Canterbury Park, Shakopee, Minn logo

26th Minnesota Festival of Champions September 1

The origin of the Minnesota Festival of Champions, which will be celebrated for the 26th time next Sunday, dates back to 1992, the end of the Downs era, the year that owner Ladbroke Corporation lost interest in live racing. Minnesota owners and breeders banded together to send a message to Ladbroke that there was indeed still an interest in racing in Minnesota. It would be the final day of live racing until the spring of 1995 as Ladbroke refused to commit to a live racing season in the coming year and the Minnesota Racing Commission would not allow them to operate in 1993 without such commitment.

While that decision by the MRC meant horse racing came to an end, it also may have saved racing as we now know it. That 1992 Festival planted the seed in the minds of local movers and shakers that racing could succeed with the proper management and business plan. In 1994, Randy and Curt Sampson along with Dale Schenian purchased the Shakopee property and simulcast racing returned to Minnesota on Kentucky Derby weekend. One year later live racing was back triumphantly and here we are 25 seasons later, still racing and thriving.

It was that first Minnesota Festival of Champions, that gesture of defiance by local horsemen, which kept the dream of horse racing in Minnesota alive.

Festival Day, September 1, will offer record purses this year with each thoroughbred stakes race, and there are six of them, worth $100,000. The quarter horse Futurity and Derby will each pay more than $50,000.

Trainer Mac Robertson is sure to have several runners and add to his record 32 Festival wins. Jockey Derek Bell returned to riding this season, and should he have a mount next Sunday, could also add to his 24 wins, the most of any jockey. Dean Butler is six behind Bell and always has a live mount or three on the big day. The names of trainers Biehler, Bravo, Hanson, Van Winkle, Hardy….they are all in the Festival record book along with owners Curt Sampson, Art and Gretchen Eaton, Almar Farms, Bob and Julie Petersen, Cam Casby, and Kissoon Thoroughbreds. Active or not in 2019, they left their mark and are a part of the rich history that makes Canterbury Park what it is today.

Post time on September 1 will be 12:45. Entries and post position draw will take place Thursday.

By Canterbury Press Box Staff