He was honored, humbled and touched with humility whenever someone expressed appreciation or thanked him for providing this unique addition to the Minnesota sports scene.
Brooks Fields brought horse racing to Minnesota in 1985 despite knowing little or nothing about thoroughbreds or quarter horses. Most Minnesotans, of course, knew little or nothing about them back then either.
Fields’ vision and belief in the undertaking that would become Canterbury Downs came after a successful career in the grain business and in real estate. He undertook the challenge at an age when many men would have collected the royalties of a job well done and headed to the golf course or lake cabin.
Fields was 66 years of age when he took on the construction of a racetrack on acres of the yet undeveloped Shakopee landscape. “My mom thought he was nuts,” said Sarah Nessan, their daughter.
Fields proceeded full bore with the project and on June 26, 1985, a gathering of 15,079 newcomers to this ancient sport welcomed pari-mutuel racing to Minnesota, nervously putting nearly $868,000 through the windows.
Canterbury Downs was officially part of the Minnesota sports landscape. “He loved it. He was so proud of it,” Sarah said. “It was always so near and dear to his heart.”
What the early employees at Canterbury learned was that Fields did not recognize a class system in the building. “He treated everyone alike,” Sarah recalled, “the valets, the jockeys, the people at the concession stands. He talked about everybody the same.”
Family members, friends and former colleagues will gather at Canterbury today to honor their friend, father, grandfather and husband in conjunction with the running of the $35,000 Brooks Fields Stakes. “We’ll be well represented,” said Sarah.
Fields had little knowledge of pari-mutuel racing when he undertook the project along with partners that included Santa Anita Race Track in California. His knowledge of horses was limited as well, although he was part of the last unit to go through horse cavalry school at Fort Riley, Kan.
Oh, and there were those trips to the Sonoran desert. “Growing up he was always taking us horseback riding in Arizona,” Sarah recalled.
There was one another association with horses as well. “My father and mother went to London many years ago and bought some carousel horses,” Sarah added.
“They came back with three ponies, two pokers and one big horse. The big one was at their place in Arizona. Every single grandchild was on that horse at one time or another.”
Fields was a people person and it is that legacy by which he is best recalled.
“People were his passion,” Sarah added. “He loved people.”
They loved him back.
“He was truly humbled whenever anyone mentioned the track or thanked him for what he had done,” she said.
Martha Fields died in 2001 and Fields later remarried, to a longtime friend of his and Martha’s.
“He was so non-judgmental with people,” said Lucy, his second wife. “He let people be themselves.”
Fields, of course, was known for his mind as well as his heart. “He was brilliant,” Lucy said.
Smart enough to handle the rigors of Yale University and to learn the Chinese language well enough that he was used as an interpreter in China by the U.S. Army.
Fields died in June of 2008 at 89, a couple of weeks after attending the Brooks Fields Stakes. In his final days, it was Fields who expressed gratitude. “He felt blessed,” Lucy said. “He said that he had had a wonderful life, had made more money than he could dream about, had two wonderful wives and wonderful children,” Lucy said.
And friends wherever life took him.
Jockey agent Richard Grunder expressed his thanks to Fields at one time. Grunder shook his hand and said, “because of you I was able to raise my son, pay my bills and pay my mortgage.”
Fields inspired that kind of gratitude.
There was one other quality that stood above the rest, according to HBPA president Tom Metzen, who commented the day after Fields died.
“He was probably the most honorable man I ever met.”