Hay Dakota


The connections in horse racing are sometimes astounding as well as confounding and on a strange afternoon at the racetrack some of that played out during a card that featured exceptional stakes racing and some mind-boggling vignettes as well.

Highlights are simple to point out: The two $100,000 stakes on the card, The Lady Canterbury and the Mystic Lake Mile, arguably the best in many years and among the best ever. Granted, the Mile was only run for the fifth time on Sunday, but the Lady Canterbury made its 25th appearance.

Mingled with heart-pounding finishes in those races and heart-warming stories to go with them were the unceremonious unseating of four riders during the card. One at the start of the fifth race resulted in a loose horse whose interference with the remaining field caused stewards to declare it a non-race.

Those episodes were balanced by some of the finest racing yet this summer in two exceptional stakes events that included parallels with the past and unexpected, much appreciated phone calls to the winner’s circle.

Sweet Tapper


Think back to 1990 and the Kentucky Derby, trainer Carl Nafzger and Minnesotan Frances Genter celebrating their Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled, trainer and owner featured in a heart-warming video that played over and over again on sports networks across the nation. It was the biggest win at that point for a woman involved in racing for decades.  Trainer and owner were later inducted into the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

Now, shift to the winner’s circle at Canterbury Park on Sunday and  a 4-year-old filly named Sweet Tapper, a 4-year-old daughter of Tapit owned by Lorie Michaels of Wayzata, whose celebration included a phone call from none other than Carl Nafzger.

The trainer of record for the winner is Ian Wilkes, once an understudy to Nafzger who is trying his best to retire without complete success.

Michaels and her husband, Bob, have been in racing for about a dozen years but celebrated the biggest win of their racing involvement on Sunday, their first stakes victory.

“It was absolutely wonderful. I couldn’t be any happier,’’ Lorie told Nafzger.

She gave this victory to her husband. “It’s his father’s day gift,’’ she said.

It was a victory, too, another victory, for jockey Orlando Mojica, who won two stakes races and finished second in a third last weekend.

Sweet Tapper,8-1, was hemmed in along the rail coming out of the turn, but his rider was not concerned. “I had plenty of horse and I found an opening inside.’’

Just in time. Mojica made his bid from there and caught Insta Erma, the even-money favorite, at the wire by a neck, finishing in 1:35.88. Seeking Treasure at 6-1 was next, 1 ¼ lengths further back.



Local trainer, local rider, owner a neighbor from South Dakota.

That connection provided the winner for the fifth running of the mile, an aptly named Hay Dakota, a Kentucky-bred son of Haynesfield.

The race included 5/2 Majestic Pride, last year’s Horse of the Year and One Mean Man, winner of the 2016 Mystic Lake Derby and the 2-1 favorite.

Hay Dakota, meanwhile, was sent off by the crowd of 14,150, at 6-1. Sixth out of the gate in the eight-horse field, Hay Dakota under Denny Velazquez tracked the leaders from the second flight, came four wide on the turn and made his bid from there, finishing a head in front of Majestic Pride and another half length in front of Way Striking, finishing in 1:35.37.

Asked how his heart held up during the stretch run, winning trainer Joel Berndt seemed more concerned about his vocal cords. “It’s my voice,’’ he said. “I was riding the race from the quarter pole on. If you recall, I lost the Mystic Derby last year by a neck.’’ By that, he meant that Hay Dakota had finished third in the race, a neck out of second place and another nose from first.

Moments earlier Sunday, Canterbury Hall of Fame trainer Doug Oliver had been to the winner’s circle to visit old friends. He once trained for old friends. He once trained for Alice Mettler of Wall, S.D., owner of Hay Dakota.


The Fiscal Cliff, a 4-year-old Pyc Paint Your Wagon colt, had his way with nine rivals in Sunday’s opening stakes race, named for a long-time contributor to Minnesota’s horse industry.

Bet too much against Sunday’s winner and a person might end up falling off a fiscal cliff himself.

Eighteen races. First or second seventeen times. Eleven wins. A Grade II winner and runnerup in races at Remington Park.

