BY JIM WELLS
There are countless ways to collect and store memories in horse racing. Some prefer a silver cup on the mantle place, or a picture of a smiling crowd gathered in the winner’s circle, perhaps a bridle hanging from a hook on the wall.
Or maybe a pair of goggles bearing the smudges of what once was mud, wet pieces of ground underfoot on the way to the wire..
They are all reminders of a time and place, sometimes forgotten moments of celebration and joy.
Such as it is for Patsy Palmer, for whom horse racing has produced some of her most enjoyable moments and recollections.
“Oh yes,” she said, “we had a horse named Paul L. He would come around the final turn, sweep past everyone and win.”
There was also a filly named Soft Spoken.
“A woman claimed her from us,” Patsy said. “We claimed her back. Then she claimed her again. The horse wound up in California as a hunter/jumper.”
Racing horses has produced many such recollections for Patsy, memories she shared with her husband, Arnie, until his passing last winter.
In the final days of his life, Arnie Palmer, one of the pioneers of Minnesota horse racing, a man who worked tirelessly at promoting its passage in a variety of ways, had a suggestion for his wife of 65 years.
“Buy a horse,” he told her. “Buy another horse.”
Patsy did just that, contacting trainer Bernell Rhone in Florida with the very instructions Arnie had passed on to her.
The horse’s name is Smoltz, a four-year-old gelding named for former Atlanta Braves Cy Young winner John Smoltz.
Rhone tried to claim a couple of horses but was outshook for them. He kept his eyes and ears open and eventually was told about Smoltz, running in Chicago at the time. Smoltz wound up in Shakopee and Rhone claimed him for a $20,000 price tag.
Patsy had her horse, a $20,000 claimer that came with a good endorsement from the trainer, with one caveat. He was a Florida-bred, and it would be tough to find a spot at a racetrack offering so many races for Minnesota-breds.
Rhone found a couple of spots earlier this season, but the horse didn’t seem to like the grass and went back to the barn winless afterward. He has been waiting since and will get another chance on Monday, Labor Day.
This is probably a spot as good as any to add a footnote to the story. A long-time friend and former partner of Arnie’s thought he saw something humorous and a bit unusual about the situation. “Arnie never wanted to spend more than $2,500 on a horse,” he recalled, “but he tells his wife to spend, oh, $20,000 to $25,000.”
Nonetheless, finding a race for this Florida-bred has not been a simple matter. Rhone thought he had a race several times but they didn’t go for this reason or that. Didn’t fill one time, didn’t fit another, Minnesota-breds only another time.The list went on.
Now, with the season winding to a close, there is a spot for Smoltz: third race Monday, allowance/optional claiming for $25,000, seven-horse field going six furlongs.
“He’s a good horse, we just haven’t been able to find a place for him,” said Rhone. In the meantime, Patsy and her daughter, Cindy, have built up some memories on a frequent basis, making trips to the barn whenever time allows.
“We try to get out to the barn once a week,” Patsy said. “I get pretty down sometimes, but going to Canterbury always makes me feel so good.”
So, she intends to continue that routine and plans on a Florida visit this winter to watch her Florida-bred compete there.
“Bernell has trained for my parents a long time,” Cindy said. “He’s someone they trust and put their confidence in. This is a great way to keep the tradition going.”
So Patsy and Cindy are not content to live on their memories but intend to create new ones as well.
Originally, they hoped to race Smoltz on Father’s Day, the perfect tribute to the man who suggested they buy a horse in the first place.
They didn’t find a place for Smoltz that day but have one on Labor Day and hope to create a memory of some kind with this new racehorse in their lives. They will always remember this fellow, win or lose, for several reasons.
After all, he was claimed on Memorial Day this year.