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A New Era Begins

Start of Race 1Spring training, the first day of school, a new job, a fresh romance… they all come with questions, uncertainties and of course that nagging intestinal disorder known as butterflies. Maybe the easiest and most succinct way to describe it is “anticipation.”

Pick your definition or description. No big deal. Nothing quite matches the feeling associated with a new race meet, the renewal of old rivalries, friendships, business associations and the arrival of a new year and it’s intoxicating companion – hope.

So forget about fresh romances, they don’t hold a candle to a fresh start with a fresh horse in a fresh stall. Canterbury Park’s renewal takes place tonight, as always, on the eve before the Preakness Stakes. The 2013 racing season in Shakopee takes off with nine races offering $232,800, including the $50,000-guaranteed Lady Slipper Stakes, a six-furlong sprint for Minnesota-bred fillies and mares, three years of age and older.

The business agreement that Canterbury Park struck with the Mdewakanton Sioux Community and Mystic Lake last summer has not only created new enthusiasm but is luring larger stables as well to Shakopee. The barns are probably 350 horses short of capacity but all of the open stalls, says the man who knows, Mark Stancato, have been promised. The attraction, of course, is the stability of purses this summer due to the agreement with Mystic Lake. The Mdewakanton Community is fattening purses by $5.3 million with another $600,000 earmarked for marketing during the 69-day meet that winds up on September 14.

Stakes this summer will be worth slightly more than $2 million from a total purse fund of $12 million.

How much more does that mean to the winner of a given race? Open allowance races were worth $25,000 two years ago and will pay $40,000 this meet. Maiden special weights offered $14,500 two summers ago and are worth $25,000 now.

“I think several stables have been pointing to this meet, and it should be a good one,” said racing secretary Doug Schoepf. “Absolutely, the purses are the thing.”

Nonetheless, some trainers Canterbury hoped to recruit have staked their bids elsewhere. Shakopee will not see some of the power stables from the Chicago area management wanted. The strength as usual starts with Mac Robertson, leading trainer the last eight meets, and beefed up and new barns from Turf Paradise in Phoenix.

“We have some really solid stables from Turf Paradise, including three new ones this summer,” said Stancato.

Four of the top five stables in Phoenix are in Shakopee for the 2013 meet, including Turf’s leading trainer Miguel Angel Silva who won 82 races, the runner-up Robertino Diodoro who won 66 races and the third-place trainer Mike Chambers who won 49 races.

New to the mix from Phoenix is Dan McFarlane – who finished fifth in the standings there with 44 wins – Diodoro and Don Schnell. Dave Van Winkle won 15 races at Turf Paradise and Valorie Lund won 14. Both return with bigger stables. Silva has 48 stalls, Lund has 45, twice last year’s total. Chambers has 21 and has indicated to the racing office he intends to compete regularly.

Clay Brinson has nearly tripled his barn this summer with 45 stalls. Corey Jensen will handle the strong Roger Brueggemann string of 29 horses.

Canterbury’s champion jockey in 2012, Tanner Riggs, is galloping horses for Joel Berndt this spring and is not riding, but Dean Butler and Derek Bell, next in the 2012 standings, return – as does the dean of Canterbury riders, Scott Stevens, who won 95 races at Turf Paradise last winter to finish second in the standings behind Geovanni Franco, Canterbury’s returning young sensation from 2012.

Female fans, especially the very young ones who await her arrival in the paddock day after day, will be pleased with the return of Lori Keith, sixth at Canterbury last summer. The jockeys, too, are looking forward to a fresh meet and a fresh start. Most of them hope for a safe and successful season, one without serious injury, with a healthy paycheck. Trainers’ hope their horses stay healthy throughout the meet and produce on the racetrack. Owners want much the same, healthy horses that pay their way and provide them with a couple of trips to the winner’s circle.

The agents on the other hand hope their riders come through, stay sound and win a truckload of races. The handicappers? Oh, they’re in for 69 days of hand-wringing, gnashing of teeth and bouts of depression relieved by occasional triumphant whoops.

Let it all begin.

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.