If Florent Geroux had made it to Shakopee, he would have enjoyed a nice payday Wednesday. One of the top jockeys in the nation, Geroux was set to ride a slew of favorites in the Canterbury Park Turf Festival, which included five turf stakes with total purses of $350,000.
Four of his mounts finished in the money, but a positive COVID-19 test turned Geroux into a late scratch. That cleared the way for some of Canterbury’s resident riders to pick up some extra cash, on the same day they learned that one-day visits like Geroux’s have been barred. Before Wednesday’s card, Canterbury Park announced new travel restrictions for thoroughbred jockeys, expanding its efforts to prevent the pandemic from disrupting the season.
Riders from other tracks will not be allowed through the rest of the 52-day meet. Any member of the Canterbury jockey colony who rides at another track must quarantine for 14 days and test negative for COVID-19 when they return. The decision comes after several nationally prominent jockeys and one employee of Canterbury’s racing department tested positive in the past week.
Canterbury is one of the few tracks in the country that is allowing spectators, and wagering — fueled by out-of-state money — is more than double what it was last season. Wednesday, the track drew $2.16 million in total wagering and $141,690 in on-track wagers, both season bests.
With so much at stake, veteran jockey Dean Butler said most riders are willing to take any steps necessary to avoid an outbreak that could shut it down.
“It’s unfortunate,’’ Butler said of the travel restrictions. “It stinks. But it had to be done to protect this meet.
“Going in and out of states, it’s not a good thing. You’re jeopardizing a lot of people’s livelihoods and incomes. And it’s not just us jockeys, it’s the owners and the trainers. You have to look at what’s best for everybody.’’
About 1,100 fans now are permitted at Canterbury, and track officials said Wednesday’s card drew a capacity crowd. Jockey Jareth Loveberry won the $100,000 Mystic Lake Derby aboard Summer Assault and the $50,000 Honor the Hero Stakes with Wellabled. Tut’s Revenge captured the $75,000 Mystic Lake Mile, while Streak of Luck won the $75,000 Lady Canterbury Stakes.
Like every track currently racing, Canterbury is operating under a set of COVID-19 prevention protocols, including the use of masks and mandatory temperature checks. Still, it has recorded its first positive test. Canterbury canceled training last Saturday when two people in the stable area showed COVID-19 symptoms; both were isolated and tested, and their work and living areas were quarantined and disinfected.
The person who tested positive has left the track to quarantine, and another person who was in close contact is also isolated. Training resumed Sunday with enhanced safety measures, including further restrictions on stable-area access.
On July 5, Lone Star Park in Texas suspended its season after a racing employee tested positive. Several of the country’s top jockeys also have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week, including Geroux, Luis Saez, Victor Espinoza, Flavien Prat and Martin Garcia. California’s Del Mar announced Wednesday it is canceling three days of racing this weekend because 15 riders tested positive.
Last week, the Minnesota Racing Commission announced it would begin fining horsemen and staff who were not complying with measures such as mask use and social distancing. Executive Director Steve May said most people were following the rules, but the shutdown at Lone Star was “a wake-up call.’’
“I’m really happy overall with the efforts everyone is putting in to comply,’’ May said. “We do have some that didn’t take it as seriously as they should have, especially with the things happening in other states. Our goal is to offer a safe environment and to not get shut down.’’
Andrew Offerman, Canterbury’s vice president of racing operations, said the track is averaging $1.35 million per day in total wagering through its first 18 days. Last season, total wagering averaged $615,671 per day during a 66-day meet.
With racing on weekday afternoons and limited capacity, Canterbury isn’t drawing as many families and casual spectators as usual. This season’s crowd leans toward serious horseplayers, with a daily average of about $65,000 being bet at the track.
“The per-capita handle on track has been huge, compared to where we would normally be,’’ Offerman said. “The people that are really dedicated are supporting it, which is encouraging. And we’ve accomplished what our goal was by putting our racing on weekdays, in an afternoon time slot, to try to maximize our visibility [with out-of-state horseplayers].’’
Canterbury also has moved all its remaining quarter-horse races to three dates — July 28, Aug. 11 and Aug. 25 — to cut down on travel by its quarter-horse jockeys. Many are riding at Canterbury and Prairie Meadows in Iowa, shuttling between the two tracks each week.
Jockeys riding on those days must test negative for COVID-19 and use a designated locker room separate from the thoroughbred riders’ quarters.
Two horses broke track records Wednesday. Tut’s Revenge won the Mystic Lake Mile in 1 minute, 33.17 seconds, topping a record set in 1995. Wellabled won the Honor the Hero Stakes in 54.77 seconds, breaking the record for 5 furlongs on turf.