BY JIM WELLS
Sunny skies, cool breezes and a surprise or two provided the perfect conditions for the annual Minnesota Festival of Champions, a card designed exclusively for Minnesota-bred horses Sunday.
The card included a bit of everything, including what might not have been a race for the ages, but surely for this particular meet. There was an upset of a solid favorite, a longshot winner from the quarter horse ranks, a honey of a winner in the Bella Notte, a dry-land winner with the name Shipmate, and a crowd of 7,622 that wagered $268,140 as its contribution to a total handle, including simulcast, of $890,140, the largest total since 1999.
$60,000 WALLY’S CHOICE CLASSIC
Sometimes a trainer can pick up valuable tips from a rider after he has worked a horse. How often he listens is another matter. Doug Oliver takes such things to heart, and his horse wound up in the winner’s circle, with a check for $36,000 as the upset winner of this race.
All of the smart money was on AP Is Loose in this one. The smarter money, it turned out, was on (3-1) Speed Is Life , the Oliver-trained five-year-old.
Jockey Andrew Ramgeet has been telling Oliver after working his horse that he was on a winner. “He kept telling me he could win with this horse,’’ Oliver said. “He’d come back and tell me ‘he needs this or he needs that’, “ Oliver said. “We took off the blinkers, we took off the shadow roll.’’
And Sunday, Speed Is Life ran down 3/5 favorite AP Is Loose in the stretch drive, winning by a neck. Vanderbilt Beach was another eight lengths back.
“Just had to get him to relax (today),’’ said Ramgeet. “I didn’t expect him to win, but when the (half-mile) was almost 48 seconds, that was perfect for him.’’ The final time in the 1 1/16 race was 1:43.18.
$60,000 GLITTER STAR DISTAFF
There was just an instant there, with three-quarters of a mile to go, that Sioux Appeal looked like she had some competition. The front-runner in this mile and 1/16th race had been in charge from the break but now Blues Edge looked ready to usurp that command, sticking her head in front.
It was only an instant in a race run in 1:38.62.
Heading into the stretch, Dean Butler got his filly back in front by a length and increased that to 2 ½ lengths by the time she hit the wire. Blues Edge had 1 ½ lengths on Thunder and Honey.
Sioux Appeal, out of the Mac Robertson barn, was sent off the 5/2 favorite despite a winless record in 2016 with two starts. Much of the trust placed in her on Sunday was based on her win last year in the Minnesota Oaks and the Northern Lights Debutante.
$85,000 NORTHERN LIGHTS DEBUTANTE
She was a bit of mystery filly, two-for-two career-wise with both races at Prairie Meadows. There was nothing mysterious about the rider, however. Canterbury Park Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens, highly regarded for his ability on two-year-old horses, was in the irons, having arrived in Shakopee only last week.
Stevens was on a filly named Bold Sharokee in the 1992 Debutante as part of the inaugural Festival and brought her home, his first of, after Sunday, four winners in this race.
This time he was on Shipmate, by Midshipman from Thigh High Boots, and she was ship shape, going gate to wire under the veteran reinsman.
He tucked her in safely along the rail and she dictated the fractions for this race, stepping it up at the top of the lane with a 4 ½ length lead. With perfect timing, Stevens got her to the wire ¾ length in front of (12-1) Pinup Girl and another ¾ in front of (3-1) Line of Grace with a winning time of 1:11.75.
That made winners, also, of trainer Karl Broberg and owners Cheryl Sprick and Richard Bremer, who also owned a starter in the first Festival Debutante.
$60,000 BELLA NOTTE DISTAFF SPRINT
Honey’s Sox Appeal had fan appeal, big fan appeal on Sunday, and for good reason. The 3-year-old filly, owned by Bob Lindgren of Prior Lake and trained by Mac Robertson, was sent off the 8/5 favorite in this one and lived up to those expectations in fine fashion.
A winner of two allowance races and second in her previous two starts, the Frances Genter and the Minnesota Oaks, this daughter of Successful Appeal was ready and waiting. She won this race with room to spare, kicking clear in the upper stretch under Geovanni Franco to win by 2 ¼ lengths over Rockin the Bleu’s and Scott Stevens. It was another 4 ¾ lengths back to Shaboom.
Lindgren said afterward that he wanted the rider to stay close, not more than three lengths back and then go for it, precisely what Franco did.
` Lindgren celebrated this one and then hoped the half-sister to this winner, Thunder and Honey, would score in the $60,000 Glitter Star Distaff Championship. Only the first half of his daily double came through for him, although Thunder and Honey did finish third in her race.
