Tomorrow is the 17th renewal of Minnesota Festival of Champions Day and it was originated to celebrate the best horses bred in Minnesota much along the lines of Maryland Millions or Cal Cup Day. Not all the races have been contested every year but each year it is looked to anxiously by Minnesota owners hoping to have their baby crowned a champion right here on the home turf in front of family and friends. It’s a bittersweet day, though, since it also marks the end of live racing for the year. Looking forward to live racing is what gets a lot of us through the long winters here and to have it be over so quickly amazes me every year.
I don’t know a lot about Quarter Horse racing except that they sure are fast! I’m not going to get into any detail on the two QH stakes except to give you my selections based upon very little!
Minnesota QH Futurity 350 Yards
Selection: Seis It Fast
Minnesota QH Derby 400 Yards
Selection: Six It Up
On to the thoroughbred races on the card now.
Minnesota Distaff Classic – 1 1/16 Miles, Dirt
A disappointing five horse field heads into the starting gate. Interesting side note in the race, only two trainers are competing for top honors here: Mac Robertson and Gary Scherer.
1 Sheso Dazzling (Robertson/Martinez): Started the season with a dazzling MSW win, trouncing a field of 9 by over 15 lengths and barely breaking a sweat doing it. Her next start was at Prairie Meadows, looking for some of that slot money, where she finished a healthy 2nd in a $29,000 allowance. Back home again she nabbed a $19,000 state bred allowance before taking the last seven weeks off after moving from the Von Hemel barn over to Robertson’s care.
2 Nokomis (Scherer/Bell): It’s kind of hard to tell where she fits among Minn breds since she spent her life in Kentucky where she didn’t do much but is two for two here at Canterbury. I don’t think she’s near close to Chick Fight, but a step up from her last could get her on the board.
3 Chick Fight (Robertson/Butler): The 4-5 ML favorite is Chick Fight. She came back from her year off to lose a nose decision to Special Occasion in the Lady Slipper but won her three subsequent sprints over the main track. Where she has faltered has been trying longer or the turf course. She’ll be flying from the gate and most likely will still be in front at the wire. Class should win this for her, though I really don’t LOVE her over this distance.
4 Shasha’s Fierce (Scherer/Eikleberry): A nice racehorse who has really perked up since asked to go two turns, but I think she will be behind the top two. She was clearly second best in the Minnesota Oaks and if two turns is really her calling, then look out.
5 Chasin Mason (Robertson/Cardoso): While you like to think that every horse has a chance and that’s why the run the race, you can throw out Chasin Mason from the outside. The mare hasn’t won since October 2009 and has only competed at the $4000 and $5000 levels.
Minnesota Distaff Sprint Championship – 6 Furlongs, Dirt
Another six horse field headed by the brilliant speedster Bella Notte.
1 Special Occasion (Padilla/Rivera): 11-1 winner of the Lady Slipper who clearly benefitted from the speed duel between super fillies Chick Fight and Bella Notte. Two seconds since then but one was a sound defeat at the hands of Chick Fight sprinting 6.5.
2 Her Sweet Saint (Hanson/Keith): 3-year old winner of the Frances Gentner but destroyed in the Minnesota Oaks it’s pretty clear that this one prefers sprinting.
3 Downerbythemeadow (Johnson/Arroyo): This is the lady that Special Occasion wants to see pushing Bella Notte on the lead. While she can do it for a few strides, there is no way she keeps up and she’ll do little damage to the favorite.
4 Becker County Miss (Johnson/Rincon): Beaten by Special Occasion by 12 lengths earlier this season while both were losing to Chick Fight. She certainly has some talent and hopes her stablemate can wear down the top choice, but it’s going to be a tough one.
5 Bella Notte (Robertson/Eikleberry): Bella Notte comes into this race having just dismantled a field of $62,000 Optional Claimers in Chicago and looks very sharp. She was able to hold sway in the Princess Elaine this year, but in her two losses she was pressured from the get go and she faded near the wire. In the Lady Slipper it allowed Special Occasion to sneak through and nip Chick Fight by a nose. Tough to see that happening again.