He could have spotted his competition a length or two and still won this race, although he needed a rare reminder from his rider after shifting his weight in the gate and not breaking cleanly.

Not that he needed the tap as everything turned out. The Fiscal Break appeared to do all that was necessary under the circumstances.

“He didn’t break real well. Couldn’t get hold of the ground,’’ said owner Thomas Lepic of Iowa City, Iowa. “We rarely touch him, but he did take hold.’’

Winning trainer Kasey Willis had even more to celebrate. He also saddled Streakin PR, the second-place horse.

Winning rider Benito Baca told Lepic afterward that his horse didn’t break in a straight line after shifting in the gate but acquired his footing and took charge of the competition, finishing in 17.75 seconds.

Lepic said he will continue training his horse here in preparation for the Bank of America Canterbury Park Challenge on July 4.

Sunday’s race is named for Skip Zimmerman, a quarter horse and thoroughbred owner and breeder who was a charter member of the Minnesota Quarter Horse Racing Association and a member of the HBPA board of directors. Zimmerman died of a heart problem on March 6, 2007.



Nolan Left Mark On Lady Canterbury

Paul Nolan and K Z Bay

Paul Nolan was known as the Sod Surgeon when he rode regularly at Canterbury Park, for his success on the grass, often aboard horses that were sent off at long odds. Take the most spectacular win in the history of the Lady Canterbury Stakes, the race that headlines Sunday’s card, as a prime example. Nolan rode KZ Bay to the winner’s circle in the 1997 Lady Canterbury and returned $67.80 for a $2 win wager.  He was the leading rider at Canterbury in 2006.




The Nolans have five cats, all but one of them rescue animals from the racetrack, and Paul and Sherry consider them family.

Squinky, Snip, Ming Li, Minnie and Rainy.

They don’t have children, so the felines have become surrogates of a sort, the next best thing, something they have shared since the beginning of their relationship.

Sherry recalled telling Paul when he first paid her a visit during their courting days years ago that she had four Persian cats and wondered how he felt about the issue. He had always been a dog lover, but said he had nothing against cats in particular.

“The next thing I knew, there was Paul holding one of the cats upside down in his arms, like a baby, rocking it,’’ Sherry recalled.

Occasionally in recent weeks, whenever they are on the phone, Sherry will hold it near one or more of the family cats so that Paul can speak to them before she ends the conversation, she from their home in Bloomington , he from the Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado,a center that specializes in spinal cord and traumatic brain injury.

Nolan can’t move his arms. He can’t stand or walk on his own.

Any contact with life the way it was, the people and animals, is reassuring.

“It’s going to be a long, slow process. There is no prognosis,’’ Sherry said.

He had planned to ride in the current meet at Canterbury Park, where he once was a regular and won a riding title before taking his tack to other locations during the summer months.

Then, on April 18, a horse he was riding at Will Rogers Downs threw him forward after the finish line and rolled over the top of him. The horse was fine and there was no indication why he collapsed as he did after the wire.

Nothing about that night is even slightly vague to Sherry Nolan, not even weeks later.

“I was watching the race on my laptop, the eighth race, and he wasn’t going to ride again until the 10th,’’ she said. “I didn’t watch him gallop out.’’

She went about other household chores and then tuned in again for the 10th race.

“The race had been delayed,’’ she recalled. “Then I noticed that Paul was calling me.’’

It wasn’t Paul. It was his agent, Rick Jones, with the disturbing news. At that moment Nolan was being taken to a local hospital. Details were sketchy but promising.

It became a night of confusion and unanswered questions thereafter.

Sherry was ill with a cold and the flu, had been for weeks, and had difficulty saying more than a few words without coughing. Yet, eventually she reached Paul who was able to utter only a couple of words, himself.

“Hi, dear,’’ he said.

Information was slow in coming. Sherry hung up the phone for the night around 1 a.m. after a nurse told her Paul was resting comfortably. Results of an MRI wouldn’t be available for several hours or more.

