Midwest, which has 250 horses in training at six tracks, leads the nation again this year with 136 victories and is second in earnings with $2.3 million. General Manager Jim Miller said he always has liked Canterbury’s lively atmosphere, its track surfaces and its management, but racing there wasn’t financially viable until now.
“With a stable as large as ours, the purses are the main attraction,’’ Miller said of Midwest, which has won more than 1,000 races and nearly $19 million in purses since 2011. “With the [tribal] deal in place for an extended period of time, we’re going to race at Canterbury for an extended period of time.’’
Sampson said the increase in the number and quality of horses will help stimulate wagering both on- and off-track. Average handle increased last year to its highest level since 2008, with a sharp uptick in wagers placed on Canterbury’s races at out-of-state locations. The track also will host six stakes races with purses of $100,000 or more — the most since 1995 — including the $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby, the largest purse offered at Canterbury since the $250,000 St. Paul Derby in 1991.
The long-term financial windfall has boosted the sagging breeding industry as well. In 2012, there were 163 thoroughbred broodmares registered in Minnesota, by far the smallest number since records began in 1985. This year, 289 broodmares have been registered, and 170 foals have been born in the state, reversing a trend that endangered Canterbury’s ability to run races for Minnesota-bred horses.
That has changed the plans of people such as the Bensons and Rhone, who was considering retirement as Canterbury’s fortunes declined. Instead, he will saddle three horses Friday, when more than $233,000 in purses will be won on opening night.
“Two years ago, it was like we were waiting for the funeral,’’ Rhone said. “Now that we have a 10-year deal, I’m ready to go. It feels like a rebirth.’’