6 Shot of Silver (Rhone/Butler): Solid $10,000 claimer but could be out of her element in here.
So is there a lady in here that can push Bella Notte from the beginning and give Special Occasion the chance to get the upset again? The only other early speedster in the race is Downerbythemeadow and she just does not seem to have the class to stay with Bella Notte for very long. The exacta looks to be solid with Bella Notte over Special Occasion. Should she prevail, it would give Mac Robertson four Distaff Sprint titles in a row and the first back to back wins by a horse since Nidari in 2000-2001.
Becker County Miss
Minnesota Turf Championship – 1 Mile, Turf
1 Sir Tricky (Robertson/Martinez): While not the class he once was (2008 Sprint Champion), in this short field he could be dangerous and is coming off of back to back wins in mid-level open claiming company.
2 Sarahs Son (Robertson/Bell): Robertson trainee is looking to be a back to back Turf Champion. He’s having another solid year winning the Blair’s Cove and finishing 2nd in his other three races. He’ll be closing hard to try and finish this field off.
3 Mack’s Blackhawk (Jensen/Goodwin): The pacesetter should be Mack’s Blackhawk a four year old gelding that finished third behind Sarahs Son in the Blair’s Cove and then took two in a row while posting a nice 80 Beyer while being bumped in his tune up for this one.
4 Minnesota Mafia (Scherer/Rivera): Mare Minnesota Mafia looks to be out of her element here. She’s coming off the turf for this one but does not look like the same mare since she threw her rider at Remington Park last fall.
5 Luvin George (Rarick/Eikleberry): Coming in off of his $25,000 Maiden Claiming win, though he’s improved considerably on the turf. I don’t think he’s improved THAT much.
6 Beau Named Sue (Miller/Olesiak): Numbers seem to fit and it was nice looking back over her PPs and recalling how she was beat by Fizzy Pop last summer. I don’t think he has the class to beat the top in here.
Northern Lights Debutante – 6 Furlongs, Dirt
Too many with too few starts to break down the entire field of two year old fillies.
Co favorites going in are Congrats and Roses who is two for two in her brief career and Esprit de Bleu whose only race was an absolutely dominating debut win, smoking a MSW field of 9 by almost 11 lengths. She hasn’t been back since that June 17 win, but has been working steadily with a sharp 5 furlong gate work last week.
Everybody seems to want the lead from the open in this one – everyone except the Bernell Rhone trainee Sam’s Grindstone. She would really need to step it up here in order to win, but should Esprit de Bleu not have the class to hold off the entire field early, look for Sam to come late and try and steal this thing. That’s where the value bet is going to be and I’ll have a small wager and use her in the exotics.
Esprit de Bleu
Congrats and Roses
Minnesota Sprint Championship – Six Furlongs, Dirt
1 Timber Hills (Rarick/Goodwin): Still a maiden after being DQ’d from victory in a $25,000 Maiden Claimer in June, this one will need to really step it up to break his maiden in here.
2 Coconino Slim (Porter/Shepherd): A bit of unknown, lost by a head in his debut but bounced back to win next out impressively, though these are his only two starts of his career. Whether he can step up in here without the seasoning that the others have is the question.
3 First Captain (Hanson/Keith): First Captain was a bit warmer earlier in the meet but seems to have tailed off more recently while tackling tougher than before. This group is even tough than those so I don’t see her breaking through here.
4 Bet Your Boots (Bethke/Rivera): Last year’s Minnesota Futurity winner has had a nice year with stakes wins in Nebraska, Manitoba and right here in Shakopee in the VS Meyers and a nice second place showing in the Minnesota Derby. He’s much more suited to this distance, though.
5 Nomorewineforeddie (Riecken/Butler): Comes in as the slight morning line favorite. Last out was a third place finish in a $35,000 Optional Claiming race but if you look to the right, it’s hard to see a more troubled trip line! Stumbled at the start,boxed in, blocked and then steadied. Wow.
