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.



Wings Locked Up wins Dark Star Cup


There was a heat advisory on Saturday as the area got a taste of what typically doesn’t occur until the depths of summer in the Twin Cities, yet even what Minnesotans refer to as oven-like was mitigated significantly by a stiff breeze.

It was warm, 95 degrees at 3 p.m. with a southwest wind of 20 mph and relative humidity in the comfort zone, 36 percent. But it’s all relative, isn’t it!

“I haven’t even broken a sweat,’’ said trainer Gary Scherer, whose weather at home in Louisiana is not only warmer but considerably more sultry.

“It’s a hot one, eh mate! Absolutely stifling,’’ said former jockey Mark Irving, a native of England.

Actually, not a bad day at all, especially for trainers, riders and anyone else from southern or southwestern parts of the country. “This is nice,’’ said Star-Tribune handicapper Johnny Love, who recently moved to Arizona.

It was under those conditions, with temps in the mid 90s and what was called by the chart crew at Canterbury Park a 40 MPH headwind that Stormy Smith kicked off Belmont Stakes day by riding the winner in the first of four stakes races on the card.

Orlando Mojica caught on quickly, grasping early that a rider had to save enough horse for battling that headwind in the stretch, a realization that helped him win two $50,000 stakes and finish second in a third. On this particular day, it was not only weather one could describe as hot.


The winning rider of the first race on the card had the eponymous first name for the day, Stormy.  An exaggeration to be sure, but fitting somehow nonetheless.

Stormy Smith is from Purcell, Oklahoma, where big winds (we call them tornadoes) are quite common, so he had no trouble whatsoever dealing with the big headwind in this quarter horse 400 yard dash.

He was on La Mos Pyc for trainer Lori Harris and owner Thomas Scheckel and hit the wire a head in front of Lil Baby Eagle, who had a neck on Corona Springs, another Scheckel owned horse.

“She left (the gate) good, raced her butt off and ran a good race,’’ said Smith, who will stay another day in the Twin Cities. He has mounts in five of the Mystic Lake Northlands Futurity quarter horse trials on Sunday.

For the record, Smith’s account of the weather on Saturday was favorable. “I’d rather it hot than cold,’’ he said. “I’ve turned into a bit of wimp. Got too many (surgical) screws in me.’’



The winning horse in this race has been knocking at the door, to paraphrase one of her owners, Tim Rosin. Saturday, the door opened.

With Mojica playing his cards expertly, he kept Some Say So (4-1) at the front of the race, monitoring his fuel reserves expertly, and created a leisurely pace that left plenty in reserve for a winning stretch run, finishing 1 ¾ lengths in front of First Hunter and 2 ¼ ahead of Honey’s Sox Appeal, the even money favorite.

The winning time was 1:29.85 after a half mile in :48.67.

The winner is owned by Wisconsinites Tim Rosin, Patti Miller and Mark Kane, who arrived in Shakopee full of confidence.

“We knew we had a live horse,’’ said Rosin. “We’ve been very close several times. Two weeks ago we lost (by a head) for $18,000.’’

Some Say So made up for that on Saturday, collecting $30,000 as the winning share.


Mojica had the winning strategy in the Turf Distaff, so why not try it again. He put Wings Locked Up at the front of a seven-horse field and kept the five-year-old gelding right there, took charge in the upper stretch and finished ½ length in front of Saturdaynitelites and 1 ½ ahead of Wabel, a ship in from Churchill Downs.

“If you have the lead in this headwind it helps, doesn’t it,’’ someone said to Mojica. “Yeah, but you have to have the horse,’’ he said.  For the second straight time, Mojica had just that, finishing in 1:15.72

The win was stiff throughout the afternoon, and readily apparent to horse and rider as they turned into the stretch. “Oh, you could really feel it,’’ said Mojica. “You had to have a lot of horse.’’

The winning trophy was presented in this instance by former Minnesota Twins manager Tom Kelly, who was a personal friend of Dark Star, the radio personality for whom the race is named.

Tom Kelly with Brian Arrigoni


For a couple of deep breaths, Jenna Joubert and Pennant Fever appeared headed for the winner’s circle at 34-1, a major upset in the making.

