Being best of the bettors lures them to track

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 21, 2011 - 11:57 PM

Tom Anderson and Mike Ferrozzo are among the regulars at Canterbury Park, enthralled by the challenges of handicapping.

Johnny Grimm took his grandkids to the Chicago racetracks in the 1960s. There was one youngster who became hooked on those days at the track.

"I was maybe 8 when I started going with Grandpa regularly," Tom Anderson said. "Johnny was an amazing guy. He went to the track during the day and played cards at night. I don't remember him ever going to work."

And Grandma? "Ethel ... and she was very understanding."

Anderson paused. He smiled. "Like my wife," he said. "Sue. She should go straight to heaven."

The second day of live racing was being conducted Saturday at Canterbury Park, along with the simulcast of the Preakness. This combination has drawn well in the past, although the morning monsoon made for a late-arriving audience.

Neither live racing nor a Triple Crown race nor heavy rain had an impact on Anderson's decision on whether to make the short drive from his Burnsville home to the Shakopee horse palace.

Anderson can be found at his favored location on the second floor "every day," according to Canterbury sources.

"Let's not say that," he said. "Let's say 'frequently.' That sounds better. I'm here frequently."

Anderson's family moved to the Twin Cities in the early '70s, when he still was a kid. His only racetracking for over a decade occurred on occasional visits to Chicago. Then, on June 26, 1985, thoroughbred racing with parimutuel wagering started at Canterbury Downs.

"I was out here the first day, and it didn't take me long to be hooked again on horse racing," Anderson said.

Canterbury was allowed to add limited simulcasting in 1990. In 1993, the facility was closed, and it came back with new owners -- the Sampson family and Dale Schenian -- and full-blown simulcasting in 1994.

Tom Anderson, meet favorite corner location.

Anderson does most of his wagering on races from Florida and New York tracks. He also will bet Santa Anita, now that it has pulled out the poly track.

"I don't handicap poly unless I have to in a tournament," he said. "Dirt or grass. That's it for me."

Anderson tries to find winners the way Johnny Grimm did so -- by using a printed Daily Racing Form. "I don't do anything by computer," he said. "I don't pay attention to those computerized systems that are supposed to help you beat this game."

More than any form of gambling, playing the horses is a game -- a contest where an individual is trying to beat the variables involved with eight or more horses, jockeys and trainers, as well as thousands of other bettors.

"That's what I enjoy, I guess ... the competitive part of it," Anderson said.

That angle has served Anderson well over the previous several months. Last August, he was the runner-up in the "Dog Day Afternoon" handicapping tournament. This gave him one of Canterbury's two spots in the 12th National Handicapping Championship for thoroughbred racing that was held in January at the Red Rock Casino outside Las Vegas.

There were 305 qualifiers in the two-day, 30-race tournament. First place was worth $500,000, and Anderson held a strong lead after day one.

"On the second day, I had Jessica is Back at 14-1 and she lost in a photo," Anderson said. "That was a big turnaround for me. I wound up finishing third, behind a full-time horse player [John Doyle] and the guy that owns Ellis Park [Ron Geary]."

And? "Third paid 100 grand, which was OK," he said.

Twenty-five yards across the room, Mike Ferrozzo from Eagan was at a cubicle in the simulcast center. He has been in the computer industry since the 1980s. And on Saturday, he had a laptop with some figures he had generated for himself to handicap the races.

"I came to Canterbury in about '87, somehow won $200 on a quarterhorse race, and that got me started," Ferrozzo said. "I'm here every Saturday, sitting with this same group of 10, 12 regulars.

"We have our own little tournament, and today, I'm playing in a couple of other tournaments. I'll bet at home online once in a while, but I'd rather be out here at the park. Being around people that enjoy playing horses as much as you do ... that's the appeal."

Whether they lean on the Daily Racing Form or the computer, there are scores of like-minded souls that can be found year-round at Canterbury, enthusiastically trying to beat the most challenging game in gambling.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. •

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