When the results of the MRI arrived, Sherry learned that there were no breaks in his spinal column; it was not comprised, but his spinal cord was severely swollen and there was a bruise at C3, the area that controls the respiratory system.

“He can feel his arms but he can’t move them,’’ Sherry added. “A lot of the ligaments in the front and back of the shoulders were severely stretched and injured.’’

It has become a matter of waiting, day after day.

Waiting and hoping.

The center plans to release Nolan toward the end of July. Even that promising news is compromised by other unfinished business and uncertainty. Their Minnesota home is not wheelchair accessible. Much moderation and updating needs to be accomplished, and even those plans are hung up by details with contractors and others.

Currently, he needs 24-hour a day care and will certainly need continued care and therapy even upon release. “We don’t know how long,’’ Sherry added.

The other night she lectured her husband after detecting that his confidence had dipped. “He was feeling a bit down,’’ she explained, “and I had to say a few things.’’

There are also the well wishes and generosity of colleagues, friends and horsemen and jockey associations. The kind of outreaching that has sustained the Nolans, financially and emotionally.

“It’s been unbelievable,’’ Sherry said. “Everyone has been so generous.’’

The jockeys at Will Rogers Downs and at Remington Park have sent checks. A person for whom Nolan once rode locally sent a check. His valet at Will Rogers tore up the checks he received from Nolan. There is insurance money, too. All of it has relieved the financial strain.

“I want to cry. Everyone has been so good, so generous,’’ she said. “I’ve been able to pay the property taxes and other bills. I can’t say enough. It takes off so much pressure.’’

One less thing to worry about in the wake of a life-changing event that continues to present new questions and uncertainties just as others are answered.


Two $100,000 Turf Stakes Headline Father’s Day Racing

by Katie Merritt

Sunday’s 10-race program at Canterbury Park includes two $100,000 turf stakes, the 25th running of the Lady Canterbury will be the 7th race and the Mystic Lake Mile, now in its fifth year, will be run as the 8th race. Both stakes will be run at a distance of one mile on the turf course. Racing begins on Father’s Day at 12:45 p.m.

The Lady Canterbury dates back to the spring of 1986 when it was the first race to be run on the turf course at the Shakopee, Minn. racetrack. The inaugural Lady Canterbury was won by Sauna with jockey Chris McCarron aboard for owners Allen Paulson and Summa Stables. Over the years the race has continued to draw top connections from around the country.

The 2017 rendition is no exception as 10 fillies and mares have been entered. Several nationally-known trainers are shipping to Canterbury to compete for the $100,000 purse. Mike Maker has entered morning line favorite Gianna’s Dream, who has run 12 times, at 7 different racetracks, and has only finished off the board twice. Being the favorite in the Lady Canterbury may not be the best position to be in, however, as the favorite has only won the race three times since 1986.  This will be Gianna’s Dream’s first start since December of last year. Maker won the Lady Canterbury two years in a row in 2013 and 2014 with Awesome Flower. Bill Mott, who also won the Lady Canterbury in 2003 with Stylish, has Zayat Stables’ Insta Erma, who has a second and a third so far this year amongst tough allowance company at Keeneland and Belmont. Insta Erma will be ridden by Dean Butler. Ian Wilkes ships in with Sweet Tapper, to be ridden by Orlando Mojica, who is also looking for her first win this year after a second and a third in solid allowances at Churchill and Arlington – both races that were originally scheduled to be run on the turf, but were moved to the main track.

The morning line favorite in the Mystic Lake Mile is 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner Hootenanny for trainer Wesley Ward. The 5 year old horse by Quality Road has hit the board 8 out of 13 times. In addition to his Breeder’s Cup win, Hootenanny is also known for being one of the few American shippers to win a stake race at Royal Ascot. Hootenanny most recently finished fourth in the Grade 3 Hanshin at Arlington Park, three lengths behind longshot winner Crewman, who he will face again Sunday in the Mystic Lake Mile. Julio Garcia has been named to ride.