An instant later, A P Is Loose does what he generally does under such circumstances. He fired inside the 1/16th pole and finished a neck in front of surging Plenty of Sun who had the same margin on Pennant Fever at the wire.

“Oh, that was close,’’ said winning owner Joel Zamzow. “A great race.’’

Butler, the winning rider, had this to say about A P is Loose. “He knows where the wire is. He’s done that every time I’ve ridden him.’’

A P is Loose went off the 3/5 favorite and settled outside in the second flight, tracking pace-setting Pennant Fever, who gave up and then regained the lead.

But A P was running his typical race, picking off one horse when he came to him and then the next, finishing in 1:30.54.


Jareth Loveberry started the day as the leading rider at Canterbury with 15 wins, two more than Orlando Mojica and defending champion Dean Butler.

Earlier in the week, you might recall, Loveberry and members of his family had dinner at the White House for a reception honoring Gold Star families, those who’ve lost someone in the military service.

Jareth’s brother, Justin, was killed in Iraq in 2004 returning from a mission. Alerted to a possible explosive, Justin exposed himself to the    IED, saving some of his comrades in the process.

Monday, Jareth, his mother, stepfather, and three brothers were greeted by the President who thanked them and other families in attendance for their sacrifice and enjoyed a stand-up dinner that consisted of multiple entrees. “There was a lot of food, an awful lot of food,’’ Loveberry reported.

Among the items he recalled were watermelon salad, crab cakes, top sirloin, London broil, lamb chops.

“Oh, yeah, and desserts, too,’’ he added.

He didn’t gain an ounce. “They were tiny servings,’’ he explained.



Hold for More wins 10,000 Lakes Stakes


Puddles appeared in the infield, in various places throughout the grounds and around just about any crevice, indentation or hole of any kind. Pathways normally associated with solid footing were flooded in low spots and impassable without an individual’s acquiescence to soggy footwear.

The lines typically seen at concession stands on Preakness Stakes day were smaller. Still, there were individuals among the press-box crowd who wondered if a queue might begin forming outside an imaginary ark they expected to arrive and begin taking passengers at any moment. It rained steadily for much of the afternoon.

Trainers shook their heads in exasperation. “It’s been raining for four days,’’ said the track’s defending conditioning champion Mac Robertson. “I feel bad for the Sampsons. And the track’s not real good right now.’’

But it was good at the right time for Robertson, whose horses ran first and third in the second stakes race on the card, the $50,000 Lady Slipper Stakes.

“I ran first, second and third,’’ he said. “I just don’t have the second place horse any more.’’ That would be Rockin The Bleu’s, now conditioned by Mike Biehler.

Just the same, Honey’s Sox Appeal, under Alex Canchari ran first, by 2 ¼ lengths and Thunder and Honey was there for show money, 2 ½ lengths behind Rockin the Bleu’s. The winning time was 1:11.91.

“First and third. Sisters,’’ said owner Bob Lindgren, referring to the dam they share, A J’s Honey.

Alex Canchari was aboard the winner out finishing  Rockin The Bleu’s, whose owner Jeff Hilger was full of hope minutes before the race. “We’re going to drain the swamp,’’ he said enthusiastically.

A well-timed line delivered in the relative safety of the grandstand where water pails had been set up in various stair wells and rooms, and some employees wondered if there was another building with more leaks other than the White House.

All in all, the turnout, 6,216, wasn’t that bad on a day designed for the fireside and a novel as opposed to outdoor activity of any kind.

The Lady Slipper has been run on sloppy tracks in the past, although nothing approaching Saturday’s bog-like conditions. That’s saying something, since the first time this race was run was 1985, the first year of pari-mutuel racing in Minnesota.  Trainer Chuck Taliaferro won the first two Lady Slippers, with Bold Polly taking the inaugural running.

The race belonged to Honey’s Sox Appeal at the top of the lane where she moved to a one-length lead, expanding on it as she lengthened her stride during the stretch run.

Honey’s Sox Appeal cruises in Lady Slipper


The first stakes race on Saturday’s card, the 10,000 Lakes, has a long and storied history as well.  Trainer Percy Scherbenske saddled a horse named Quiet I’m Thinking for Chet and Gerry Herringer in the first running, in 1991.

