Crowd at Canterbury Park on recent Thursday night.

Crowd at Canterbury Park on recent Thursday night.

Tom LaMarra

Positive Signs for Minnesota Racing, Breeding

Increased interest stems from a deal between Canterbury Park and local Sioux tribe.

An unusual deal between Canterbury Park and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Tribal Community has quickly led to increased interest in Thoroughbred breeding and racing in Minnesota.

The barn area at the Shakopee racetrack is full with all 1,600 stalls allotted for the first time in many years. Attendance and pari-mutuel handle are up this year. The mare population is increasing. And a July 10 owners' seminar sponsored by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association attracted more than 30 people.

"More people are inquiring about horse ownershipnew people and those who have been out of the business for a while," said Kay King, executive director of the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association. "The overall atmosphere here is really positive.

"Canterbury has been good about providing opportunities for people to get a little experience (in ownership), and we've reached out to those people. It's an educational process; several people at the seminar have had racehorses for years but want to learn more."

On July 10 at Canterbury, Ryan Stanzel, media relations manager for the Minnesota Wild in the National Hockey League, was on hand to watch a horse he "owns" in a partnership put together by Canterbury. He explained that for $250, fans can join the club and experience the benefits of racehorse ownership.

Stanzel said no one in the partnership can earn more than $250 during the racing season, but there are perks such as free admission, backstretch visits, and paddock access. Canterbury management hopes the program leads at least a few members to invest in racehorses on a larger scale.

And that has a much better chance at becoming reality in Minnesota. In June 2012 Canterbury and the Sioux tribe signed a 10-year agreement that provides about $75 million in funds for purses and about $9 million for joint marketing between Canterbury and the tribe's Mystic Lake Casino & Hotel, which is located about three miles from the track.

Canterbury agreed to stop pursuing approval for slot machines in exchange for the money, but the funds go directly to the purse account. Ed Stevenson, president of the SMTC Gaming Enterprise, indicated the partnership could last well beyond 10 years because of potential benefits.

"I think it sets a model for the country on how we can accomplish things when we work together," Canterbury president Randy Sampson said. "We found out we had a lot in common. The benefit for the racetrack is we can leverage purse and marketing dollars to grow the business, and at the same time quit spending money on lobbying the legislature."

Purses at Canterbury have doubled since 2011 to about $155,000 so far during the 2013 meet. Field size is up by almost a horse per race to 8.16. Attendance this year is up 2%, on-track handle has increased 7%, and out-of-state betting on Canterbury races is up 35%, officials said.

"This arrangement forces us to zero in on horse racing and make that successful," Sampson said.

On the breeding side, mare registrations were up 77% from 2012 to 2013. There were only 92 Thoroughbred foals in Minnesota last year, but more than 50 are consigned to the MTA yearling and mixed sale scheduled for Aug. 9.

King said sale organizers were pleasantly surprised as they initially were hoping for 20 horses given the fact the rebuilding of the breeding program has just begun.

"I think it's going to be an exciting sale," King said. "It wasn't much fun last year trying to sell horses. But this year people are much more enthusiastic."

Andy Schweigardt, director of industry relations and development for TOBA, said participation in the latest seminar and the growing interest in breeding and ownership in Minnesota is a good sign. The organization will hold a pedigree and conformation clinic Aug. 5 and a new owners' seminar Aug. 8, both in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

"There was a lot of interest in Saratoga last year, probably because of (racetrack gaming in New York)," Schweigardt said. "That probably will carry over to this year."