SWEET TAPPER, HAY DAKOTA SHINE IN STAKES

Hay Dakota

BY JIM WELLS

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

$100,000 LADY CANTERBURY STAKES

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.

 

$100,000 MYSTIC LAKE MILE

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.

$24,000 SKIP ZIMMERMAN STAKES

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.

 

14,455 Enjoy Father’s Day Card

Hammers_Terror_Brooks_Fields_StakesThere is nothing like horse racing for destroying a person’s spirit one instant and then restoring it a few minutes later. These are the vicissitudes of a sport that can present more ups and downs, more highs and lows, than the Wild thing at Valley Fair. You can be a dejected loser one moment and an exuberant winner the next.

That’s exactly how the feature events played out on a glorious Father’s Day at Canterbury Park Sunday. The unbeaten Heliskier went to his knees, reportedly cut his face, on the break and was taken by van from the track. Then the odds-on favorite in the feature event of the day, the $50,000 Brooks Fields Stakes, did all that was expected of him to balance the scales for the day.

For whatever reason, much of the crowd of 14,455 departed immediately following Heliskier’s race. Perhaps that answers a question for Marlene Colvin, Heliskier’s owner, who wondered before the race: “Do you think this large crowd is here to see him?’’

Well, the case now can be made that perhaps it was.

Perhaps Father’s Day and a solid card were factors, too.

HELISKIERDerbyFinish

In any event, Heliskier’s (pictured above winning the Minnesota Derby in 2012) unbeaten winning streak ended at seven, and a tearful Colvin approached the winner’s circle afterward seeking information on her horse.

Rider Derek Bell, visibly upset, made conflicting statements afterward but left the strong impression that Heliskier was probably OK but that erring on the side of caution was the best approach in this case. Reading between the lines it seemed apparent that Bell was cautiously confident he horse would recover but wasn’t willing to push his luck after the gate incident.

The day’s activities included a horseshoe toss that included Daily Racing Form correspondent Ted Grevelis. “I didn’t realize how far that toss was,” he said afterward. His efforts drew a comment from a pressbox know-it-all who said, “I had a horse who could throw a shoe with more accuracy than that.”

Grevelis later took umbrage with the behavior of several fans during the running of Heliskier’s race. “When they saw him go to his knees they yelled and clapped,” he said.

Grevelis was appalled and reacted with this response. “A horse or a rider could have been severely injured and they’re clapping. I don’t get it.”

With Heliskier out of the mix, a 19-1 choice named Rainier Ice, ridden by Alex Canchari, cashed in, finishing in front of Jamaican Memories and Bizet.

Then, under sunny skies, Hammers Terror (pictured at top), winless in five races since the Mystic Lake Derby in Shakopee last July, got healthy again, leading seven others to wire, repelling challenges in the stretch run from Slip and Drive and Wild Jacob to finish in front of those two.

With three scratches in the race including the far outside two, the outside spot was left to the winner.

“That was a concern,” said winning rider Dean Butler, who had four winners on the card, “But once I brought him over he settled nicely.”

Butler moved his horse up gradually to the front where he prefers to run and the son of Artie Schiller took charge on the lead (full race replay below).


SKIP ZIMMERMAN MEMORIAL STAKES

Trainer Stacy Charette-Hill considered sending Stone Cottrell, a five-year-old gelded son of Sc Chiseled in Stone back to the farm to freshen up when the Remington Park meet concluded this spring.

Then her husband and assistant trainer, Randy, intervened. “There is a stakes race at Canterbury Park called the Skip Zimmerman that he could run in,” he said.

Stacy had a response. “This horse can’t run 350 yards,” she said. Indeed, he had not gone more than 350 yards in some time.

Then Stacy began weighing the odds. Stone Cottrell is the first baby from the dam Rainbow Riches to run at a track. “I figured if he could even get a third up here it would help his mare,” Stacy said.

Stone Cottrell did more than that in Sunday’s co-feature, withstanding a late, hard rush from A Splash of Hell to win by a head in 17.73.

“He couldn’t have gone 355 today, though,” Stacy said happily.

The win was fifth in two days at Canterbury for her stable and rider Jorge Torres, riding for the first time this year.

“He comes from a racing family,” Stacy said. “He’s ridden in some match races but hadn’t ridden this way until this year.”

