Entries will be taken tomorrow for the Sept. 9 Minnesota Festival of Champions, an evening of racing restricted to horses bred in the state that will be conducted for the 27th time. Its origin dates back to 1992 when Ladbroke, owners of Canterbury Downs, had given up on racing in Minnesota. Racehorse owners, trainers and breeders joined forces in a last act of defiance toward the British bookmakers who intended to take their ball and go home, allowing racing to slide into an unrecognizable state after losing in an attempt to legalize off-track wagering. That first Festival was a success. It may not have seemed so to outsiders as Ladbroke did close the racetrack at the end of the year but the seed was planted. Racing in Minnesota could work under the right leadership and care. That leadership came from Curt and Randy Sampson and Dale Schenian who resurrected racing in 1995 with the Festival of Champions as a centerpiece.
Fast forward to 2020 and another Festival, another celebration of racing at Canterbury Park. Six thoroughbred stakes with $100,000 purses will be run. A $67,000 quarter horse derby and $70,000 futurity are also on the slate with those fields determined in trial races held last week. The line-up was shuffled for 2020 with the traditional dirt routes run earlier in the meet, replaced with two turf routes, the Blair’s Cove and the Princess Elaine.
“I look forward to the addition of the two turf stakes this year which should add intrigue to the card after years of dirt route stakes,” VP of Racing Andrew Offerman said. “We should see great renditions of the Northern Lights Futurity and Debutante also with some very strong Minnesota-bred debuts already this year.”
The celebration which normally draws thousands of fans and bettors will be subdued in comparison with COVID-19 capacity restrictions in place but the spirit of the event will be as strong as ever. Track officials anticipate a record total handle, easily surpassing the $1,051,513 of 2019, as money pours in from across the country. Tickets for the Wednesday evening of racing are available at canterburypark.com .
Many familiar faces will be represented. Trainer Mac Robertson, with 35 Festival wins, is loaded as always. Rhone, Biehler, Bravo, Scherer; they all should participate. On the quarter horse side, both Jason Olmstead and Ed Hardy have fast horses poised for victory. The action begins at 4:30 next Wednesday.