09/01/2013 8:16PM

Canterbury Park: Robertson gets four stakes wins on Festival Day

Coady Photography
Heliskier, ridden by Justin Shepherd, wins the Minnesota Sprint Championship by 4 3/4 lengths Sunday.

SHAKOPEE, Minn. – Trainer Mac Robertson sent out four stakes winners on Minnesota Festival of Champions Day at Canterbury Park on Sunday – three with jockey Alex Canchari in the saddle and two for owner Malkerson Stables – but the star of the day was Heliskier.

In the $55,000 Minnesota Sprint Championship, Heliskier went off as the 1-2 favorite. Jockey Justin Shepherd took back the 2012 Canterbury Horse of the Year to a stalking position behind Desert Alley down the backstretch of the six-furlong race. As the field entered the turn, Shepherd shook the reins at Heliskier, and the horse responded with a flourish.

“With a horse like this, you just hang on,” Shepherd said after Heliskier drew off to win by 4 3/4 lengths over Desert Alley.

Heliskier returned to the winner’s circle with his theme song, “Hells Bells,” playing over the loudspeaker and the crowd giving him a tremendous ovation. He paid $3 and completed the dash in 1:09.62.

Robertson’s other stakes winners Sunday included Malkerson Stables’ Congrats and Roses in the Distaff Classic and Somerset Swinger in the Distaff Sprint. Owner Bruce Malkerson credited his wife, Mary, and the Robertson team for the development of their champions.

“My dear wife foaled out both these horses out of our mare, Gate Swinger, and raised them to be the champions they are today,” Malkerson said. “And Mac and his team … no one brings along a horse better.”

Congrats and Roses won her second straight $55,000 Distaff Classic by 7 3/4 lengths over Blues Edge, completing the 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.92. She returned $4.20 as the favorite.

In the $55,000 Distaff Sprint, Somerset Swinger used a determined stretch run to catch the heavily favored Polar Plunge and win by a head. Somerset Swinger paid $12.80 after completing the six panels in 1:11.86.

Aboard both Malkerson horses, as well as $55,000 Classic champion Coconino Slim – Robertson’s fourth stakes winner on the card – was Canchari.
Canchari handled Coconino Slim confidently throughout the Classic, taking the horse from gate to wire for a five-length romp. Canchari had his best day as a jockey on Minnesota’s showcase day, winning three races, and the local product, with “Minnesota Kid” on his riding pants, could not have been happier.

“It’s a dream come true,” Canchari said. “I started working when I was really young so I could put away money and buy my own helmet, saddle, and be able to move out on my own. To be able to do this at home … it’s the best feeling in the world.”

Coconino Slim easily held off a late charge by Ghost Dance and paid $2.60 as the odds-on favorite. He completed the 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.27.

Jockey Dean Butler picked up two stakes wins on the card, sweeping the two $75,000 stakes for 2-year-olds, the Northern Lights Debutante and the Northern Lights Futurity.

In the Debutante, Canterbury’s leading jockey and his mount, She Can Ski, dueled with the favored Rockin the Bleu’s, the two fillies shooting out to a six-length advantage over the rest of the field in the six-furlong dash. She Can Ski put away Rockin the Bleu’s, and Butler held her together over the final furlong to prevail by four lengths over Blumin Sweetheart in 1:15.84.  She returned $5.40 as the second choice.

In the most exciting contest of the day, Butler guided Appeal to the King to what was officially a nose victory in the Northern Lights Futurity over You Be Gator Bait, but the margin of victory was closer to a half-inch.

Appeal to the King, who spent most of the race second to Holy Keoni, gained a brief lead at the top of the stretch but was headed by You Be Gator Bait in the lane and appeared to be beaten. Butler worked on Appeal to the King, and he gained with every stride until finally catching You Be Gator Bait with the final bob of the head.

Appeal to the King returned $16.80 and completed the six furlongs in 1:12.91. Both juvenile winners were sired by Appealing Skier, also the sire of Heliskier.

The crowd of 15,032 wagered $397,938, down slightly from last year, but the offtrack handle was $480,154, a Festival Day record and an increase of 16.4 percent over last year.