Monday, September 5, 2011

Minnesota Festival of Champions Day

The crowd of the year turned out for the event of the year at Canterbury Park yesterday.  The 18th Minnesota Festival of Champions, the state championships of racing, was contested before a Festival record crowd of 11, 214.  The rain held off until the end of the card and the seven stakes races were decided.  Here is a brief recap of the day.

Minnesota Distaff Sprint

What was thought to be the swan song for Bella Notte was a winning one.  Outbreaking the field and continuing onward for the win, Bella Notte leaves the track a Minnesota champion.  “We’re thrilled.  It’s a great way to the end the season,” said owner Gretchen Eaton.  After two strong races, it is unclear now whether the 7-year old mare will be retired.

Minnesota Sprint

Nomorewinforeddie, whose last win came in this race last season, made it back to back sprint championships with an impressive wire-to-wire performance.  Jockey Dean Butler found himself in front early and never looked back.  “I thought that there would be a little bit of pressure,” Butler said.  “He was doing it so easy.” He easily did it to the tune of a 5 length victory.

Northern Lights Futurity

Heliskier lived up to his billing as he coasted to victory in the 2-year old male stake, simply blowing the field away by 10 and probably could have won by 20 if jockey Derek Bell so chose.  When asked if thoe horse felt like more of a sprinter or could go long, Bell said, “He’ll be able to do anything you want with him.  He’s very talented and will be a lot of fun next year.” 

Owner Marlene Colvin, whose late husband, Bun Colvin, broke the colt himself and passed away earlier this year, said touchingly, “My husband broke him.  He told me, ‘Marl, this is the one’.” 

This one's for you, Bun.

Minnesota Classic

Black Tie Benny, attempting to be the second horse to sweep the Futurity, Derby and Classic, unfortunately bowed a tendon and was eased under the wire.  Former stablemate, Jaival, claimed last time out by Valerie Lund out of the Bernell Rhone Stable, stormed through the lane to take command and win by four lengths.

“This is the first Minnesota bred I’ve ever had,” said Lund.  “He had been training marvelously and we gave him a chance in here.”

Minnesota Turf

The heaviest favorite of the day, Tubby Time, looked like he could have been beaten in the lane as Mack’s Blackhawk, caught in a pace battle early, battled strongly into the stretch but finally tired, succumbing to Tubby Time in final 16th of a mile.  With the win, Tubby Time has marked himself as the clear favorite for 2011 Canterbury Horse of the Year – quite frankly I’m not sure which other horse would get my vote.  I just don’t think Tabby’s wins were quality enough!

Northern Lights Debutante

The parade of favorites continued with the Cam Casby bred and owned Keewatin Ice overcoming a slow start and some traffic issues to charge past pacesetter Jills Summer Raine.  Keewatin Ice remains undefeated in two starts and sets up as an early contender for the 2012 Minnesota Oaks.

Minnesota Distaff Classic

Odds on favorite, Sheso Dazzling could have been expected to win by nearly 10-lengths.  Instead, it was the unheralded Tez Savitri, owned by Kissoon Thoroughbreds and trained by Bernell Rhone, who closed mightily through the lane to draw off and win by 9 ½ lengths at 10-1, the longest price of the Festival Day stakes.  Ironically, Classic winner Jaival was bred and owned by the Kissoons and trained by Rhone before being claimed away by Eight Ender Stables LLC and trainer Valerie Lund, so the victory was especially sweet.

As the rain came down to end the day, 35-1 longshot Dancehall Roxie broke her maiden and sent a lucky few in the crowd home with a big payoff.  For the most part, the Festival races were a bit chalky until the end, but the performances, especially by Heliskier, were very strong.  Mac Robertson trained three winners on the day, upping his Festival Day lead in wins to 17 while Derek Bell, riding all three Robertson winners, pushed his total to 23.  While attendance was up, handle was as well.  Year over year on track handle for Festival Day was up nearly 18% - and in 2010 there was one additional race on the card.  Just goes to show you, when you put on a good show, folks will STILL come out to the racetrack.

Congratulations to all the winners and to the folks at Canterbury Park for a job very well done.

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