Despite Canterbury Park’s offer of a $2 million purse, Triple Crown winner American Pharoah will not be racing at the Shakopee track next month. Canterbury vice president Eric Halstrom said Monday that the colt’s trainer and owner have “respectfully declined” to run in the Mystic Lake Derby, ending a long-shot pursuit of the first Triple Crown champion in 37 years.
Trainer Bob Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat announced 12 days ago that American Pharoah’s next start will come in the $1 million Haskell Invitational on Aug. 2 at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park. While they haven’t revealed his plans beyond that race, they have not ruled out running in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 29 — the same day as the Mystic Lake Derby. Their decision to cross Minnesota off their list concluded a monthlong courtship and returned the Mystic Lake Derby to its original status as a $200,000 turf race.
Though he wasn’t able to land the most celebrated horse in America, Halstrom said the proposal was not entirely in vain. In addition to gaining national attention for Canterbury Park, he said, it gave him a chance to establish a relationship with two of the country’s pre-eminent horsemen and demonstrate the track’s growing ambition.
“They were very thankful for the offer,” said Halstrom, who discussed the plan with Zayat’s son, Justin, and Baffert. “We know they had a lot of great options.
“It was neat trying to do this. To put our name in conversation with a Triple Crown winner, it’s invaluable to have people talk about you in that way. This goes along with our theme this year to try to go to the next level in whatever we do.”
Canterbury made its offer on June 10, four days after American Pharoah became the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. The $2 million purse would have matched that of the Kentucky Derby and would have been the third largest in North American thoroughbred racing, behind the Breeders’ Cup Turf ($3 million) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic ($5 million). The largest purse ever offered at the track was the $300,000 St. Paul Derby in 1986.
Halstrom knew it would be an uphill battle, as several tracks — including some of the most prestigious and historic in the country — tried to attract American Pharoah. But he reiterated that the offer was not a publicity stunt and that Canterbury is fully equipped to host a race of that magnitude.
He added that this defeat will not diminish the track’s ambition. Halstrom said Justin Zayat was impressed by Minnesota racing fans who bombarded him with tweets, lobbying for the horse to come, and said Zayat and Baffert asked him to stay in touch regarding other opportunities in the future. In addition, Halstrom said he anticipates that track officials and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community — which is providing $75 million in additional purse funds over 10 years — will discuss ways to enhance next year’s Mystic Lake Derby.
As for this year’s edition, Halstrom still expects a nice group of 3-year-olds for the one-mile turf race. And on the day of the Haskell, Canterbury will bring American Pharoah to Shakopee via its TV screens, incorporating the simulcast of that race into its live racing card.
“We couldn’t be happier, other than to have the horse here,” Halstrom said. “Now we’ll just root for him.”