6 Bizet (Padilla/Eikleberry): The defending champion finished behind Nomorewineforeddie in their last prep for this race – though neither won – while Bizet easily handled him, and everyone else, in the 10,000 Lakes earlier in the season with Bet Your Boots getting schooled by his elders in that one.
7 Mack’s Monarch (Huntington/Luark): Really the only horse in the race that consistently likes to try and wire the field – odd for a sprint race – but class is decidedly against him in here.
This race has produced several multiple winners over the years including Iwazza Bad Boy, Ryans Moment and Careless Navigator twice each and Crocrock who scored three times in a row and then nailed a fourth in five years. Bizet is back this year to try and stake claim as another back to back champion but it won’t be easy.
I think the three in the middle are the biggest threats to win this thing and there are things to like about each. With three and a half months of maturity in him and a move back to a sprint, I like Bet Your Boots in this one.
Bet Your Boots
Northern Lights Futurity – Six Furlings, Dirt
With three maidens and every other horse in the race only having won once, this one is a bit of a more wide open affair than the others today. Only three of the horses in the race have another race in them after their maiden wins, two of those in a stakes and only ML favorite Mondavi is stakes placed.
Truly no one stands out in what is essentially a first level allowance race. There are a couple of impressive first out winners in here like Bernell Rhone’s Samendra and Mondovi. Another first time winner was Mr. Bubba Cat, but it’s hard to hang your hat on a three and a half furlong race. Especially since he hasn’t been back since that race in June and returns with Lasix.
In this one I’m going to go with Samendra. If he can improve off of that first out race he could have his way with this field.
Minnesota Classic – 1 1/16 Miles, Dirt
With defending champion, and my horse crush, Perfect Bull, out with an injury this season, the field of seven is not dominated by a single contender but does have some old warriors as well as a youngster trying to stake claim to the meets top three year old colt or gelding.
1 Suddenly Silver (Robertson/Eikleberry): Last year’s classic runner up draws the rail and the mantle of luke warm morning line favorite. In only four starts this season he is waiting for his first win. His efforts haven’t been poor at all, but neither have they been impressive placing in each race since losing in his debut in the 10,000 Lakes. He seems to have been pointed for this one though and with these connections that always means trouble for everyone else.
2 Cubfanbudman (Riecken/Butler): Beyers have been decent and a nice third place in open allowance company last out while encountering some trouble could signal that he is ready to take the next step.
3 Tsar Tops Dancer (LIftin/Rivera): Upset Minnesota Derby winner really came to life his first time around two turns winning at an amazing 29-1 while dueling for the lead much of the way. His speed figures tend to put him a step behind some of his older rivals, but if truly has woken up and smelled the coffee going longer, he could very well take another step forward today.
4 Wally’s Choice (Biehler/Bell): The “Old timer”, a nine year old gelding and two time winner of this race has had a less than marginal season, running six times but his best finish being a fourth. He may have seen better days, but he’s still a joy to watch run.
5 Crypto Edition (Robertson/Cardoso): I’d be very surprised if a $7500 claimer can step up and win this race.
6 Banker’s D Light (Van Winkle/Keith): Shipping home to run in this one, if I don’t think a $7500 claimer can win this race, I certainly don’t think that a horse that has run – and not won – for as low as $4000 can win it either.
7 Jack and Max (Robertson/Martinez): The third Robertson entry in the race. Allowance winner may try and wire this field, but it’ll be tough to do coming from the outside, especially if Suddenly Silver wants the lead today from the rail.
In a field with no real stand out, it’s hard to tell who to pick. I think that the way the race will unfold is that Suddenly Silver may end up having things his own way and could very well prevail on the front end. Last season was a short one for him, similar to this one where he was pointed right at this race but fell short against champion Perfect Bull. He’ll give you a game effort every time and the distance will be more to his liking than what he has run in the past.
Tsar Tops Dancer
Jack and Max
I will be blogging live tomorrow from high atop Canterbury Park thanks to Jeff Maday and his staff at the track. I hope you’ll pop in from time to time on-line and join me as I provide live updates all day long from the track.