Minnesota Festival a Tribute to Industry

from Canterbury Park

The Minnesota Festival of Champions, a tribute to the state’s racehorse industry, will be held for the 15th time at Canterbury Park Aug 17.

The 11-race program begins at 1:30 p.m. CDT and includes seven Thoroughbred stakes races, two Thoroughbred allowance events on the turf, and two Quarter Horse stakes, all for horses bred in Minnesota.

The origin of Festival Day dates back to 1992, the final year the racetrack, then known as Canterbury Downs, was owned and operated by Ladbroke Racing Corp. Despite the hesitance of Ladbroke, key Minnesota breeders and owners, including current Canterbury president Randy Sampson, organized the showcase for Minnesota horses and underwrote many of the costs.

“Ladbroke, in context, was saying that this was the end of the road for racing in Minnesota,” Sampson said. “They had thrown in the towel on promoting racing or doing much to make it successful, and we were trying to demonstrate that there was still interest in racing here.”

The first festival attracted a large crowd and was deemed a success by the organizers. Ladbroke, however, was unwilling to commit to live racing for the following season, which led the Minnesota Racing Commission to refuse to renew the company’s racing license. Though Canterbury closed at the end of 1992, the Festival of Champions laid the groundwork for its re-emergence.

The racetrack, under new ownership and renamed Canterbury Park, re-opened for simulcasts only in 1994. Live racing returned to Minnesota in the summer of 1995, with the Minnesota Festival of Champions the highlight of the 55-day schedule that year.

With 67 days of racing in 2008, the Festival remains the centerpiece of the summer season. More than $415,000 in purses for state-bred horses will be offered Aug. 17.

The $50,000 Minnesota Classic Championship, at 1 1/16 miles, includes the second all-time Minnesota-bred money earner, Wally’s Choice, owned by Curt Sampson and Wally “The Beerman” McNeil. Wally’s Choice won the Classic in 2004 and 2005.

Three-year-old filly A.J. Bakes, trained by Todd Hoffrogge, will run in the Minnesota Distaff Sprint Championship at six furlongs. Purchased for $3,000 as a yearling at the 2006 Minnesota Thoroughbred Association sale, she has earned more than $140,000 for her owners, John Baker and Robert Knox.