Canterbury Park enjoys rebirth for 2013 racing season

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 17, 2013 - 1:03 PM

A significant infusion of tribal funds has dramatically changed the racing landscape at Canterbury Park.

During the Minnesota winter, when Canterbury Park’s empty barns are blanketed with snow, Mark Stancato works his sales pitch. The stall superintendent for the Shakopee track visits with horse trainers around the country, trying to persuade them to spend the summer racing at Canterbury.

Declining purses had made it harder and harder for Stancato to close the deal in recent years. But last winter, he needed to say only one thing: Canterbury had signed a deal with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community that would infuse $75 million into its purse fund over 10 years. “We have 25 new stables coming, and some of them we didn’t even recruit,’’ said Stancato, who has managed Canterbury’s barns for most of the track’s 27-year history. “The money did the recruiting for us.’’

As Canterbury prepared to open a 69-day racing season Friday, Stancato wrestled with an entirely different problem — how to find room for everyone who wants to be part of it. He received 2,500 applications for 1,500 stalls and expects all to be filled for the first time. Many returning trainers have expanded their stables, and several owners have bought higher-quality horses. There are some powerful new stables, including 30 horses owned by Midwest Thoroughbreds, the nation’s leading owner for the past two years.

The deal with the tribe that runs Mystic Lake Casino will add $5.3 million to this season’s purses, inflating them to about $190,000 per day — twice the level paid in 2011 and close to the amount offered at top Midwest tracks such as Chicago’s Arlington Park and Iowa’s Prairie Meadows. The tribe also is paying Canterbury $600,000 this year for marketing. That money has helped fund a new $1.5 million digital tote board and a giant video screen near the paddock.

The additional purse money will allow Canterbury to run its longest meet since 2006. According to president Randy Sampson, it also is allowing the track — and Minnesota’s horsemen — to plan for the future for the first time in years.

“It’s a game-changer,’’ Sampson said. “After so many years of uncertainty, people are really excited.’’

That includes people such as Dean and Teresa Benson. As Canterbury’s low purses caused people to get out of the racing business, Teresa Benson said her family was thinking of converting some of its 40-acre horse operation to farmland or development. This spring, 23 foals were born at their Wood-Mere farm near Webster — three times as many as in 2012 — and trainers who can’t get enough stalls at Canterbury have inquired about keeping horses there.

“We haven’t seen that for years,’’ Benson said. “People go where the money is. There hasn’t been this much excitement in a long time.’’

Sudden infusion

As other tracks around the country increased their purses via revenue from slot machines, Canterbury’s purses did not keep pace. Funded by wagering on live and simulcast horse racing, as well as a portion of revenue from its card club, the track’s purses had declined from $149,767 per day in 2006 to $114,319 per day in 2011.

Low purses and a short racing season made it challenging for horsemen to simply break even. As many trainers chose to run elsewhere, many breeders also cut back or got out of the business. Last year, only 96 thoroughbred foals were born in Minnesota, declining for the seventh consecutive year to an all-time low.

The agreement with the Shakopee Mdewakanton tribe had an immediate impact. After it was signed June 4 — just a few weeks into the 2012 racing season — an infusion of $2.7 million boosted purses by 35 percent. Total purses this season will be about $12 million, compared to $6 million in 2011.

Word of the unique deal spread through the national racing community. Stancato was so overwhelmed by requests for barn space that he had to give several trainers fewer stalls than they wanted, and Canterbury’s stable area opened a week early to accommodate demand.

Bernell Rhone was given 54 stalls, the maximum allowed, and still had to send some of his horses to the nearby training center run by his brother Russ. Rhone has raced at Canterbury since it opened in 1985, despite diminishing purses that made it hard to earn a living. He kept coming back for two reasons: He liked the track, and his Minnesota clients wanted to see their horses run, even if they couldn’t earn enough purse money to cover their costs.

This year’s expanded season means more opportunities to race, and purses for all but the lowest levels of competition have increased by as much as $10,000 per race. Purses now are high enough for owners to actually turn a profit with a good horse, which encouraged some of Rhone’s clients to invest in better-quality stock.