Rake Farms’ Bourbon County attempted to win this race for the third straight time.  He won the previous two runnings out of Bernell Rhone’s barn and made his third attempt under the hand of Robertson.

The race matched long-time rivals. Bourbon County defeated Hold For More, last year’s horse of the meet, by 1 ¾ lengths in the 10,000 Lakes last summer, his only victory of 2016. Hold for More defeated Bourbon County and Smooth Chiraz last year in the Crocrock Minnesota Sprint championship. Smooth Chiraz, on the other hand, won two of six starts last year, including the Victor S Myers.

There was a rider switch for this race involving the two entries trained by Francisco Bravo. Defending riding champion Dean Butler was on Hold for More for his sixth-place finish in the Paul Bunyan Stakes May 6. On Saturday, he was aboard Smooth Chiraz, the post-time favorite who ran last. Hold for More, was back on his game, meanwhile, as a 5-1 choice and left five rivals in his wake, finishing 2 ½ lengths in front of Bourbon County, with AP Is Loose, Robertson’s second horse, another length back.

The sloppy conditions did not worry Bravo, despite the concern of his barn assistants. “They were worried,’’ he said. “They worried about the slop and wet, but I told them it was better this way because a dry track here is deeper.’’

Orlando Mojica and Rockin the Bleu’s were on the lead, nose-to-nose, with Honey’s Sox Appeal in the Lady Slipper. He had different orders from Bravo in the 10,000 Lakes. “We wanted to be off the lead, not too far back,’’ said Bravo. “You get six or seven lengths back and it takes too much work to catch up.”

Mojica didn’t let that happen. Last out of the gate in the six-horse field, he settled Hold for More two to three lengths off the leaders and began moving him up outside three horses on the turn. He was a half length in front of Bourbon County at the head of the lane and 2 ½ at the wire, in a time of 1:11.19.

Mojica had responded to Bravo’s parting words in the paddock. “Don’t go to the lead. But not too far back.’’

Even on a rainy, miserable afternoon, plans executed properly can work out.

Canterbury Park First Half All-Stars

Canterbury Park

by The Oracle

We have reached the halfway point of the 2016 Canterbury Park live racing season.  It’s a better bet for the players this year with the lowest blended takeout rates in the country, and players who had previously not played Canterbury Park are taking a look this year.  Here is a look inside-the-numbers at what has transpired on the race track so far in 2016.  The following statistics are for thoroughbred races only.

The Odds:       

Favorites are winning 39% of the thoroughbred races at Canterbury Park so far in 2016, which equals the winning favorites from the first half last season.  However, last year the favorites struggled in the second half of the year, and by season’s end they were only winning at a 34% rate for the entire meet.  I do expect the fewer winning favorites over the second half of the meet.  The claiming race category has been the most formful so far this year, yielding 49 winning favorites from 110 races (45%) and returning a flat bet profit of $1.04 for every dollar wagered.

Historically, turf racing at Canterbury Park has yielded a lower percentage of winning favorites than races on the main track.  This is holding true this year, as favorites on the turf are winning at a 35% rate compared to 41% winning favorites on the dirt.  Again, those numbers are both likely to decrease in the second half of the meet.

The Jockeys:

Looking at the top 10 jockeys in the standings so far, the All-Star performer for best return-on-investment (ROI) was Orlando Mojica.  Orlando is currently 6th in the standings with 15 wins, but he is returning an impressive $1.05 for every dollar wagered on his mounts.  Orlando also earned his 2,000th career victory at Canterbury Park recently, so it’s been a memorable season for the “Magic Man”!

