Canterbury Park will close out its 62-day season with a long weekend of racing that ends Monday. Sunday's Festival of Champions and a neck-and-neck race for the thoroughbred jockey title highlight the final days of a season in which attendance, wagering and optimism have all shown gains.
First post: 7 p.m. Friday, 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Monday
Festival of Champions
Canterbury's annual day of races for Minnesota-bred horses typically draws one of its biggest crowds of the season. This year's card features 11 races, with many of the track's best state-bred horses running for more than $400,000 in purse money.
Cam Casby of Shakopee, whose horses have won eight festival stakes races, could raise that total with Keewatin Ice and Polar Plunge. The 3-year-old Keewatin Ice, winner of this year's Stallion Auction Lassie Stakes and Minnesota Oaks, will try for her fifth victory in 10 career starts as the favorite in the $65,000 Minnesota Distaff Classic. Polar Plunge never has been out of the money in seven starts and is the top choice in the $50,000 Distaff Sprint.
The popular Nomorewineforeddie won the $50,000 Minnesota Sprint Championship in 2010 and 2011 and is favored to make it three in a row. One notable absence on festival day: Heliskier, who is expected to be named Canterbury's horse of the year. The 3-year-old gelding is taking a break after winning three stakes races this summer as he remained undefeated in six career starts.
Heliskier's trainer, Mac Robertson, already has locked up his eighth training title in a row. Heading into the final weekend, Robertson had 48 victories and $861,336 in earnings; second-place Mike Biehler had 30 victories and $396,451 in purses.
Dean Butler still could win his fourth riding title, but he will have to pass Tanner Riggs to get it. Riggs, who returned to Canterbury for the first time since 2006 after riding in Chicago, leads the jockey standings with 65 victories. Butler has 60, well ahead of third-place Derek Bell (35). In fourth place: 51-year-old Scott Stevens, having a solid season after being hampered by injuries in recent years.
On festival day, trainer Ed Ross Hardy will send out favorite Fly Eyeann in the Minnesota Quarter Horse Futurity and second choice Western Fun in the Minnesota Quarter Horse Derby, ending another fine season in Shakopee. Hardy has wrapped up his 11th training title with 23 victories in 64 starts going into the weekend; his horses have run in the money in 78 percent of their races. Nik Goodwin teamed up with Hardy for many of those victories and ran away with the quarter horse riding title, winning 21 races.
The purse-enhancement agreement with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, signed in June, appears to be having an immediate impact. The 10-year deal added $2.6 million to this year's purses, an increase of about 35 percent.
Canterbury Park President Randy Sampson said on-track wagering on live races has increased 4 percent over last year, and wagering on Canterbury's races at out-of-state locations is up 14 percent. The track also is expected to surpass last year's average daily attendance of 6,143, which would mark the fourth consecutive year that attendance has increased.
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