First 36 days of season show handle increases and stability
Horse racing resumes Wednesday at Canterbury Park following a nine-day break while the Shakopee, Minn. entertainment facility hosted Twin Cities Summer Jam, a three-day music festival held in the racetrack infield. The pause allowed horse trainers and their equine counterparts to prepare for the final 29 days of the 65-day season. Canterbury officials are pleased and encouraged by several metrics, including wagering numbers, from the first 36 days.
Average daily handle, the amount of money wagered, increased 12.8 percent compared to 2020 and 153.2 percent compared to the first 36 days of 2019. In 2020, due to the pandemic, Canterbury ran a shortened, Monday through Thursday season and was allowed no more than 750 spectators per day. This was a deviation from the 25-year tradition of racing Thursday through Sunday with an average of 6,500 spectators. The shift in days of the week attracted an increased national wagering audience during a timeframe with much less competition resulting in a dramatic increase in daily average out-of-state handle, a trend that continues in 2021 as Canterbury runs a hybrid schedule of Sundays at 1:00 p.m. and Tuesdays through Thursdays at 5:00 p.m. Out-of-state average handle increased by 8.3 percent over last year, and 221.8 percent over 2019, to $1.3 million per day. On-track handle, with no spectator capacity limits, is nearly double the 2020 average and down just 19.7 percent compared to the pre-pandemic 2019 season, an average racing officials are content with as spectators begin to adapt and return to post-pandemic events.
“We are very pleased with the mid-season figures,” Vice President of Racing Operations Andrew Offerman said. “We have thoroughly enjoyed the return of the energy and excitement of live racing fans although we knew there would be an adjustment period following such a dramatic schedule shift. Our participants have remarked about the renewed energy and excitement in the facility so it is clear that everyone is pleased to be getting back to normal.
“Additionally, our product has continued to be popular across the country which is very rewarding to see in the year following the pandemic. In the second half of the race meet we continue to look for ways to entertain the local live racing fan while cultivating a strong racing product for the national audience,” Offerman said.
The stability of purses paid to horse owners has been a major factor in the success of the season thus far. Purses have averaged $235,237 per day, an increase of 29.6 percent over last year when business-level decreases necessitated lower purses. The 2021 average is 4.8 percent more than 2019. The purse structure has created competiveness and an average of 7.15 starters per race, a figure consistent with the past two seasons.
“There is no doubt that our careful purse management in 2020 proved beneficial in 2021 as we have been able to return purses to their pre-pandemic levels,” Offerman said. “Our participants have responded by continuing to fill competitive race cards, a trend I anticipate will continue throughout the season.”
Offerman views the level of claiming activity as an indicator of a healthy race meet as well. There is a demand for horses and increased participation by owners with a total of 143 horses having been claimed compared to 72 and 74 in the past two seasons during the same time. A claiming race is a race in which horses may be purchased by a licensed owner for the claiming price listed for that race.
Past meet leaders congregate near the top of the thoroughbred trainer and owner standings. Robertino Diodoro and Mac Robertson vie for top trainer honors. Diodoro won three races on July 18 and has a 32 to 31 lead over Robertson. Empire Racing Stables, LLC has 15 wins, two more than 2020 leading owner Lothenbach Stables, Inc. Novogratz Racing Stables also has 13 wins.
Lindey Wade, new to Canterbury this season, is the leading jockey through 36 days, winning with 37 of 165 mounts. Alonso Quinonez has 32 wins and 2020 leading rider Ry Eikleberry has 30.
Canterbury continues to offer an industry-low 10 percent takeout rate on the $.50 Pick 5 wager and the $1 Pick 6 wager. Both the Pick 5 and Pick 6, offered daily, are traditional wagers distributing the full pool less takeout to bettors selecting the first-place horse in each leg of the wager.
Post time Wednesday and Thursday is 5:00 p.m.