Dean Butler certainly deserves a mention as he leads the jockey standings with 44 wins from 200 mounts thus far.  Butler is a very well-known rider at Canterbury Park, having won several riding titles over the years.  His horses take serious action at the windows, which makes it tough to profit long term from his winners.  Butler was very reliable on favorites in the first half with 20 wins from 44 tries (45%) with an ROI of $1.07.  Conversely, you might want to avoid his horses that are not getting any wagering action.  At odds of 8-1 and up, Butler is 1/56 so far this year with the lone winner in that sample paying $19.40.  Tread lightly there…

The Trainers:

The top 10 trainer list had three trainers achieving a positive ROI at the midway mark.  Nevada Litfin got the All-Star award with 11 wins from 44 starts, achieving an ROI of $1.32.  He excelled in claiming races (7/15, ROI = $1.95) and turf sprints (4/8, ROI = $1.63), but was only 1/28 at odds of 8-1 and above.

Michael Biehler has also had a very good first half, winning 10 races with an ROI of $1.18.  His best category was turf sprints, winning with 4 of 12 runners including a 26-1 winner named Kenna Mae in a maiden turf sprint with Lori Keith aboard.  Kenna Mae, a 3-year-old filly, was making her turf debut and sprinted clear from the rail early, cruising to a six length victory.

Bernell Rhone had a strong first half this year also, winning 14 races and achieving a flat bet profit of $1.14.  Rhone had two big longshot winners in the maiden claiming ranks, one on the turf and one on the main track that both paid over 20-1 odds.  His longshot turf winner was a 7-year-old first time starter named Bourbonnais, ridden by Israel Hernandez who was ignored by the public at 26-1 on the board.  Bourbonnais is a War Chant gelding out of an Easy Goer mare, and was the best bred horse in the race.  However, not starting until age 7 threw the public off the scent!  His main track longshot winner was 4-year-old So Blue, moving from turf to dirt and ridden by Martin Escobar.  She had been well beaten in two turf races, but had shown early speed in her debut on the main track and was dropping in class from maiden special weight to maiden claiming company.

It’s instructive to note that the top two trainers this year, Mac Robertson and Robertino Diodoro, are both below $0.80 ROI despite their many wins.  It’s tough to make money betting the top trainers.  However, Robertson’s horses are performing quite well as favorites so far (18/37, ROI $1.02) but not well as longshots (0/21 at 8-1 and up).


That’s a brief look at how the favorites fared and who the top jockeys and trainers were over the first half of the Canterbury Park live meet from an ROI perspective.  Good luck the rest of the way!

Orlando Mojica rides on

SAM SCORED A GOAL - 2%2C000th Career Win for Jockey Orlando Mojica!!! - 07-10-16 - R10 - CBY - Winner's Circle (1)


Orlando Mojica arrived at Canterbury a few weeks into the meet and immediately made an impact. Last week he won his 2,000th career race.


Orlando Mojica: Q and A w/ Canterbury’s Newest Jockey

Orlando Mojica

Orlando Mojica may not be new to regular horse players but he is Canterbury’s newest jockey. He first started riding in Puerto Rico where he attended jockey school. He then made his professional riding debut in North America in 2000. Mojica has had a very successful career and is now less than 10 wins away from his 2,000th win.

Q: Where are you from?
A: I’m originally from Puerto Rico, but I now call Indiana home.

Q: When did you start riding and why?
A: I started in jockey school and then got invited to the Jockey Challenge, and I won and got to represent my country.

Q: How does it feel to be nearing 2,000 wins?
A: It feels good! My first dream was to be a leading rider and I did that more than once. Then my next goal was to win 1,000 races and I did that a long time ago. And now my third big goal is to get 2,000 wins and hopefully I can achieve that here.

Q: Where have you raced in the past?
A: I started in New Jersey and stayed there galloping but I’ve also raced at Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and now Minnesota.

Q: If you weren’t a jockey, what would you be doing?
A: That’s a good question, but I really like art so maybe an artist or maybe a dancer. I used to be a break dancer when I was younger.

Q: What’s one of your favorite memories while riding?
A: My biggest race was when I won with a filly in a grade two race in Kentucky.

Q: Do you do anything specific before the races?
A: I like to run every day and I also make sure I stretch myself out.

Q: What are your dreams for the future?
A: Be the best role model that I can be for my kids.

Q: Is there anything new you’d like to learn how to do?
A: Every day is a new challenge to me and I like to do anything. Right now I’m learning how to cook more but overall I’m an individual who likes the challenge.

by Megan Johnson
Press Box Assistant