Racing to victory: She Can Ski among the winners for rural Adrian's Hansons
ADRIAN —Henry Hanson never tires of watching the video replay of one of the final horse races at Canterbury Park this season.
Dean Butler, the 114-pound jockey from Tampa, Fla., is the leading jockey at Canterbury Park. On Sept. 1, he rode She Can Ski, a 2-year-old filly born and raised on the Hanson farm, to victory in a six-furlong (three-quarters of a mile) race.
As the video starts to play, the gates open and eight horses are off and running. She Can Ski runs neck-and-neck alongside Rockin the Blues as they break away from the pack. Her hooves are kicking up dust as she pushes ahead faster and faster, inching her nose out ahead of her strongest competitor, and then a little more and a little more.
Finally, she breaks into the lead, but Blumin Sweetheart quickly approaches from the other side. It isn’t a guarantee yet, but as the finish line comes into sight, She Can Ski proves she can not only run — she can also be a winner.
“When I saw her coming down the stretch, I thought, ‘They’re not going to catch her today,’” reminisced Henry, who watched every move of the race from a series of television monitors inside Canterbury. Alice, meanwhile, stood in the crowd, jumping up and down after their horse made it into the winner’s circle.
She Can Ski, in her inaugural year of racing, won the Northern Lights Debutante with a time of 1:15.84 — three and a half lengths ahead of Blumin Sweetheart, the second-place finisher.
After 29 years in horse racing, the Hansons notched their biggest victory with She Can Ski — a $75,000 purse of which they collected 60 percent, or $45,000.
“It was a pretty happy occasion, I’ll tell you,” said Henry, the pride evident in his smile.
While She Can Ski’s victory at the Northern Lights Debutante was impressive, it was the icing on the cake for the Hansons. They recorded seven winning races in the 2013 season, which stretched from the first weekend in May through the second weekend in September, at Canterbury Park. The wins put the Hansons into sixth place in leading owners at Canterbury, with the second highest percentage of wins to starters of any race horse owner at the park.
As for She Can Ski, the filly was ranked ninth in the 2013 leading horses by money category, having won two races and netting $63,000.
All four of the Thoroughbreds the Hansons kept at Canterbury Park this summer notched wins. The horses included geldings Ghost Skier and Great River Skier, and another filly, Cap and Trade, who is a full sister to She Can Ski. In addition to winning seven races, the Hanson horses also notched four second-place and three third-place finishes this year out of 23 starts.
The four race horses are all offspring of Appealing Skier, a stallion the Hansons purchased from a breeder in Pennsylvania six years ago.
“He had a lot of success out there,” said Henry.
The Hansons lost the stallion last year to a heart attack, but it’s hoped his legacy will live on through his offspring.
“He was the sire of the first three stakes race winners at Canterbury on the Festival of Champions Day,” Henry said. “His sons and daughters in progeny have now won about $8 million.
“Appealing Skier was the best we’ve ever had,” he added.
Now, She Can Ski is the “most talented” race horse the Hansons own. She will race again next season at Canterbury, and the hope is that another full sister, Gold Cup Skier, will be just as competitive when she starts her racing career next year.
Meanwhile, Cap and Trade — a 2-year-old filly and full sister to She Can Ski —will be bred in February in hopes of producing future racing champions for the Hansons. Cap and Trade won her final race at Canterbury Downs on the last weekend of racing, finishing a full 12 lengths ahead of the next strongest competitor.
Path to success
The Hanson farm, located southeast of Adrian, has been home to horses ever since Henry’s ancestors settled the land in 1872.
A year before Canterbury Park was slated to open, the couple shifted their focus to Thoroughbred race horses. That was 29 years ago.
“We were always raising horses, and it was pretty intriguing with horse racing coming to Minnesota,” Henry said.
The first stallion they used in their breeding program was Success Flight, a son of racing legend and Triple Crown winner Secretariat.
“We bred most of our (five Thoroughbred) mares to him at that time,” said Henry, adding that they found “modest success” with the offspring.
“It seemed if you got one that could run, it ran well, and some didn’t run very good,” he said.
Over the next 19 years, the Hansons tried eight different stallions before finding a gem in Appealing Skier, son of Baldski — “one of the good sons of Northern Dancer,” Henry said — and Jealous Appeal.
“Appealing Skier set three new track records when he was racing and defeated some of the very best race horses of his day, including Unbridled Song in the Hutcheson Stakes,” he said. “I attribute our success — a lot of it — to Appealing Skier and a lot of it to our trainer, and a little bit to my ability to select good race horses.”
While Henry said people often do research and computer analysis to see what bloodlines “mix together,” well, he’s more old-school.
“I’ll take a mare that has the ability to win races and match her up with a stallion who’s won more races than she has,” he said. “Generally, if you have a good mommy and a good daddy, you’re going to have a good baby.”
While the racing ability of the parents is paramount to the success of the offspring, Hanson said it also takes an excellent trainer and jockey.
When first entering the horse racing arena, Worthington’s Dale Peters was the Hansons’ horse trainer. Under his tutelage, they raced horses in Iowa and Nebraska until Canterbury Park opened.
Today, the Hansons’ horses are trained by Francisco Bravo, a native Argentinian who operates a training center in Oklahoma.
“I’ve known him for 30 years,” Henry said, adding that he takes horses to Bravo in early March for training, and they remain there until the start of the racing season.
Later this fall, the Hansons will take Gold Cup Skier to Oklahoma for her initial five to six weeks of work, which will include getting broke to ride.
They currently have 16 Thoroughbreds on their farm.
To follow the Hansons and their race horses during the 2014 season at Canterbury Park, visit www.canterburypark.com.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.