By Ted Grevelis
When the gates open for Canterbury Park’s first race on May 3, 2019, it will mark the 25th season of operation under public ownership led by the Sampson and Schenian families. Minnesota racing was down and out for the count after debuting in 1985 at then-Canterbury Downs with much fanfare and seam-bursting crowds. Through management changes and the development of Native American gaming just down the street at Little Six and then Mystic Lake, the track spiraled downward into unprofitability before being mothballed by Ladbrokes in 1993.
In 1994, Curtis Sampson and Dale Schenian stepped in, reopened the racetrack and began the great Minnesota racing turnaround. One of Curtis’ sons, Randy, is the track’s current CEO and president while another son, Russell, runs the family’s racing and breeding operation.
“That’s the only reason this racetrack is here,” said Andrew Offerman, Canterbury’s Senior Director of Racing. “Horsemen bought it because this is what they wanted to do. There are certainly still differences of opinion between management and horsemen on what should be done on some issues, but the differences are so minor compared to what faces other places because of the people that are here running things.”
“We are fortunate here in Minnesota,” said Kay King, Executive Director of the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association, “that track management, the HBPA, owners, trainers—everyone can work together on a common cause. There is not the friction that you hear about elsewhere. I have people from other states tell me that they can’t believe that the MTA and the MQHRA work together on issues and put on a barbeque for backside workers together because in their states the Thoroughbred and quarter horse folks couldn’t get along long enough to do that.”
The track still had to compete with Native interests as well as stiff competition for the recreation dollar in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area.
In 2012, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC)—proprietors of Little Six and Mystic Lake Casinos—and the track entered into an historic joint marketing agreement, leaving their animus in the past and moving into the future as partners.
The agreement provided the purse account with $75 million over ten years. The track and SMSC agreed to work together to promote the region and resist the expansion of gaming. The pair teamed with the nearby Renaissance Festival and Valleyfair Amusement Park to market themselves as River South, an area in the south metro to stay and play.
Thanks to the agreement, purses have increased substantially. In 2011, the year prior to the agreement, total purse distribution equaled $6,172,707. For the 2018 meet, that amount nearly doubled, rising to $13,316,050.
Because some of the money from the SMSC agreement has been dedicated to the Minnesota-bred stakes program, breeding is also on the upswing. The year prior to the SMSC agreement, the foal crop was 153 registered foals. The 2013 crop—the first post agreement—jumped to 253 registered foals. The number since then has remained relatively steady with quality increasing every year.
The only requirement to have a Minnesota-bred foal is the mare has to be in the state by March 15 prior to foaling.
The tentative 2019 Canterbury Park Stakes schedule features 18 state-bred stakes with over $1.3 million up for grabs.
It is not only the owners of Minnesota-breds that are making money, but their breeders as well. While purse supplements for Minnesota-breds totaled $325,435 in 2018, breeder awards increased 4% over 2017 to $460,595, while stallion awards increased 2% to $85,527. Total added money, either breeding or racing, was $871,557 for 2018.
“I think you’re going to see some phenomenal pedigrees this year,” said Dave Dayon, owner of Wood-N-Wind Farm, a leading breeding and foaling farm in Minnesota. “We have a Quality Road and an Orb from this year, and I just got the list for 2019 that are coming in for Lothenbach Stables: we’ll have a Kitten’s Joy, two Malibu Moons, a Speightstown and others—and I have 14 mares from him this season.”
Breeder Dean Benson of Wood Mere Farm foaled out an American Pharoah colt earlier this year—the first time a Triple Crown winner has sired a Minnesota-bred.
“My client was very involved in Illinois, but he was seeing what has happened to that program so he decided to get involved in Minnesota,” said Benson. “And he did it in a big way.”
The increase in Minnesota-bred quality has also made its way into the sales ring.
The market for quality-bred horses is better than it has ever been. The 2018 MTA yearling sale had a six-figure horse for the first time in its history. The pairing of Discreet Cat and Gypsy Melody—a six-figure earning, stakes-winning mare—produced a colt that sold for $100,000 to Novogratz Racing Stable.
“I have a client who had a Quality Road,” said Benson. “He foaled in Kentucky but ended up being bought back in a Kentucky sale. If he had bred and sold him up here, I know he would have piqued the interest of the big owners, and he would have got the money for him.”
“Over the last few years we are slowly starting to see an increase in buyers here at our sale,” said King. “We’re starting to see buyers who realize that a Minnesota-bred can bring money. There was always that ‘glass ceiling’ of around $50,000, which was as high as folks would go for a Minnesota-bred. This year we shattered that with three of the forty horses sold, bringing more than $50,000 including the $100,000 gelding.”
King and her husband bred the sales topper from 2017, an Astrology colt out of former Minnesota champion Bella Notte named Notte Oscura, which sold for $37,000 to Paul Schaffer. Schaffer turned around and did what was thought to be impossible: he pin-hooked the Minnesota-bred in the 2018 April OBS Sale for $160,000.
In the October 2017 Fasig-Tipton yearling sale, a Minnesota-bred yearling became the highest priced gelding ever sold at auction. The son of Maclean’s Music and Mesa Mirage, bred by Almar Farms, brought $200,000. The yearling, subsequently named Mister Banjoman, won this year’s Shakopee Juvenile, a $75,000 unrestricted stakes race and finished the season with two wins and a second in four starts, only faltering in his turf debut in the Indian Summer Stakes at Keeneland.
Mr. Jagermeister, a Minnesota-bred and owned by trainer Valorie Lund and her sisters, has won seven of twelve starts, amassed $308,975 and finished second in the Prairie Gold Juvenile at Prairie Meadows and the Bachelor Stakes at Oaklawn.
“People are seeing that there is value to Minnesota-bred horses,” said King. “People are making wise breeding decisions.”
Quality pedigree Minnesota-breds are selling for considerably more money than ever—locally and around the country—and competing favorably against all comers.
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