Bernie Flint-trained One Mean Man, winner of the 2016 Mystic Lake Derby at Canterbury, is also entered to run, looking to win his first race since the Woodchopper Stakes at Fair Grounds in December. The four-year-old grey colt will be ridden by Orlando Mojica. Locally-stabled Hay Dakota, trained by Joel Berndt and ridden by Denny Velazquez, is another top choice in the Mystic Lake Mile. The four-year-old bay gelding has not won in three starts this year, but was the winner of the Grade 3 Commonwealth at Churchill Downs last November.

The Quarter Horses will also contest a stake race earlier in the card. The $20,000 added Skip Zimmerman Memorial Stakes will be run as the first race and has drawn a field of 10 horses. The Fiscal Cliff, trained by Kasey Willis and ridden by Benito Jude Baca, hi-lights the race. The four year old colt has 17 lifetime starts to date, with 10 wins and 6 seconds. His last race was a win in the Grade 2 Bob Moore Memorial Stakes on April 22 at Remington Park. Eagles Span, Jr Rock Star and Streakin Pr will likely by vying for second choice on the tote board. The Olmstead-trained Eagles Span enters the race off of an Allowance Optional Claimer here at Canterbury Park and will be ridden by Brayan Velazquez. Jr Rock Star, also trained by Olmstead was most recently 4th in Optional Claimer at Remington in May, but won an Allowance at Canterbury last August. Streakin Pr, trained by Kasey Willis and ridden by David Pinon was 4th last out in the Boyd Morris Memorial Handicap at Remington Park, after winning an Allowance there in his prior start.


Leg Up Fund Poker Tournament is Monday

A History of the Lady Canterbury

By Noah Joseph

One of the oldest stakes race at Canterbury Park is also one of the most prestigious. It is the Lady Canterbury Stakes. The one mile turf race for fillies and mares ages three and up will be run for the 25th  time on Sunday as one of the day’s three stakes races. The Lady Canterbury has been able to attract some top quality in its past and still does today.

Run as the first turf race in Canterbury history on Memorial Day 1986, the first running was won by the Australian-bred Sauna, owned by Summa Stables and Allen Paulson, trained by Richard Cross, and ridden by Hall Of Fame jockey Chris McCarron.

Sauna wins inaugural Lady Canterbury

Summa Stables won the Lady Canterbury again in 1989 with Down Again. Richard Cross was the winning trainer again, and the rider was Corey Black. The year before, French-bred Balbonella, owned by Maktoum al Maktoum, trained by Neil Drysdale, and ridden by Marco Castaneda took the race, defeating future two-time Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Bayakoa, who was making her US debut.


Run as a Grade 3 in 1990 and 1991, the race continued to thrive, despite then Canterbury Down’s financial and attendance struggle. The race was not run in 1992 and the track closed after that year’s meet and remained closed until 1994. The race returned with track’s reopening in 1995, and was won by Go Go Jack, who set a track record and stakes record in the process. K Z Bay pulled off the biggest upset in the race in 1997 for owner and trainer Bob Ryno and jockey Paul Nolan.

K Z Bay paid $67.80 to win in 1997 Lady Canterbury

After a brief hiatus after the 1998 edition, the race returned in 2003, and has been strong ever since. By far the most impressive winner of this race in recent memory is Awesome Flower, the only two-time winner of the race. She won off-the-turf editions in 2013 and 2014 for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey and trainer Michael Maker.

Every year, the Lady Canterbury has a strong field, and this year’s running is expected to be the same. And one horse, owner, trainer, and jockey, will have their name added to the list of winners in Canterbury’s most prestigious race.

Maker’s Mark

Headache winning 2010 Claiming Crown Jewel

By Noah Joseph

On Monday, Shadow Rock won the $50,000 Honor the Hero Stakes at Canterbury Park. That win was just one of several stakes winners at the Shakopee, Minn. racetrack for trainer Michael Maker. Maker is a nationally acclaimed trainer who has horses, and wins races all over the country.  During the past few years, Maker has made his presence felt at Canterbury, particularly in stakes races. Including Shadow Rock’s win on Monday, Maker has won six stakes at Canterbury since 2013, including the Lady Canterbury twice with Awesome Flower.

