First off, let us give thanks to United Airlines and their weekly Internet special e-fares. $109 round trip to Minneapolis is a far, far better thing than 8 hours of driving in either direction. Even factoring in the cost of a fine rental Chumpmobile (National, official sponsor of the NTRA).
--- Canterbury Park, Shakopee, MN, Aug. 7-8 ---
Upon arrival at the Canterbury Park parking lot (free), an unusual sight greeted the eyes which was not in evidence the last time I was in these parts: parking lot attendants, directing patrons to specific parking spots. These did not appear to be professional parking lot attendants, such as the Nazis employed by the Chicago White Sox, as they seemed to have frequent disagreements amongst themselves as to how to best park the patrons, but they did the job and got the folks parked. To the comment "You must be expecting quite a crowd today" came the answer "They're expecting 15,000", so I guess it was a good idea to have parking lot attendants in the employ on a day like that. Oh well, my spot was only marginally less attractive than what I might have selected myself, and the rent-a-Chumpmobile voiced no complaint.
A brisk hike over to the grandstand entrance revealed an imposing line of patrons waiting to get in, as the doors had not yet opened, but then the sun came out which made a hike back to the car for the sunglasses the better part of valor. Upon the return the line had disappeared, the patrons having been admitted, and the act of Park entry was relatively painless. Admission on the day: $4.00, but that included a program.
Once inside, I immediately approached the Information kiosk to inquire how to get on up to the Press Box, and a very kind and helpful lady there personally escorted me to the elevator leading to same with excellent directions on what to do when I reached the third floor. On the third floor another very friendly and helpful lady escorted me to the stairs leading up, and soon I blundered my way into the Press Box for my prearranged meetup with Mark Cramer. Many introductions all 'round with the Press Box crowd, and some discussion of the day's card (not much help from me, as the flight had been short and I'd not handicapped too many races). Also a very kind offer from Director of Media Relations Sheila Williams for a press pass and a chance at the Press buffet coming up later, but with an Internet heckler's accusation that I've been consorting with the likes of Dave Feldman and chowing down on buffets still stinging my virtual ears (yeah, right), I politely declined, and headed back down to the proper realm of chumps, the apron, where you can't see anything but what's actually going on at a track.
Back down on ground level, the old urge to explore overcame the not-so-urgent need to handicap the rest of the card, and it was discovered that there was a lot of Canterbury I didn't see when I was there previously, like for instance the big deck of free seats down at the left end of the outdoor mezzanine level seating, and the absolutely outstanding little patio under the left end of the grandstand with the little tiki type bar serving up oil cans of Foster's Lager ($4.50), and the kids playground, and the little covered party area down on the right side, and all sorts of cool places to hang. It's really quite the accommodating track for every type of patron.
Eventually, time passed as time usually will, and four long paragraphs later, the Claiming Crown card started up and I was forced to actually confront the actual handicapping of a card which I hadn't handicapped hardly at all earlier. Except for the first two races, turf races for local horses, which I was sure I had nuked. Two failed tri's later, with 2 of 3 horses correct and the 3rd wrong both times, I decided it was time to abandon the tri betting strategy.
The third race on the card was the first race of the Claiming Crown series, the Iron Horse at 1-1/16 miles for 3+ horses that had started for a claiming price of $5000 or less twice in the past year. There were two decent Chicago horses in this race, shipped up by owner Robert Lothenbach, and even though I'd previously stated my intent on this List to back the Chicago animals against those from other circuits, Mark had informed me of an interesting fact, which was that in the time he'd been at Canterbury not a single HAW horse had come up to Cby and won at 1st asking. So earlier I had gone down and checked out the track, and it is of totally different composition than the Chicago tracks, way more black loam than sand, and I decided that maybe my original plan for betting might suck. As a result, I backed a relative longshot, the #5 A Point Well Made from PrM (also had a very positive ROI, jock with trainer), and I made a good chunk of change when this animal romped in 1st at a long price. For a brief moment, I was The King.
Drew Couto of TOBA was on hand, TOBA being the organizers of this series, and he made the initial award after this race, and Kimber Goodwin, formerly of the MD circuit but now of TOBA, did most of the hostessing throughout the day. One could not help but notice that Kimber has been, shall we say, adding a little critical mass since her MD TV days.
There was also a nice ceremony at this point celebrating jockey Laffit Pincay, who was in town to ride several V. Cerin horses in the series. After the ceremony, which we all applauded, Laffit very graciously signed autographs for awhile, so I ran on down and got my program autographed and wished him luck.
One bit of bad news came my way sometime during the card - seems even Canterbury is not immune to the limelight. Some regular box holders had been kicked out of their normal boxes/tables and moved to accommodate the special day crowd ... ahem. NG.
TVG was on hand, broadcasting the event more or less live, and Marty McGee was giving local color and presumably national coverage, so presumably this was treated like a major event in racing, which it had every right to be.
The bulk of the Claiming Crown went by in a blur, despite the 1/2 hour between races, with a brief real time break when I imposed on Internet correspondent trainer Keith Sirota to wish him luck with his horse Pioneer Spirit in the Claiming Crown Express, and then after he had won it and talked with Kimber, imposed upon him again to say congratulations. Thumbs up for Keith.
"The storm" was pretty impressive - I think. Stood in a mutuel line for about 10 minutes, noted it was raining outside, got back to my seat and noted no rain, but the toteboard out, and other power failures, with the accompanying PA explanation that a powerful storm had just blown through. Geez - I missed the whole thing. One race the track is nice and dry, the next it's a kickin' up slop mess.
Laffit won his race aboard Aplomado in the Rapid Transit, Taffy with Tim Doocy came 1st in the Tiara at a nice price giving me my 2nd big score of the day, and One Brick Shy from Louisiana Downs won the big race of the day, the $150,000 Jewel at a decent price, but I didn't have it because I am an idiot. In this race, local fave Captain Ripperton finished 3rd, a great effort for all of the folks around the track who were wearing cult Captain Ripperton t-shirts. Jockey Eddie Martin, jr., aboard One Brick Shy, gave a great interview with Kimber, using the word ma'am about 10 hundred times. And the Chicago horses won zilch, maybe one 2nd.
Overall, an excellent day of racing, with big fields of well matched horses, and a big, but not huge (getting around was never a problem), crowd of friendly Minnesota looking folks on hand. And Canterbury was the perfect host.
Tough to take it all in on just one day. And tough to bet all the races all day and end up just about even. Man does that bite.