Bill Irvine was a racetrack veteran before Canterbury Downs opened in the summer of 1985. As we novices descended on the Shakopee horse palace, he became one of my mentors and appeared in long-ago columns as “Bill the Cigar.’’
One issue faced as a new horseplayer was to determine, after a losing bet, if I should be mad at a jockey for giving my horse a lousy ride. Irvine seemed to have that theory down to a science.
Bill the Cigar still communicates with friends through notes and letters. I received a letter recently lamenting the grievous injury suffered by Anne Von Rosen, a veteran Canterbury Park jockey, in an accident at Turf Paradise (Phoenix) two months ago.
The letter was full of praise for Von Rosen: She could ride, Irvine wrote, and she always gave a best effort, while also taking care of her horse.
Bill the Cigar does not hand out such accolades for a jockey freely. They are earned. And Von Rosen was validating Irvine’s opinion this winter with an excellent meeting at Turf Paradise. She had 54 winners and was fourth in the jockey standings.
On March 11, a Tuesday, Anne finished second on Panchita Bonita in a 400-yard quarterhorse race. A couple of strides beyond the finish, the horse collapsed, landed on Von Rosen, trapped her underneath and crushed her spine.
She was transported 4 miles to a branch of the Lincoln Hospital chain. Doctors performed emergency surgery to save Von Rosen’s life. Another surgery followed to allow her to be able to sit in a wheelchair.
“The doctors I’ve seen agree that I won’t walk again,’’ Von Rosen said. “They are wrong. I’m going to walk.’’
Von Rosen was on the phone from a clinic in Frankfurt, Germany. She was transported there in mid-April to be near her family.
Anne’s injury was sustained at T-5, a thoracic vertebrae in the mid-back. She is paralyzed in the trunk and legs.
Von Rosen’s father, Jurgen, is a physician, specializing in holistic medicine. When this conversation took place, she had twice been visited by an acupuncturist recommended by her father.
“The first time, he touched my toes and feet with the needles and I felt nothing,’’ Von Rosen said. “The second time, I knew there was something there. It’s going to be a long process, but being able to feel something tells me I’m going to walk.’’
Von Rosen is 43. She came to the United States in the late ’90s to work at an equine hospital in Lexington, Ky.
“I didn’t know anybody,’’ she said. “I met a few people in horse racing and wound up at Tampa Bay Downs. People encouraged me to become a jockey.’’
Back home, the enthusiasm level for this career choice was not great. Not only is Dad a physician, but Anne has a brother who is a cardiologist.
“My dad didn’t like the idea of me being a jockey,’’ Anne said. “He thought it was dangerous. When he did come over and saw the way I could ride, saw me compete, he was proud of me.
“You could say he was right about the danger, but this was not something that happened in a race. The race was over. This was a total fluke.’’
Anne’s riding career started at a track in Fort Pierre, S.D., in 2001. It’s a short spring meeting at the Stanley County Fairgrounds. She was given a shot to ride by trainer Vic Hanson.
“You’re out in the middle of nowhere, and it’s tough riding,’’ Hanson said. “If you can ride at Fort Pierre, you can ride anywhere. And Anne could do it. The biggest part of her as a jockey always was her work ethic.’’
Through Hanson, Von Rosen wound up as a regular at Canterbury Park. For her career in Shakopee, Von Rosen has 1,645 starts, with 143 winners and $1,891,226 in purses. Overall, Canterbury, Turf Paradise, Fort Pierre and elsewhere, Von Rosen has 666 winners and $5,725,969 in earnings.
Asked to recall her best day at Canterbury, Anne mentioned the big wins on Minnesota-bred Careless Navigator, and then added:
“The wins that always felt special were when I was riding for a trainer who only had a couple of horses. I loved being able to get a win for them.’’
Hanson was talking on a cellphone Friday morning as he took a thoroughbred for a workout at Canterbury.
“Little Annie,’’ Hanson said. “We’re all missing her out here. We talk. She’s trying her best. She always has.’’