Prior to those wins, Maker was, and remains, the king of the Claiming Crown. When it was held at Canterbury, Maker entered horses in almost every race, and had two that that went on to greater success. The first was Furthest Land. After being claimed for $35,000 in 2008, Furthest Land won several races afterwards. Although he finished fourth in the 2009 Claiming Crown Jewel, he went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile that same year. The other horse was Headache. After winning the 2010 Claiming Crown Jewel at Canterbury, Headache won two graded races and even ran in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Mike Maker (photo from Mike Maker website)

Mike Maker is a truly accomplished trainer and is greatly respected by the racing community. Shadow Rock gave him another Canterbury win, but as we approach the big stakes races of the meet, look for many horses trained by Maker to be nominated, and expect at least one to be entered in all of them.

Awesome Flower winning 2013 Lady Canterbury Stakes

Noah Joseph is a longtime Canterbury Park and horse racing fan. He’s been attending races at Canterbury since 2000 when he was 3 years old and has enjoyed every minute of it. Noah provides a weekly piece on CanterburyLive.com.

Lady Canterbury Stakes and Mystic Lake Mile draw fields of 11

Sunday’s Father’s Day race program at Canterbury Park features a pair of $100,000 stakes races: the 24th running of the Lady Canterbury and the fourth edition of the Mystic Lake Mile. Both races, conducted at one mile on the turf course and run as the seventh and eighth races respectively on the 11-race card, drew 11 entries.

Trainer Joe Sharp, who operates stables at several tracks and has a string at Canterbury this summer, has entered three horses in the Lady Canterbury and one in the Mystic Lake Mile. His Mile entry, the speedy Aztec Brave, has won five of 16 career starts on the turf including stakes wins last year at Aqueduct and Mountaineer. The 5-year-old most recently finished third in a May 21 Churchill Downs stakes after setting the early pace. Chris Rosier will ride Sunday.

“He’s just an honest horse,” Sharp said. “He got a bit aggressive in that last race and opened up a big lead on the backside and came up a little short. This is his third start off a layoff and I expect a big effort.”

One of Sharp’s three Lady Canterbury entries is Calypso Run, owned by Barry and Joni Butzow of Eden Prairie, Minn. The 4-year-old filly figures to be part of the early pace over a course that is not unkind to frontrunners. She too will be ridden by Rosier.

“She’s pretty quick. I expect her to be competitive in here,” Sharp said. “She doesn’t need the lead but if she is there I won’t be unhappy about it. She is getting better and better and can be successful around two turns.”

Sharp also trains Mexican Miss, the 7 to 2 morning line favorite in the Lady Canterbury, who he claimed from a maiden race for owner Brad Grady in the fall of 2014. Since the claim, Mexican Miss has three wins, including one in the Jersey Lilly Stakes at Sam Houston, three seconds, and one third from seven starts. Mexican Miss will be ridden by Denny Velazquez.

“She’ll be tough to beat,” Sharp said.

If the morning line holds true and Mexican Miss is the wagering favorite, she will need to defy history, as the favorite in the Lady Canterbury has won just 3 of the 23 editions of the race.

Sunday’s races begin at 12:45 p.m. For more information visit http://www.canterburypark.com .


Saturday post time changed to 12:15 p.m.

With 12 races including six trials for the $165,600 Mystic Lake Northlands Futurity, racing officials have changed first post on Saturday to 12:15 p.m. The purse for the Northlands is a record for the race which has been run 28 times dating back to 1986. The 10 fastest horses from the six trials combined will advance to the final July 10.


Kitty Wine Wins Lady Canterbury

Kitty Wine Wins Lady Canterbury



The purse is $100,000, the racing is close the entire way. You separate from the field and set your horse’s nose toward the wire, only to discover there is another horse at your shoulder, eyeball to eyeball, stride for stride, over the final 150 yards of the stretch drive.

You are certain you’ve won until the jockey on the opposing horse contradicts the thought. It will take a calipers to determine a winner.

Racing doesn’t come any better.

