Canterbury: rooting for a big 2016 meet at my home track
The Minnesota track owns a special place in my heart as it's my home track, the one I cut my racing teeth at in the late 1980s. Its founding and mere existence made a lot of young people in Minnesota fall in love with the sport and inspired us to pursue careers in the racing industry.
Look around to the University of Arizona and University of Louisville undergraduate programs, the announcer's (e.g. Angela Hermann) and chart-calling booths, the racing TV channels, and everywhere in between across the country. Chances are you'll know, run into, or are familiar with a proud Canterbury alumnus.
Unlike most of the other tracks built in the 1980s and 1990s, Canterbury's average attendance and handle in its early years of operation were rather promising and impressive on the surface (at least by today's standards). Unfortunately, they weren't quite good enough to recoup the cost of the track itself or make it profitable.
General economic uncertainty, a deplorable tax burden, increased competition for the gambling dollar, and a then-successful Minnesota Twins franchise were among the factors in the track's decline in business in that era.
After being closed for a couple years, stability finally arrived when the Curtis Sampson family and Dale Schenian acquired the track in 1994. Racing returned in 1995, and I was privileged to have the opportunity to serve as a publicity assistant and in other capacities during the 1997-98 meets.
After my permanent departure for the Kentucky bluegrass, Canterbury added a card room and brought increased national exposure to itself as a frequent host site for the Claiming Crown. With an emphasis on meets of much shorter duration than in the 1980s and the cultivation of a local fan base, Canterbury has seen average attendance jump more than 76 percent and average handle around 86 percent since 1995.
Purses are at an all-time high thanks to 10-year agreement signed in 2012 with the Shakopee Mdewankton Sioux Community, the operators of the nearby Mystic Lake Casino, which annually injects millions of dollars into the purse fund. Canterbury's purse structure is now competitive with virtually every other market in the upper Midwest.
What Canterbury is still searching for is a major presence in the simulcast market. Handle has made a big leap in the last two decades, but still only averaged about $590,000 last season. With that in mind, the track announced last month that it would make a major reduction in takeout rates for the 2016 meet. The takeout on Win, Place, and Show bets is now 15 percent, and all exotics wagers are now 18 percent. The blended takeout rate will be the lowest offered anywhere in the country.
Aided by competitive purses, and a main track and turf course always considered among the best in the nation, Canterbury should have little trouble with regards to field size (especially as a cool spring makes way for summer). By any general measure, everything is aligned for it to be an enticing betting product.
I'll be doing my best to support Canterbury this summer while hoping others do the same. This is the opportunity price-sensitive players and takeout-reduction advocates have been waiting for. Without serious support through the end of the Canterbury meet in September, the cause so many are in favor of could endure a disappointing setback.
Expecting handle to rise to the levels of 1987-89 might be too much to ask off the bat, but I'd love to see it happen. Such success couldn't happen to a better group of folks or racetrack.