There have been track officials staring out the third-deck windows and checking on traffic flow for as long as there has been horse racing in Shakopee. In the Canterbury Downs days for live racing, from 1985 through ’92, the curses often were aimed at the high water that caused the Bloomington Ferry Bridge to be closed.
There is much better access now, with the Hwy. 169 bridge that allows multiple lanes of traffic to travel far above the Minnesota River.
Live racing returned with Canterbury Park in 1995, and the main lament has been the same you hear from golf course owners: summer weekends that are wet and dreary and cause people to stay away.
On Saturday, there was an expectation for a large crowd at the Shakopee horse palace, what with the chance to bet on California Chrome to win the Belmont Stakes and thus the Triple Crown.
Chrome was the 13th 3-year-old to arrive at Belmont Park with a chance to win the first Triple Crown since Affirmed managed the feat in 1978. The previous 12 had failed, including I’ll Have Another scratching out on the morning of the race in 2012.
Smarty Jones had an incredible back story and a wonderful name, causing him to gain huge popularity in 2004 among take it-or-leave it racing fans. Smarty appeared to have control of things in Belmont’s stretch, only to be passed near the wire by 36-1 long shot Birdstone.
Chrome carried a similar popularity on Saturday, tied to the humble backgrounds of the horse and Art Sherman, his 77-year-old trainer.
I’ve long been convinced that Canterbury has the same luck as the Timberwolves. Anything that can go wrong to have a negative impact on well-laid plans has a tendency to occur.
On a beautiful early Friday afternoon, there were entertainment seekers all over the Twin Cities taking in the warm sun and saying to beer-drinking buddies, “Let’s go out to Canterbury tomorrow and watch Chrome win the Triple Crown.”
Of course, it promptly turned cool and rainy. And then this happened to those who had arrived early for the live racing:
The pari-mutuel machines tied into United Tote in Portland, Ore., crashed before the second race scheduled for 1:18 p.m. The race was delayed for nearly 20 minutes, and finally the race either had to go or be canceled.
The horses went and Pendulum was the best of the seven claimers. When the third race came, some of the machines were back in business, but there were lines of potential bettors 20 deep who were shut out.
“How are you doing?” someone said to Randy Sampson, the Canterbury CEO, as he stood on the first floor. “Terrible,” he said.
Sampson stood forlornly for another moment and said: “We really want California Chrome to win now, so most of our crowd can go home happy.”
Adam Carter, a WCCO-AM radio reporter, already had celebrated Chrome in this Triple Crown season by cashing a Las Vegas futures book ticket at 70-1 (for $350) on the Kentucky Derby. Carter showed up at Canterbury on Saturday as a fan, wearing a green shirt and purple tie in honor of Chrome’s silks.
“I’m here to watch Chrome win,” Carter said. “I think he’s the horse finally to do this.”
Clearly, it was an opinion shared by many within driving distance. As the racing day progressed, the traffic increased, until 11,742 patrons had come to the track by the 5:52 p.m. post time.
There were numerous ladies in green dresses with splotches of purple. This was a Chrome crowd, and soon it was witnessing a familiar sight:
A winner of the Derby and the Preakness appearing to be in solid position in midstretch and then hitting the wall that exists in this 1 ½-mile test.
Chrome flattened out and finished in a dead heat for fourth with second favorite Wicked Strong. Tonalist was the winner at 9-1. The fans standing on the apron, watching the race on the scoreboard TV, were mostly glum.
A minute later, a man was walking toward the exit with a couple of friends. He threw his program into a receptacle and said: “That’s why I don’t bet.”
Only in Minnesota could you hear that from a 50-year-old man at a racetrack.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org