Scott Rake describes himself as a glass-half-full guy, which is why he felt relieved and grateful about Wednesday’s news from Canterbury Park. The Shakopee track announced plans for a shortened, 52-day horse racing season, to begin June 10 and run through Sept. 9.
Rake, the president of Minnesota’s thoroughbred horsemen’s group, knows that fans probably won’t be allowed on the grounds. Races will be run on Mondays through Thursdays, not on weekends. And he expects purses to be about 15% smaller, at least during the first part of the season, than the planned total of $14 million.
Under normal circumstances, Rake would be disappointed. But with Minnesota still in the grip of a pandemic, with most sports remaining on indefinite hold, he was thankful to take any kind of step toward live racing this summer.
The next moves belong to the Minnesota Racing Commission and Gov. Tim Walz, who must give a thumbs-up before the show can go on at Canterbury and Running Aces harness track in Columbus.
The racing commission will meet to consider the requests June 8, following the timeline required by law. Running Aces has proposed a 50-day season from June 20-Oct. 4, with racing on Saturdays, Sundays and Tuesdays.
“It would have been really easy for us to collectively decide to skip this year, to just not have a meet,’’ Rake said. “Everyone worked really, really hard to put together at least some sort of season for the horsemen.
“It’s so vital for owners, and for those that breed horses, to have an opportunity to race. We felt that to miss a year would have been really hard on the entire thoroughbred industry in the state. I think people understand the challenges, and how many things we had to fashion together to make something work.’’
Canterbury’s 65-day season was supposed to begin Friday and run through Sept. 12. It shut down its card club and on-track simulcast center on March 16 in response to the coronavirus, cutting off a major source of funding for racing purses.
Running Aces, which planned a 55-day season starting Saturday, also closed its card club and simulcast operation.
After delaying the April 24 opening of its stable area, Canterbury got permission from the state to allow horses and people to begin moving in last weekend. The stables are operating under special safety measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, and a similar plan is being developed for racing.
That plan will be presented to the governor’s office, which must grant permission before racing can begin. Steve May, executive director of the Minnesota Racing Commission, expects Minnesota will follow other states and prohibit fans,.
“We’re fully prepared to have racing without any kind of spectators,’’ May said. “We just don’t see a loosening of the stay-at-home orders that are associated with this. There may be something that changes later on in the summer.’’
Andrew Offerman, Canterbury’s vice president of racing operations, worked with horsemen to design a schedule that worked for them and the track. He said the Monday-Thursday schedule was chosen because fewer tracks are expected to be running on those days, which should help Canterbury attract simulcast wagering from out-of-state bettors.
Minnesota law does not allow state residents to bet on Canterbury online or by phone, though the track could pursue drive-through wagering.
Joe Newton, general counsel for the Minnesota Racing Commission, said the tracks’ revised schedules must be approved in the same manner as the original ones. A public hearing must be held no sooner than 25 days after the requests are made; after listening to comments, the commission will vote on the requests.