicaps, including that right turn out of the gate, and still win the race in 17:79.
The Lunderborgs, residents of Gibbon, Minnesota, celebrated with, among many others, their daughter, Dawn, who was a junior at the University of St. Thomas when they became involved with quarter horse racing, and their seven-week-old granddaughter, Avery, who is quickly becoming a racetrack regular. “She has been to three races and we’ve won them all,’’ Dawn explained, with Avery fast asleep in her arms.
For the Lunderborgs, there could be more good news in the future. They also own Dickie Bob, a full brother to Sunday’s big winner.
In the meantime, winning rider Bryan Velazquez thought he might have to use some of his earnings to help reconstruct the jockey’s lounge, where his younger brother Denny was screaming so loudly for him he was certain it had wreaked widespread destruction.
CANTERBURY PARK QUARTER HORSE DERBY
Beverly Holdaway was standing in the winner’s circle, the trophy for the race, a Crystal Bowl, shaking precariously within her emotional grasp.
“Somebody better take that away from her before she drops it,’’ a bystander said.
The trophy survived and Beverly and her trainer husband Tim collected the biggest prize of their racing careers after winning the $68,250 Derby with Justified, a 3-year old colt by Foose.
From Tremont, Utah, Tim traces his racing career back to the 1970s when he rode against Canterbury Park Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens. “He probably wouldn’t even remember me,’’ Tim said. “But I remember riding with him.’’
Holdaway’s thoughts were more on the present, however, and his wife was not the only emotional member of the family. The trainer himself was misty eyed as he talked about this victory as the highlight of a long career.
He and his wife are at Canterbury Park for the first time this summer. They arrived with a seven-horse stable, and Sunday’s victory certainly will highlight all conversation hereafter.
“You wait a long, long time to get a horse like this,’’ he said, tearing up as he spoke. Then again, Justified has created big expectations, particularly since winning the $45,000 Derby at Turf Paradise in Phoenix on April 16.
Sunday, Justified won by a half length over Okeyfreight and Dianas Tres Seis, who dead-heated for place, finishing in 19.854.
He needed to turn on the afterburners with 150 yards to go to ward off a threat from the second-place horses.
“He heard them coming,’’ said winning rider Chase Clark, “and when that happened he wanted to go ever harder.’’
MINNESOTA QUARTER HORSE FUTURITY
Not very often does a man celebrate his 85th birthday one day and a solid victory in a $50,000 race the next, particularly when the winner is trained by his son.
Meet John G. Johnson of Lemmon, South Dakota.
Sunday, he stood in the winner’s circle with his son, Bob, and a two-year-old gelding named Faster than Hasta, who had just won the 350-yard dash by a half length over favored Vodka At Moonlight from the Olmstead barn.
The winner is trained by Bob Johnson and was ridden by Roberto Valero, and John was asked how it felt to have his son present him with such a birthday gift.
“Well,’’ he said, “I trained him and he’s doing a pretty good job.’’
So much for that discussion, but John had another tale that deserves insertion in the record.
His grandfather homesteaded the family ranch in 1896 on land that now happens to be part of Hollywood cinematic history.
Much earlier in that century, 1823, a fellow named Hugh Glass, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the Revenant, was mauled by a bear before crawling on his hands and knees 100 miles to Fort Kiowa.
Back to July 10, 2017:
Faster than Hasta, by Hasta Be Fast, outdueled the horse that beat him last time out, Vodka At Moonlight, winning by a half length in 17.758, with Jess a Chance two more lengths back.
MILESTONE FOR MOJICA
Sam scored a Goal won Sunday’s 10th race and rider Orlando Mojica scored the 2,000 th win of his career.
Mojica began riding in Puerto Rico in 2000 and has won titles at Indiana Downs, Hoosier Downs and Kentucky Downs.
He needed only a single day to reach the milestone after winning No. 1,999 on Saturday.