He was good enough to beat a future national sprint champion, good enough to win all four of his races that summer at the new racetrack in Shakopee. And he was good enough to become the first Horse of the Year in Minnesota Racing history.
He was Come Summer.
A stunning dark colt with royalty in his blood, Come Summer would continue his career racing mostly in Kentucky and other parts South after the first summer in Shakopee, this great-grandson of Bold Ruler and Somethingroyal, who had a son named Secretariat.
Trained primarily by George “Rusty” Arnold and also Shug McGaughey, Come Summer was retired as a six-year-old and purchased shortly thereafter in Kentucky by LeAnne and Dave Dayon of Wind N Wood Farm, who recalled an incident at the time worthy of passing on.
A horse sale was being conducted at the Shakopee Ballroom, when Dayon walked in and ran into Alvin Goebel. Both had been in Kentucky at the same time recently trying to find a horse to stand at their farms.
“I have a stallion you’ll want to breed your mares to,” said Goebel, who had just purchased Danski.
“I have a stallion you’ll want to breed your mares to,” responded Dayon.
Thus began Come Summer’s life in Minnesota, where he would spend the remainder of his days as a stallion and then a pensioner, inquired about frequently by his original owners, Ward and Roberta Williford of Dallas, Texas, right up until his death last January.
“He died right there in the paddock,” said Dayon.”He had the same spinal problem as Seattle Slew.” He was 31 years old with some of the infirmities that accompany many animals as they gather years. Another way of putting it, as Dayon did: “He died of old age.”
Yet what a life he had on the racetrack, winning 14 times from 34 starts that included five seconds and four thirds and earnings of $360,237. A foal of 1982, Come Summer was a horse the Willifords were hopeful of running in the Kentucky Derby, before quarter cracks derailed those intentions.
He came to Shakopee instead and took over the grounds, beating future Eclipse Award winning sprinter Smile in the Canterbury Invitational, setting a track record for a mile and 70 yards that stands 28 years later (1:40.20) and then winning the Canterbury Derby. The Invitational was voted race of the meet that summer. Come Summer demonstrated in the years that followed he could run any distance from sprint to route. He won Churchill Downs’ Grade III Clark Handicap in 1986, beating a handful of Grade I winners in the process.
A Canterbury Park Hall of Fame horse, Come Summer was pensioned at age 22 by Dayon after a modest career at stud. Canterbury Patrons surely recall one of his offspring, Haulin’ Oats.
Officially a dark brown horse, Come Summer stood 16.1 hands. All business on the racetrack, he was playful in the barn and away from the bugle, nipping at his grooms who fed him mints. “He liked to kick up his heels a little bit,” said Dayon, “but he was always a manageable horse to breed with.”
He liked to ham it up at picture time, too. When he appeared in the winner’s circle at Canterbury Park for his retirement acknowledgement, Come Summer knew where the winner’s circle was and what to do when he got there.
“He sat up and posed the moment he saw the camera,” Dayon added.
For the Dayons and the Willifords, Come Summer was one of a kind, the first “big” horse for the Dallas couple and not much different for the Dayons.
“To us he was like owning a person’s first Porsche,” said Dayon.”And we were in constant contact over the years with the Willifords.”
The Willifords were planning a trip to Minnesota to see Come Summer last year. “They weren’t able to make it, but they had hoped to see him one last time before he went,” said Dayon.
Clearly, he was a horse they never forgot, nor, presumably, have the early fans who watched Come Summer’s magnificent summer 28 years ago. Certainly not the Dayons, who are still considering the proper gravestone for the horse.
“He is buried right outside his stall beneath the cherry tree,” said Dayon.”We’re still thinking about what kind of marker to put up for him.”
Just a suggestion, but…
Come Summer, the best of Minnesota racing’s first summer.
This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.