by Bob Gates
Like a lot of others, jockey Dean W. Kutz got his start at country fairs and riding in the bushes. However, unlike other saddlesmiths, Kutz battled the odds just to get his shot at sitting atop thousand-pound thoroughbreds.
Dean was born in Harvey, North Dakota on August 18, 1956 and raised with his 11 brothers and sisters in Carrington, North Dakota. Life dealt Dean a bit of a low blow, right off the hop. He came into this world with one kidney, and it wasn’t long before disease rendered it useless. Luckily, one of Dean’s sisters was a perfect match and the subsequent organ transplant was successful.
When Dean was two years old the Kutz’s lost their home to fire over the Christmas holidays. Together with the babysitter, Dean and two of his sisters escaped the fire and made their way through a frigid North Dakota winter’s night to a nearby farmhouse. The sitter carried Dean’s infant sister, while the two-year-old and his other sister followed.
Young Dean was forced to make the mile-long trek on his own, as the other sister was too young to carry him. He stumbled though the freezing cold, tripping many times in the snow, losing his mitts in the process. As a result, his fingers were severely frost-bitten and would be permanently stunted. And despite these health challenges, Dean never stopped pursuing his lifelong dream of becoming a jockey.
If that wasn’t enough, Dean was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1999, which he would battle for the remainder of his shortened life. Somehow through sheer determination, Dean didn’t just cope, he thrived in an occupation that is as physically demanding as it comes. They say that pound for pound, jockeys are some of the best overall athletes.
Dean’s first endeavor at a recognized racetrack came in Saskatchewan in 1972. In 1973 he made his way to Assiniboia Downs and raced here until 1978, before moving on to larger tracks in the United States.
There have been many articles written about Dean Kutz following his untimely death due to throat cancer, but none of them make mention of his time spent at Assiniboia Downs. This is great injustice to Dean and the Canadian racetrack scene.
The Downs was where Dean honed his craft, setting records for wins by a jockey and winning the Downs riding title in 1977 and 1978 when he rode “first call” for Downs’ all-time leading trainer Gary Danelson. He continued his career in the U.S. until 2002 when cancer forced him from the saddle.
Dean accomplished a great deal during his time at the Downs. Let’s look at some of the events that help shape the 30-year career of the gifted rider who would win 2,835 races and earn purses totaling $33,691,225.
-- June 13, 1973: Almost 50 years ago to the day, Dean rode his first winner at Assiniboia Downs. The horse, Ralph Kitching’s Sweet Lizanno, lit up the tote board, paying $161.70 for a $2 win ticket. Nice score!
-- July 6, 1974: Dean had five second-place finishes (Legal Harry, Miss Baby Dahl, Shady’s Style, Super Jacket, Dakota Winter), and a third (What A Gift) on the eight-race card.
-- July 1, 1977: Dean rode one of his favourites, Federal Ruler, or as he was known on shedrow, “Fud the Stud.” However the first running of the Golden Sweepstakes Handicap didn’t go as planned. Fud dumped Kutz at the gate, ran around the track riderless, but finished the race ahead of the official winner, Macale.
Controversy ensued; several riders complained that the gates didn’t open at the same time. The stewards studied the film but were satisfied that all of the gates opened simultaneously. However, they theorized that the gate bell may have sounded a split second too soon, but in the end determined that all horses received a fair start.
A short week later a similar field went to post going the same distance. This time Fud and Dean stayed together, won the by three lengths and paid a tidy $11.40, $4.10 and $3.40 across the board. Not everyone caught on to the fact that Fud had tipped his hand the week previous.
-- September 18, 1977: On this Derby Day, Dean had mounts in all ten races, winning four (Real Style, Flying Frost, Praise the Lady, Mr. Nitro), placing second twice (Ferns Beau, Morya Mista) and third once (Icy Locke).
-- October 15, 1977: Dean had eight rides on the nine-race card and compiled a record of five wins (Shot Gun Boogie, Mr. Brainard, Sherry Queen, Diamond William, Assagion) and a second (Idle Luke).
-- From 1973 to 1976 Dean won 103 races at the Downs, but by the end of the 1977 season, he had established a new record for single season wins by a jockey with 137 trips to the winner’s circle, surpassing the previous record of 111 set by Kenny “Hank” Hendricks in 1975.
-- October 1, 1978: Dean and his brother Carl scored a “natural” five-bagger. Carl kicked off the Saturday-afternoon card winning the first race (Dauphin’s Bell), while Dean won the second (Forward Lass), third (Hogan’s Duster), fourth (Dr. Pat) and fifth (Dancing River) races. In addition, Dean and his mounts finished second in races six (Mission King) and seven (Peggy’s Choice).
-- Come the end of the 1978 season Dean won his second consecutive riding title, booting home 147 winners, bettering his own record of 137 from 1977.
To cap off the year, Dean was a finalist for the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association 1978 Male Athlete of the Year.
Dean never returned to the Downs after 1978. He had agreed to ride for a large stable at Oaklawn Park and move with them to Chicago, where he would meet up with Gary Danelson.
Among his many honours, Dean received the 2001 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, as well as the 2002 Mike Venezia Award. He was inducted into the North Dakota Sports Hall of Fame and was the first jockey to be named to the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame in 2004.
Any way your colour it, Dean Kutz was an accomplished rider who overcame health issues that would have stopped a lesser man in his tracks. Dean succumbed to cancer on September 26, 2004.
In 2008, Canterbury Park opened the Dean Kutz Memorial Chapel in the stable area. The $350,000, 3,000 square foot facility included a multi-purpose area, meeting room, office and kitchen and is used for worship services and group meetings.
According to our own Gary Danelson, “Dean just looked good on a horse.” Gary really liked the way he rode “nice and low… Dean was a nice kid, who was well-liked and carried himself well.”
Current Jock’s Room Supervisor, Dwayne Addison remembered Dean as “A good, happy-go-lucky guy who was close to his siblings. He was easy to get along with and be around. Gone too soon!”
Dean Wally Kutz, fondly remembered and never forgotten by his friends at Assiniboia Downs…
Where it all began in 1973.