Minnesota voters approved pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing in 1982. This was a seismic political change in our state. Tribal gambling was in its infancy with small bingo parlors. The Minnesota State Lottery would not begin until 1988.
This was amazing, that Minnesotans would be allowed to bet on horse racing at a home track. It was huge news when the track was awarded to Shakopee interests, with the opening set for the summer of 1985 (June 26, as it turned out).
I was working in St. Paul and did some “horsey’’ stuff that spring: the Florida Derby at Gulfstream, Tartan Farms in Ocala, Fla., and Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky. Seth Hancock and his people were outstanding in trying to explain Claiborne’s unequaled thoroughbred operation to a novice from Minnesota.
Plus, Secretariat was there, and he put on quite a show when he saw several people standing at the fence — racing across the back edge of his large paddock, then turning and galloping toward the fence. He came to a stop, gave us a loud whinny, and then he displayed the key appendage for a stallion.
The greatest racehorse of our lifetimes also was a showoff.
Turn to July 1988. I had been at the Star Tribune for a month and was covering the All-Star Game, where manager Tom Kelly, his coaches and five players would be representing the World Series-winning Twins in Cincinnati.
I proposed to Kelly that we rise very early on the morning of the All-Star Game, drive the less than two hours to Claiborne and visit Secretariat. Kelly enjoyed being around racehorses, often spending his mornings when the Twins were home at Canterbury, doing small jobs for trainer Chuck Taliaferro, a friend.
So, on that Tuesday morning, we took my rental car to Claiborne, and there are two things I’ll remember most:
One, Seth Hancock’s enthusiasm for talking baseball, and Kelly’s for learning the details of producing and raising champions on Seth’s magnificent farm.
Two, Kelly walking Secretariat through the shed row, and then his reaction to getting a slight kick in the legs from Big Red.
“Watch it there, big fella,’’ said Kelly, unruffled as always.
Underappreciated members of the 1987 Twins:
• Keith Atherton. As Tom Kelly tried to piece together wins in non-Viola/Blyleven starts, Atherton was always available as the complement to Juan Berenguer and Jeff Reardon.
• Les Straker. Third-most starts (26) and offered six straight of six innings or more from Aug. 17 to Sept. 20.
• Greg Gagne. He’s in Twins Hall of Fame, but do you include the shortstop when mentioning the main ingredients of the ’87 and ’91 champs? You should.
Read Patrick Reusse’s blog at startribune.com/patrick. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.