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2012 Meet Begins With Optimism

There was a certain familiarity about the scent that wafted on the morning air throughout the stable area earlier this week. It was clearly, distinctly, matter-of-factly, the heady aroma of hope and change.

Hope always accompanies a new season. But this was something more. Hope that at long last Canterbury Park may have found a way to keep its doors open for the foreseeable future. Hope that purses will expand. Hope that thoroughbreds and quarter horses will once again be worthwhile foaling in Minnesota. Hope that the equine industry in Minnesota will now get the shot in the arm it has long been seeking.

The racing season gets under way tonight at 7 p.m. The overnight for Saturday’s card included this hopeful message to horsemen: “If the recently approved legislation results in a purse increase during the 2012 race meet, purses for both stakes and overnight races will increase retroactively.”

Stall superintendent Mark Stancato and trainer Franciso Bravo found levity in the promise of what the trainer had heard along the grapevine. Bravo was prepared to leave Texas for the meet that begins Friday night with a small trailer. Then news about the potential for increased purses filtered in on the humid southwestern air. Bravo claimed he switched immediately to a much larger trailer.

He, Stancato and a bystander laughed deeply over such invigorating wit on this hopeful morning.

One trainer referred to the shutdown last July that had numerous horsemen wondering if racing was done in Minnesota

“From that to this,” he said. “A world of difference.”

Solid evidence of change on this promising morn?

In the lobby of the racing office, jockey Adolfo Morales shared a video of a 2011 race at Canterbury with Juan Rivera… on his iPhone nontheless. “This is better than the Racing Form,” Morales said as the dulcet tones of Paul Allen reminded anyone within earshot that live racing is nigh.

And to think an eavesdropper watching this show was convinced the world was at an end 16 years ago when he first spotted a cowboy on horseback with a cell phone plastered to his ear.

There are changes of another sort, too. The HBPA is replacing its trainer/groom of the week program this season with a tribute instead to owners who’ve helped the sport of racing in a myraid of ways over the seasons.

And for the patrons: Takeout on the pick 3 and pick 4 wagers will be reduced from 23 percent to 14 percent. Who doesn’t like a better payoff?

The 2012 meet will run 62 days and include a claiming series, celebrating most of the horses that occupy Canterbury stalls on any given day. That number was 1,009 on Thursday and Stancato expects as many as 1,300 in the next couple of weeks.

There will be as many as 10 new riders in the jockey colony. There are 24 new faces in the training ranks, replacing the 24 that won’t return.

So there it is. Difference and optimism, too.

Hope and change.

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.