“Instead of buying a cheap horse for $5,000, some people are spending $16,000 or $20,000 or $25,000 on a horse,’’ said Rhone, who also has some new clients lured by the purse increase. “Before, they were just hoping to have fun and break even. With the purses now, you can pay for a $25,000 horse and try to make some money. That has people a lot more excited.’’

Better racing

The competition, however, will be sharper. The new stables include Robertino Diodoro, a trainer whose 43 victories at tracks in California and Canada rank 23rd in North America, and Midwest Thoroughbreds, which has become one of the most successful racing operations in the country.

  • related content

  • Johnny Love picks the Preakness

    Friday May 17, 2013

    The Star Tribune handicapper likes Orb to win Saturday's Preakness and thinks he has a shot at horse racing's Triple Crown.

  • Johnny Love's Canterbury Park line

    Thursday May 16, 2013

    JOHNNY LOVE’S CANTERBURY LINEPost time: 6:30 p.m. Best bet: Bless My Halo (8th race). Best play: 50 cent Pick 4...

  • Photo gallery: Canterbury prepares to open

    Thursday May 16, 2013

    The season of horse racing starts Friday, May 17.

  • Chart: Canterbury Park season information

    Friday May 17, 2013

    CANTERBURY PARK in 2013Canterbury Park in Shakopee opens a 69-day racing season — its longest since 2006 — on Friday.THE...

  • Canterbury Park was so overwhelmed by requests for barn space that it had to give several trainers fewer stalls than they wanted, and Canterbury’s stable area opened a week early to accommodate demand.

  • The track at Canterbury Park was crowded with riders during a recent morning workout. The barns in Shakopee are filled to capacity for the first time in years.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Cleveland 86 FINAL
Indiana 93
Washington 81 FINAL
Philadelphia 89
Golden State 113 FINAL
Toronto 89
New York 121 FINAL
Detroit 115
Orlando 88 FINAL
Atlanta 95
Charlotte 98 FINAL
Boston 106
LA Clippers 97 FINAL
Memphis 79
Brooklyn 98 FINAL
Houston 102
Miami 102 FINAL
New Orleans 104
Minnesota 89 FINAL
Chicago 96
Utah 104 FINAL
Denver 82
San Antonio 107 FINAL
Sacramento 96
Milwaukee 93 FINAL
LA Lakers 101
Oklahoma City 112 FINAL
Portland 115
Boston 3 FINAL(OT)
New Jersey 2
Calgary 1 FINAL
NY Islanders 2
Washington 0 FINAL
Carolina 3
Chicago 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay 4
Colorado 5 FINAL(SO)
Dallas 4
Los Angeles 2 FINAL
Anaheim 4
Siena 63 FINAL
Quinnipiac 73
Harvard 49 FINAL
Cornell 57
Penn 69 FINAL
Brown 75
Fairfield 65 FINAL
Canisius 72
Manhattan 75 FINAL
Iona 79
Saint Peters 67 FINAL
Marist 69
Princeton 60 FINAL
Yale 81
Ohio 58 FINAL
Akron 70
Dartmouth 84 FINAL
Columbia 71
Valparaiso 56 FINAL
Cleveland State 53
Louisiana Tech 75 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 88
Seton Hall 77 FINAL
Xavier 60
Cornell 54 FINAL
Harvard 60
Yale 49 FINAL
(14) Princeton 67
Elon 51 FINAL
Drexel 54
Northeastern 47 FINAL
James Madison 82
St Johns 60 FINAL
Butler 49
Creighton 71 FINAL
Georgetown 62
Brown 58 FINAL
Penn 75
Columbia 50 FINAL
Dartmouth 60
Canisius 54 FINAL
Siena 58
St Josephs Brooklyn 35 FINAL
NJIT 78
Western Carolina 86 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 80
Colorado 66 FINAL
Arizona 51
Southern Ill 72 FINAL
Bradley 66
Drake 59 FINAL
Wichita State 80
Indiana State 71 FINAL
Evansville 53
Illinois State 53 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 67
Northern Iowa 70 FINAL
Missouri State 72
Utah 42 FINAL
(10) Arizona State 46
Providence 62 FINAL
Villanova 71

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: With Adrian Peterson's suspension overturned, what should the Vikings do?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close