Ask anyone who watched the Mystic Lake Mile on Saturday. Maybe even trainer Gary Scherer, who found himself running toward the winner’s circle. “And I don’t run,’’ he said. Later, he thrust his arms skyward when the results of the photo finish were announced and jumped in the air. “And I don’t jump,’’ he said.

A winner in a $100,000 race abrogates the word can’t from a person’s vocabulary. You still are unable to do many things you couldn’t do previously…but you’re willing to try, at least, to believe in anything. “I think I lost two pounds running,’’ Scherer said.

The chart of the race declares Scherer’s horse, Pumpkin Rumble, winner by a nose over Az Ridge, the defending champion in the race, the Mystic Lake Mile. That’s only because there isn’t another term to denote even smaller margins.

The start was the third of the year for the winner and first time he has finished on the board, enhancing his career earnings by $60,000 for a total of $181,806.

The horse’s owners, Al and Bill Ulwelling, were not present, reportedly at their lake cabin, but Scherer’s exclamatory response was all the representation necessary, enough enthusiasm to fulfill a requirement of this sort.

There were four horses favored in front of Pumpkin Rumble, sent off at 9-1. Az Ridge was favored at 2-1. Red Zeus, a 16-1 choice, finished third. The win gave rider Corey Lanerie a sweep of the two stakes on the card. The Mystic Lake Mile was preceded by the $100,000 Lady Canterbury, also at a mile on the turf.

Lanerie guided 7/5 favorite Kitty Wine to a 1 ¼ length victory over third choice Notte d’Oro in that one. A sweep of the two stakes made Lanerie’s trip from Churchill Downs a worthwhile journey. “Absolutely,’’ he said.

Kitty Wine ran just off the pace from the gate to the turn for home, where she rallied to take the lead at the stretch call and sustain it to the wire.

Lanerie had not expected Parc Monceau to be at the front, but his strategy remained the same nonetheless. He intended to run just off the lead and did just that.


Pumpkin Rumble and Corey Lanerie Win Mystic Lake Mile

Pumpkin Rumble and Corey Lanerie Win Mystic Lake Mile



Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, who signed copies of his book at Canterbury Park on Saturday,  went to New York in June of 1987 with a chance to saddle a Triple Crown winner.

Alysheba had won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, and Van Berg was certain he was superior to anyone in the Belmont field. “He could gallop faster than those other horses could run,’’ Van Berg recalled.

Which is precisely what he told jockey Chris McCarron in the paddock that day.

The question most asked of Van Berg in the years since, and a reasonable one it seems, was whether Alysheba could have won the race had he been allowed to run with Lasix, which he did in the two earlier Classic races.

New York did not allow Lasix at the time and many analysts figured that was a factor in Alysheba’s fourth place finish. Van Berg was asked Saturday if Alysheba would have won the  Belmont had he been allowed the anti-bleeding drug.

“He would have won if he had had a jockey that day,’’ Van Berg said.

Van Berg was convinced Alysheba could have simply outrun the field, but McCarron put a hold on him and let Bet Twice, the eventual winner and second place horse in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, go to the front. Alysheba, rated most of the way, not only did not respond with his usual vigor when given his head but got caught in a traffic jam at the top of the stretch. Bet Twice went on to win by 14 lengths.

“Somehow he (Chris) got it in his head to hold the horse and he choked him and choked him,’’ Van Berg added. “Then he got turned sideways…’’

The consequence was clear.

“We could have had a Triple Crown winner,’’ Van Berg added.


Awesome Flower blossoms again


Saturday’s rain drenched the racetrack, dampened spirits and put a damper on the day and its scheduled events, turning an expected festive occasion into a damp and disappointing drudgery on several fronts.

Normally the Lady Canterbury and Mystic Mile turf races, both $100,000 events,  could be expected to attract an enthusiastic turnout. Throw in the Human Cannonball and we’re talking a crowd of 10,000 or more. Many of them because of the Cannonball alone.

            It was not to be.  The rain forced postponement of the Human Cannonball presentation for two weeks to July 26 and drove the two feature races off the grass. “This is a damn shame,’’ said one horseman. “We could have had a huge crowd today, but nobody’s here.’’