The Hills are from outside Lexington, Okla., and have liked all they’ve seen of Canterbury Park since arriving. “It’s wonderful here,” she said. “The people are exceptionally cordial and nice. I’d consider bringing a big stable here if they had more than two quarter horse races on their regular cards.”

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.

Photo: Coady Photography

Video: Michelle Benson & Canterbury Television Department

Brooks Fields Stakes on Tap

Brooks FieldsWhen you walk into Churchill Downs the history of its most famous race is displayed along the upper reaches of the grandstand outside the paddock, one Kentucky Derby winner after another, starting with Aristides in 1875.

Thoroughbred racing is empty without its history, without the stories of its great horses, sires and broodmares, jockeys, trainers and founding figures.

Brooks Fields is one of them, a man who forever will be associated with Canterbury Downs and the arrival of pari-mutuel racing in Minnesota in 1985. It is not a stretch to call him ‘Founding Father.’ It seems the perfect appellation under any circumstances but even more so on Father’s Day.

He will be remembered again on Sunday, as he is each year, with the running of the Brooks Fields Stakes, a $50,000 race this time thanks to a $15,000 endowment from the Mystic Lake Purse Enhancement Fund.

Fields made his mark in the grain business and took on horse racing as a retirement endeavor. An entire industry is indebted to him for that commitment and will salute before and after the eighth race.

The likely favorite in the 7 and ½ furlong dash on the grass is 4-year-old colt Hammers Terror, the Kentucky-bred winner of the inaugural Mystic Lake Derby last summer who has shipped in from Arlington Park. Winless in two starts this year, in five since the Derby, Hammers Terror will be ridden by locally based Dean Butler.

The chief competition will likely emerge from the Mac Robertson barn, a horse named Slip and Drive who shares blood with the favorite. Both are by Artie Schiller.

Red Lead’s speed makes him part of this picture, too. Lori Keith, who rode Hammers Terror in the Mystic Lake Derby, has the mount here.

Meanwhile, family members and friends will be on hand for the Brooks Fields Stakes. Sarah Neesan, Brooks’ daughter, will present the trophy to the winning connections after the race.

Fields had a reputation as a people person. “They were his passion,” said Sarah. “He loved people.”

Even though he knew little about horse racing when he set the groundwork for its place in Minnesota, he learned to love the sport as well.

SKIP ZIMMERMAN MEMORIAL STAKES

Another tribute on today’s card will honor Skip Zimmerman, a former owner who was once the president of the Minnesota Quarter Horse Racing Association.

HUCKLEBERRY MOJITO

The $20,000-added race has drawn a field of eight for the 350-yard event. A 4-year-old filly named Huckleberry Mojito (above), trained by Ed Ross Hardy and ridden by Nick Goodwin gets a slight nod over the competition here. Mojito proved dominant last summer at Canterbury notching victories in the Canterbury Derby and Fillies Race for Hope Distaff.

Iris Cartelsbadnews, Bf Farm Boy and Red Hot Zoomer, another Hardy horse, are the likely challengers.

The MQHRA will honor its former president with this edition of the annual race. Zimmerman grew up with horses in North Dakota and got into the racing business in the early 1970s .

LOCAL IDOL GETS OUTSIDE TEST

Maybe more compelling than the feature race on Sunday is the matchup of 2012 Canterbury Horse of the Year Heliskier (below) outside of state-bred competition for the first time.

Heliskier

Unbeaten in seven starts, Heliskier is the prohibitive favorite in an 11-horse field, his largest to date.

Owned by Marlene Colvin, trained by Robertson and ridden by Derek Bell, the 4-year-old gelding is by Appealing Skier from Plana Dance.

RIDER, TRAINER WIN FOUR OF SIX MYSTIC LAKE FUTURITY TRIAL RACES

Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens had back-to-back winners on the card, piloting The Flying Whizzer at 17-1 to the winner’s circle in the second race. Stevens was on the winner in the very next race, too, Sentiment Gray.

ML Futurity Trial

Jockey Jorge Torres and trainer Stacy Charette-Hill won four of Saturday’s six quarter horse trial races for the $133,525 Mystic Lake Northlands Futurity. Charette- Hill qualified five of her six runners for the July 5 final, including fastest qualifier High Ace (pictured above) who covered the 350-yard distance in 17.692 seconds.

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.

Photo: Coady Photography