The Twins were in one of their low ebbs with the Twin Cities sporting public in 1985. And when Canterbury Downs brought pari-mutuel wagering to Minnesota in June, it quickly became the rage in comparison to indoor baseball.
That first short summer of racing was fantastic, and when the Downs started again in 1986, the level of excitement was even higher. We had Pick Six fever and jockey Mike Smith fever and there was a great addition to the schedule with the St. Paul Derby.
The $300,000 purse brought in Broad Brush, one of the top 3-year-olds in the country, and the stretch drive with long shot Cheapskate was astounding. Cheapskate got home by a nose and paid $146 to win on a $2 ticket.
This was the first of five St. Paul Derbies with that inviting purse:
In 1987, Cryptoclearance came to Shakopee after finishing fourth, third and second in the Triple Crown races. He lost to Lost Code, another high-class colt.
In 1988, Wayne Lukas shipped in Tejano, as beautiful a colt as you could imagine. Tejano hardly ran a step as the heavy favorite, leaving long shots Fourstardave and Hedevar the Gold to go 1-2. That exacta paid $1,936 on a $2 ticket.
In 1989, Clever Trevor won a St. Paul Derby that was the first race ever to be simulcast to other tracks from Canterbury Downs.
In 1990, Secret Hello showed up with Pat Day on his back, and they produced the biggest single paycheck ($240,000) to be taken out of a Minnesota horse race.
We were paying much less attention to Canterbury Downs by then. The Twins were in the midst of winning two World Series. Little Six bingo parlor was becoming Mystic Lake. The state of Minnesota was selling lottery tickets.
Canterbury Downs was closed in 1992. It reopened for live racing in 1995 as Canterbury Park -- with Minnesota horsemen Curt and Randy Sampson and Dale Schenian as the owners.
On Saturday, the largest purse offered since the 1995 reopening was at stake in the card's seventh race. And shocker of all shocks, it was named the Mystic Lake Derby, in recognition of the marketing pact Randy Sampson and Mdewakanton Sioux tribal leaders reached in early June.
The race for 3-year-olds came together quickly for what turned out to be a purse of $161,250. Mystic Lake contributed $100,000. And as Mystic Lake's overall contribution to purses increases in the future, the idea is to increase the prize for this event and turn it into a long-awaited successor to the grand St. Paul Derby.
There were seven colts that made it to the gate -- three Canterbury horses and four shippers. Two of those, Hammers Terror and Delegation, had gotten their recent exercise at Woodbine in Toronto. They wound up in a controversial finish for this Mystic Lake Derby.
Owner Terry Hamilton and trainer Michael Stidham decided to go with a local jockey on Hammers Terror. Hamilton was familiar with Lori Keith, No. 3 in wins in this Canterbury meeting, and she got the opportunity.
Chris Davis was an assistant trainer on site for Stidham. He passed along these instructions from Stidham to Keith: "Settle him as best you can, and if it's out front, it's out front.''
Delegation stumbled at the start, regained his stride, led briefly and then Hammers Terror settled out front in the mile race. Meantime, Gung Ho -- the 2-to-1 favorite -- was demonstrating for a second consecutive race that he's probably not a turf horse.
Delegation kept trying but wasn't making up the 1 1/2 lengths on Hammers Terror in the stretch. And then, inside 100 yards to the finish, Hammers Terror started veering to the right -- with what appeared to be a few lefthanded strokes of the whip from Keith.
Later, Keith said the horse had "ducked out from something.'' Hammers Terror got home by a length. There was both a stewards' inquiry and an objection from Delegation jockey Jermaine Bridgmohan.
The stewards looked for a few minutes, then decided Delegation wasn't going to get past Hammers Terror no matter what. The finish stayed the same: 2-Hammers Terror ($9 to win) and 3-Delegation ($4.60 to place).
Keith, a Canterbury regular since 2007, was asked how this derby win for $96,750 rated with her best. There was shyness in her smile as she replied: "This was my best.''
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. email@example.com