Andrew Offerman has dealt with all kinds of unexpected developments this spring, as the pandemic forced Canterbury Park to delay its horse racing season and close its card club. Friday, he was happy to be blindsided by some positive news, when he learned a limited number of spectators will be allowed at the track for a racing season that begins Wednesday.
The latest executive order by Gov. Tim Walz, issued Friday afternoon, permits a maximum of 250 patrons at restaurants and entertainment venues beginning Wednesday. For the time being, Canterbury will admit fans by invitation only. People at the track will be able to wager on races, and spectators will be restricted to the third-floor clubhouse, where tables will be spread out to observe social distancing.
Offerman, Canterbury’s vice president of racing operations, said he was in “complete shock’’ when the order was released. All previous guidelines would have prohibited spectators, and most tracks around the country are not allowing fans because of shutdowns related to COVID-19.
Canterbury’s staff will have to scramble to have betting windows, food service and other amenities ready for the fans Wednesday when the season opens with a nine-race card. It’s a challenge, Offerman said, but a welcome one.
“This was so unexpected, based on the guidance and the information we’d received,’’ he said. “It certainly adds a much higher note to opening day.
“A lot of us were really concerned about how odd an environment it would be when the horses come down the stretch for the first race in complete and utter silence. To have a few people back, to have a little bit of atmosphere back at the facility, will be a significant mood-enhancer on opening day.’’
Officials at the Shakopee track had been preparing to conduct a 52-day season with no fans, with nearly all wagering conducted online or by phone. They still are developing a plan for drive-through or walk-up wagering in Canterbury’s parking lot, which would allow Minnesotans not at the track to bet on Canterbury races.
State law prohibits residents from wagering on in-state races online or by phone.
Offerman said Canterbury could soon open up additional outdoor seating areas, since the revised state guidelines permit 250 people in “individual areas’’ within larger complexes. He expects to get more clarity Monday about what is allowed, when the Minnesota Racing Commission meets to give final approval for the revised schedule.
Racing begins at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, with the regular Monday-Thursday schedule starting June 29. Canterbury received 86 entries for Wednesday’s nine races.