Patrick Plus: Horse track, tribe thrive as partners, not adversaries

  • Updated: May 3, 2014 - 10:38 PM

The gates to the racetrack facility in Shakopee reopened on May 6, 1994, with the simulcast of the Kentucky Oaks as the main attraction. The next day, Go for Gin handled the slop at Churchill Downs and paid $20.20 to win the Kentucky Derby, enabling a smattering of bettors at Canterbury Park to celebrate.

Owners Randy and Curt Sampson and Dale Schenian chose “Park” for the title to differentiate the new operation from Canterbury Downs, the business that had shut down in December 1992.

Tuesday marks the 20th anniversary of the track’s reopening, and a 6:30 p.m. post time on May 16 will be the start of Canterbury’s 20th live racing season (1995-2014).

The Sampsons and Schenian were more horsemen rattled by the halt in thoroughbred racing in Minnesota than searchers for a grand business investment. Even with the poker room, it was always a struggle to provide more than low-end racing at Canterbury Park, until Gov. Mark Dayton offered some advice to CEO/President Randy Sampson after the 2012 legislative session:

The hundreds of thousands being spent to lobby for slot machines at the track was money down a rat hole. It was time for Canterbury Park to start negotiating with its main “racino” adversary: the Mdewakanton Sioux, the owners of the mammoth, money-printing Mystic Lake Casino and hotel.

A 10-year marketing agreement was reached, with the tribe committing $75 million to live racing purses and Canterbury putting aside the effort for a racino.

Canterbury Park paid a paltry $6.4 million in purses for a 62-day meeting in 2011. That was an average of $114,000. The first full year of the deal with the tribe was in 2013, with purses increasing to $12.4 million and $180,000 average over 69 days. The total will edge upward to $13 million in 2014, and the live racing schedule remains 69 days — mid-May (Preakness weekend) to mid-September.

The track’s biggest event, the $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby, is being moved to closing day, Sept. 13. The label for the race has a nice ring to it, so let’s hope the track and the tribe can remain friends.

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