            There was that, too, a turnout of only 5,026.

The disappointment continued. Officials held off as long as feasibly possible after moving the fourth race from the grass to the main track but eventually had to relent and moved the co-feature events also.

Thus, a host of scratches ensued.

The Lady Canterbury, scheduled for about a mile on the turf, was moved to a mile on the dirt and Stoupinator, Enlightened and I Dazzle scratched, reducing the field to seven.

The winner was defending champion Awesome Flower, ridden last year by Chris Landeros, this time by Francisco Torres, who drove the horse in the final strides past 3/2 choice Gold Medal Dancer with Canterbury Hall of Fame rider Luis Quinonez in town for the mount.

The winner was sent off at 3-1 as was the third place horse, locally owned Eden Prairie.

Torres was delighted to get the mount from Mike Maker, who trains for the owners, Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey. He had reason for confidence. Awesome Flower, by Flower Alley, won the Lady Canterbury last year, and Torres rode Kune Kune, the third place horse. Thus, Torres knew what he was riding, the defending c hampion. “She ran past us (last year) like we were standing still,’’ he said.

Awesome Flower, it seems, likes Canterbury Park and blossoms in the Lady Canterbury.

Forecasts called for some rain Saturday, but no one expected the deluge that drenched the racetrack and caused four scratches immediately after the Mystic Lake Mile was moved to the dirt.

Another completely unexpected scratch took place moments before post time. Broadway Empire, the prohibitive favorite, turned up lame in the post parade and was scratched moments before the horses entered the gate, a huge disappointment to rider Scott Stevens and trainer Robertino Diodoro.

Stevens descended the steps to the jockeys room clearly upset, deprived of what most observers considered a sure thing, along with the winner’s share of the $100,000 purse, or $60,000 that went to the winning connections.

            Alas, one person’s loss is often another’s gain. Trainer Dan McFarlane, who scratched Red Zeus when the race was moved to the dirt, also considered scratching Az Ridge. He held off.

Good thing.

With Ry Eikleberry riding as if there were no tomorrow in the stretch drive, Az Ridge held off a hard-trying Stachys to win the second running of the Mystic Lake Mile by 1 ½ lengths.

The ironies of the moment and recent past were immediately on McFarlane’s mind. “It’s funny,’’ he said. “This horse is better on the dirt than on the grass but was named Turf Horse of the Year at Turf Paradise last winter.’’  And yet he considered scratching Az Ridge because Saturday’s race was moved to the dirt.

But he didn’t.

He and Eikleberry were quite pleased with that decision. “You hate to see anything happen to another horse,’’ said Eikleberry. “But they made the right decision with that horse. They took care of him.’’

And, of course…

“We have to ride for the money when we get the chance,’’ he said.

Which is precisely what Eikleberry did in those final strides.


             Dirt Road Queen didn’t win a race in three 2013 outings. The best she could do was a third place finish in her maiden start.

            That was last year.

            “She’s really come on, really improved,’’ said Bob Petersen, who owns the horse with his wife, Julie. The Petersens are Canterbury Park Hall of Fame owners, and demonstrated one more reason for their presence with this result.

The Minnesota-bred daughter of Country Chicks Man was sent off the odds-on favorite in this $20,000-added event at 400 yards and made it look easy under Seth Martinez. She out-finished five rivals with a mid-stretch burst.

            She was still pulling away at the wire, finishing in front of Furys Folly and Little Bit Brandy.

            Dirt Road Queen blew past her rivals  for her third win in four 2014 starts, finishing the final 100 yards in 20.540 without so much as a slap from Martinez.

“She’s a really nice horse,’’ he said. “She can really run.’’

Dirt Road has filled a void for the Petersens, who lost Sport Wagon last winter in Phoenix. He cut a leg, developed an infection and was put down.

            Dirt Road’s emergence couldn’t have come at a better time.

            “She’s filling his shoes very nicely,’’ Petersen said. “She had some problems last year but has really come around.’’

Story by Jim Wells