SHAKOPEE, MN – The weather – mostly – held off for the Minnesota Festival of Champions Day at Canterbury Park. The crowd was a bit light with the threat of thunderstorms all day but the racing was competitive and the traditional parade of favorites was certainly not part of Festival Day 2015. (For complete win, place, show payouts and race times here)
The day kicked off with two quarter horse stakes, the first was the $44,400 Futurity for 2-year olds followed by the $44,650 Derby.
Streak N Diamonds, under the meet’s leading quarter horse ride Jorge Torres, broke alertly and never looked back in taking the Futurity as the favorite, paying $4.60 to win. Streak N Diamonds had been improving with each race and was able to cap off his season with a win in the Futurity.
“I ship in from the farm and that can be unsettling,” said trainer Dale Haglund. “He just needed more practice. He really doesn’t make any mistakes and its fun to train him.”
VOs Filo was second and Sr Ur Fired finished 3rd.
In the Derby, the first long shot of the day rewarded players when 9-1 Fishin in the Brook led from gate to wire and triggered a $21.20 win mutual. Tty from Mr Pye was second while odds on favorite Cokato Cartel was relegated to third.
After a long delay in race three with two horses getting loose in the 2-year old maiden race, the thoroughbred stakes got underway with the $60,000 Minnesota Distaff Classic at a mile and a 16th.
A pair of 3-year old fillies who exchanged blows in the Minnesota Oaks, Sioux Appeal and Silver Magna, were both facing older for the first time, including defending champion Talkin Bout. However the defending champ was taken out early when she stumbled coming out of the gate. Though she was able to rush up into contention, she was flat late.
Silver Magna ($10.40), who had gate troubles in her own that may of cost her the Oaks against Sioux Appeal, broke clearly and tracked the early leader, Blues Edge, through three quarters when she stuck her head in front and was never threatened to the wire winning by 3 1/2 for trainer Mike Biehler.
An objection lodged by the trainer and jockey of Dear Fay, who was carried outside through the turn for home a bit by the winner, was disallowed.
“She switched leads a few jumps early and moved to the outside a little bit,” said winning rider Giovanni Franco. “I set her off the pace and she just took care of the rest.”
Blues Edge held on for 2nd while Sioux Appeal was third.
The Minnesota Distaff Sprint featured the last three defending champions: Sky and Sea, Somerset Swinger and Polar Plunge but the day belonged to Rockin the Bleu’s.
The four year old filly, bred and owned by Deb and Jeff Hilger’s Bleu Valley Farm, stole the show. Toiling during the season in open company where she acquitted herself well but didn’t have a win to show for herself, Rockin the Bleu’s moved back into state bred company for the Sprint and was largely overlooked in the wagering and allowed to go off at 16-1.
Canterbury Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens kept Rockin the Bleu’s ($34) just off the early pace set by defending champion Sky and Sea. As the field turned into the lane, Gypsy Melody ($3.40) took a brief lead as Rockin the Bleu’s (3.80) gradually ground into the margin and crossed the wire 3/4 a length ahead of Gypsy Melody and Sky and Sea giving trainer Mike Biehler his second win on the Festival Day card.
“She’s all heart,” said owner/breeder Jeff Hilger. “We’ve had a wonderful ride with the ‘Bleu’s’ and she’s the end of the line.”
Jeff and his wife, Deb, both Canterbury Park Hall of Famers, are retiring from the business after giving so much of themselves to racing and the industry in Minnesota.
The rookies were up next in the $80,000 Northern Lights Debutante and the Northern Lights Futurity.
While Pecos was the first Minnesota bred 2-year old to win three races and Stella’s Princess was sent off as the favorite off the strength of her overpowering maiden win, lightly regarded but one for one filly La Petite Cheri provided the largest mutual payoff of the day ($59.80).
Pecos and Stella’s Princess led the field through the first half mile of the six furlong race but the two top choices faltered rounding the turn and the field swallowed them up. Emerging late was Honey’s Sox Appeal and Moonlight Basin, an impressive maiden winner last out, but La Petite Cheri under Hugo Sanchez went right on by them both and drew off to win by 3 1/4. Honey’s Sox Appeal was second ($10.20) with Moonlight Basin 3rd ($5.00).
“After the first race, Dean [Butler] thought that closers would get it done,” said Russ Sampson. “And that was the case today. This filly overcame sickness and injury and it made her a better racehorse. She sure can run.”
In the boys division, the only question was: which Francisco Bravo trained horse would win?
Bravo managed to take down the trifecta in the Futurity when Smooth Chiraz and Cupid’s Delight battled around the track with Smooth Chiraz ($5.40) prevailed by a head over his stablemate ($5.00). The were joined on the board by stablemate and post time favorite, Pensador ($2.40).
“This really has been a phenomenal year,” said Bravo. “The 2-year olds have been terrific and this is the most exciting experience you can imagine.”
What looked on paper to be the mortal lock of the day, Bourbon County ($3.00) in the Sprint, lived up to expectations. The big gelding was getting back on the dirt, back to sprinting and back against state breds and ran like a monster. He let the early pacesetters go and once they turned for home he got his big head in front and the outcome was really never in doubt. Le Da Cowboy Rock ($3.80) finished second and Prayintheprairie ($3.80) third.
“I was sitting behind the six horse,” remarked jockey Dean Butler after the race, “and he was pretty eager, so I said ‘let’s go big daddy’ and went.”
The Classic shaped up to be a battle between veteran AP is Loose and sophomore phenom Hold for More. Hold for More had reeled off six straight wins including an undefeated 3 year old campaign which saw him take three stakes victories.
AP is Loose handled an open allowance group before taking the Blairs Cove Stakes midway through the season and headed into the race off of two seconds in $35,000 open optional claiming company over the turf.
Hold for More took the early lead and opened up two on the field, but Alex Canchari aboard AP is Loose kept a close eye on the leader and never let him get too far away.
“Mac [Robertson] gave me free rein,” said Canchari. “He really was just much the best today.”
AP is Loose ($6.40) reeled in the 3-year old through the turn for home in the mile and a 16th Classic and opened up that margin to 3 1/2 to the wire. Hold for More ($3.20) was clearly second best with 10 1/2 lengths between him and 3rd place finisher Hansboro ($6.00).
FESTIVAL DAY BY THE NUMBERS
Festival Day drew 10,126 fans to Canterbury, off about 25% from 2014 when the weather was picture perfect.
On track handle correspondingly slid, though only 13.4% from $373,383 to $323,325.
Per capita on-track wagering, however, rose 14.4% from $27.90 per person to $31.93 per person.
Out of state handle rose slightly and set a record for Festival Day wagering at $501,957.
Total wagering on the event was down 4% from 2014 – $859,826 to $825,282.
Average field size increased slightly year over year from 8.18 to 8.27 for the day while the field size for the eight stakes increased more significantly from 7.38 to 8.