Most of you have no idea who David Hooper is and what he does at Canterbury Park, and he likes it that way.
Mr. Hooper is one of our stewards (“track referees”) and is one of the very sharpest racing minds I have met in my 31 years working in this game. His opinions on whether horses should be disqualified for during-race maneuvers matters none at this moment, his legacy everything.
Hooper is 85 years old, has run the Stewards Stand at Canterbury for eight years and has worked in that capacity all over the country for 21 years. The man has worked in horse racing for 60 years, and when we close Thursday he will call it a career.
“I couldn’t be happier my career ends at Canterbury,” Hooper said. “I love it here.”
This from a man who attended/covered 40 Kentucky Derby races. I watched the 2020 Derby with Mr. Hooper, and right after Tiz the Law failed as the can’t-lose favorite Hooper said: “He didn’t seem to handle the track.” Right to the non-obvious with that opinion by the crafty judge, who has seen more than all of us combined.
To wit, Hooper has witnessed live immortality that includes Dr. Fager, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, the ’78 Affirmed-Alydar Triple Crown spine tingler and Spectacular Bid. An announcer cracked wise, “What about Seabiscuit, Man O’ War, Eclipse, Mr. Hooper?”
The Judge: “Come on, I’m not that old!”
Hooper may be 85 years of age, but his recall and work ethic still are better than the majority of people I know or with whom I work. He’s nattily attired each and every racing day and approaches his craft seriously but, too, with kindness, especially when it comes to “watching movies” with riders 50 and 60 years his junior. The well-being of the game and improvement and safety of the jockeys always has mattered immensely to David Hooper.
Mr. Hooper says the most memorable Derby of his lifetime came in 1973 when Secretariat started his Triple Crown push at Churchill Downs. “He was just a machine,” Hooper said. “Never will forget him.”
The zaniest of the 40 Derbies David attended came in 1974 when they started 23 horses, and the “Run for the Roses” was won by Cannonade, ridden by Angel Cordero, Jr. Part of Hooper’s horse racing history includes covering the game for newspapers and calling races for various outlets. On that ’74 Derby Hooper said: “Twenty three horses and 13 had green silks of some variety. That was tough.”
Hooper was broadcasting the race for The Enterprise Radio Network. In fact in 1957 and ’58 while attending the University of Pennsylvania Hooper worked and did radio for Eddie Einhorn, eventually an owner of the Chicago White Sox and head of CBS Sports. The people David has met, the experiences he has endured are priceless, yet he is as humble as they come. All facets of the game of horse racing matter to David Hooper, but when he professionally hit stride being a “judge” was his calling.
While it’s very difficult for Hooper to step away from what he has known for more than two thirds of his life, he has spent the summer in Shakopee sans the love of his life Martha, to whom he has been married for 22 years. He’s excited to get home and relax, and rightfully so — after 60 years of impeccable work in the Sport of Kings it’s time for Mr. Hooper to bask in the memories of the game.
After all, David Hooper has discovered the Winner’s Circle of life, and shortly will be “home and cooled out.”