Around the barn, Scott Rake said, his two sprinters bear little resemblance to one another. Bourbon County is an easygoing, unflappable gelding, while the filly Sky and Sea is a bundle of energy.
Rake did come up with one similarity. Both of his horses are fast, which they proved Sunday when they gave the Elko resident his first two victories in the Festival of Champions at Canterbury Park. On the track’s annual day of races for Minnesota-bred horses, Sky and Sea captured the $60,000 Minnesota Distaff Sprint Championship, and Bourbon County took the $60,000 Minnesota Sprint Championship before a crowd announced at 13,626.
Rake’s trainer, Bernell Rhone, and fellow trainers Mac Robertson and Ed Ross Hardy each won two stakes races during the 21st annual Festival. Robertson’s Coconino Slim won the $60,000 Minnesota Classic Championship for the third year in a row, and Sioux Appeal triumphed by a head in the $75,000 Northern Lights Debutante. Hardy swept the quarter horse stakes with Furys Folly in the $38,150 Canterbury Park Derby and Tty From Mr Pye in the $39,850 Canterbury Park Futurity.
Rake owns only two broodmares, who produced all four horses he is running at Canterbury this season. Some of the $80,250 in purse money he earned Sunday will go toward more horses, he said, though he was plenty happy with the ones he has.
“We’re a tiny farm,” Rake said. “You saw my whole barn today. To take both sprints is huge. These older-horse sprints are really premier races on Festival day.”
Sky and Sea made her case for Canterbury’s horse of the year honors with her third stakes victory of the season. The 3-year-old filly surged ahead in the stretch and won by a neck over Polar Plunge, one of several thrilling photo finishes among the day’s eight stakes races.
Rhone wasn’t sure whether Sky and Sea could defeat a solid field of older mares, but he knew she would give it her all. The filly fought jockey Dean Butler when he tried to conserve her energy early in the race — and when Butler let her go, she finished with a rush, covering the 6 furlongs in 1 minute, 10.62 seconds. Sky and Sea has won five of seven career races and finished second in the other two, earning $168,700.
“She’s a very competitive filly,” said Rhone, who has 19 career victories in Festival races. “She’s got so much try in her. And she’s still a young horse.”
Bourbon County helped set the pace early in the Sprint Championship before defending champ Heliskier made a strong move to engage him in a gritty stretch battle. Bourbon County pulled away to win the 6-furlong race by 1 ¾ lengths in a time of 1:10.49, earning his fourth victory in eight lifetime starts.
Hardy’s twin victories locked up his 12th quarter horse training title at Canterbury Park. Furys Folly powered past heavily favored Dirt Road Queen — who was bumped at the start — and pulled clear to win the Derby by three-quarters of a length in 20.41 seconds. Dirt Road Queen finished .13 of a second behind as her four-race winning streak ended.
In the Futurity, Tty From Mr Pye cruised to his second consecutive victory, pushing Hardy’s season total to 17 wins — one more than Stacy Charette-Hill, last year’s champion.
Rake also cheered for North Sky, a half-sister to Sky and Sea, and Chris Mars, a half-brother to Bourbon County, in Sunday’s Northern Lights stakes for 2-year-olds. Chris Mars finished third in the $75,000 Northern Lights Futurity, another highlight of a very big day for a tiny farm with grand ambitions.
“We’re going to try to keep improving our breeding,” Rake said. “With the nature of purses in Minnesota, you’re going to have to have a really nice horse [to win]. We’re not going to stop where we’re at.’’