CROCROCK SPRINT CHAMPIONSHIP
There was enough star power in this one to have rolled out the red carpet. This was a match up of track stars, horses that have made their marks in numerous ways at Canterbury Park the last few years, a lineup that included Heliskier, a two-time horse of the year, Hold For More, the 2015 Horse of the Year, and Bourbon County, the two-time defending champion in this race.
There was also Smooth Chiraz, four-for-six lifetime and winner of the Victor S Myers Stakes his last time out locally. This one created all sorts of speculation. Heliskier alone had everyone guessing. He hadn’t run in two years, losing to Bourbon County in his last race. He had undergone at least two surgeries to repair knee damage since. Was he ready? Could he run again at this level? “We wished we could have gotten a race in him,’’ said owner Marlene Colvin.
In a three-horse photo finish, Hold For More, under Dean Butler, got the win in front of Bourbon county and Smooth Chiraz, with Heliskier back to fourth.
The race was named for a four-time winner of this sprint, Crocrock, owned by Dale Schenian, who owns Hold For More. Francisco Bravo has been the trainer for all five of those victories.
A neck and a head separated the top three horses. Heliskier was another two lengths back in fourth.
“This was a phenomenal group of horses,’’ Bravo said. “It was just a beautiful race.’’
Schenian did his trainer one better. “This is the best Minnesota-bred race in history,’’ he said. “God bless America.’’
$49,300 Minnesota Quarter Horse Futurity
Odds-on favorite PYC Jess Bite My Dust did just that after taking a sharp right hand turn out of the gate, intent by all appearances to be headed for the grandstand, perhaps for a hot dog. If he hadn’t stopped for condiments…it might not have mattered, but that brief interlude was all stablemate Vodka at Moonlight needed to take this one in a thrilling photo finish with a time of seconds 18 flat.
Jason Olmstead, MQHRA trainer of the meet, has his finger on the pulse of his horses and the competition, too. He had this one measured from the outset, giving a short pre-race prediction to winning rider Nik Goodwin, Canterbury’s quarter horse riding champion this meet. “If the other horse (PYC Jess Bite My Dust) makes a mistake, you’ll win,’’ he said.
Vodka at Moonlight got the nod in a photo finish. Either way, Olmstead was in the winner’s circle.
“He told me to stay into this horse because she gets a little lackadaisical,’’ said Goodwin. “She broke out real strong, I kept on her and she ran right through the wire.’’
Jess a Chance, owned by Ralph Haglund and trained by Trevino Clark, Jr., was third.
$50,300 MINNESOTA QUARTER HORSE DERBY
Anyone who’s ever spoken with quarter horse trainer Jerry Livingston is well aware of his love of American Western history, the cowboys, the outlaws, the great Indian nations.
Sunday afternoon he saddled a horse named after a man celebrated for his role at Iwo Jima and further lionized in song by Johnny Cash _ with a slight alteration to the spelling of the animal’s name.
Ira Hayes, the Pima Indian from Arizona who helped hoist the flag on Mount Suribachi during WW II, became Eyra Hayes when applied to the 3-year-old gelded son of Knud With Wings.
He had his father’s wings on Sunday and flew to victory under chase Clark in the Derby.
“The only thing I wondered about,’’ said Livingston, “was whether he could get the 400 yards, if he was up to the distance.’’
The answer was a resounding “yes,’’ even at at 29-1. Regarding the lack of backing at the windows, Livingston had the classic rejoinder. “I guess people just don’t trust me anymore. They don’t want to bet on my horses,’’ he said.
Livingston was quoted earlier in the meet as saying a victory in a race with this purse size would just about make up for the earlier DQs he had been handed in races this summer. “I might have said something like that,’’ he quipped.
Apparently there are other trainers the betting public no longer trusts either. Sr Ur Fired was sent off at 17-1 despite coming out of the Jason Olmstead barn and finished second. And Gramma Ella, another Livingston horse at 22-1 was third.
The winner and the third place horses are owned by Terry Reed of Hillsboro, N.D.
The winning margin was a neck with another head to third. Winning time was 20.38.
$85,000 NORTHERN LIGHTS FUTURITY
Hey, where’s the fire?
The perfect question Sunday afternoon as Fireman Oscar unveiled his stretch run, increasing his margin of victory by a nose, a head, a neck, a half, a length…until he hit the wire 6 ¾ lengths in front of Devil’s Teeth, in 1:10.95.
What a way to break your maiden.
With a check for $51,000.
There’s not much to go on sometimes with these two-year-olds, although there was something about the Fireman, who was making his second start. He made his debut just two weeks ago, finishing runnerup to another competitor in this race, Chaska.
With Larren Delorme in the irons, trainer Dave Van Winkle sent out the Fireman as the 5-1 second choice to even-money favorite Devil’s Teeth, who was a nose in front of Fridaynitestar at the wire.