Race tracks across the country are reporting declines in attendance and wagering. A graph on the stock market many days resembles the steepest descent of the Wild Thing at Valley Fair.
It makes sense, then, to inhale deeply and not get overly bent out of shape when the bad news hits Canterbury Park, right?
Hold your two-year-olds and your negative expectations right there. Canterbury reached the halfway point of the season this weekend and looks to be holding its own. The numbers are almost static in comparison to last year, normally not a welcome business forecast, but in this economy it seems like manna from heaven.
When you consider that the several big days remain on the racing calendar _ Claiming Crown, Festival of Champions, Extreme Day _ the season as a whole has a positive appearance.
Eric Halstrom, Canterbury’s vice president of racing operations, put it this way: “I’d say that I’m cautiously optimistic.”
Take July 3, for example. Canterbury played host to 14,237 patrons, not counting as many as 13,000 young ones. “There are different theories on how many kids there were,” Halstrom said, “but I think one for every adult or so. That puts it close to 30,000.”
On and off track wagering flirted with the $1 million mark. The actual figure was $937,000. “It was our best Thursday ever, easily,” said Halstrom.
The July 3 promotion, which includes fireworks, has become a boon to Canterbury since its inception three years ago, so much so that it’s already included as one of those day that improves the overall yearly picture for attendance and income.
“Before the start of the meet we say that we have three big days – opening day, Claiming Crown and now July 3,” said Halstrom. “Maybe Extreme Day. To have a Thursday night be one of the best is really great.”
July 3 has become another example of horsemen and management working together. For years, horsemen understandably opposed the idea of fireworks and the effect on the horses from heavy pyrotechnics in proxmity to the stables. Management proposed pizza for the grooms and earplugs for the horses. Not the perfect solution, of course, but there was only one minor incident reported Thursday night, on a par with daily activity in the stables.
Fourth of July attendance was 8,100, down from 10,500 last year. “Maybe those other 2,000 were here on Thursday night,” Halstrom offered. Saturday’s attendance and handle were up slightly from the comparable date a year ago. A full comparison of the July 4 segment of the season is difficult because it included an extra day last year. Halstrom made his comments before Sunday’s card, but the comparable day last year was way down.
The entire live season shows a decline on simulcast wagering of about five percent and on live racing of about 10 percent. However, out-of-state handle is up about 10 percent. “Last year those two numbers (on-track and out-of-state) were close to the same,” said Halstrom. “So we’re right about breaking even in handle.”
Halstrom is wagering (imagine that at a racetrack) that attendance for the season will beat last year’s record average daily figure of 5,476.
There are a couple of reasons for such optimism. The track didn’t have a good August last year and should easily beat the figures for that month. Canterbury also didn’t stage the Claiming Crown in 2007, and that event will increase wagering and attendance totals for 2008.
Now, the pressing thought is this: The pizza bill for the backside on Thursday night was $1,300.
How would you like to fork over a tip on that delivery!
Bob Petersen had a lot more faith in his horse than the patrons did Sunday, and that turned into a good payday for him and his wife, Julie.
With the veteran Jerry Winters in the saddle, Holland North, out of the Ed Ross Hardy barn, outhustled nine rivals to win the $61,000 race, a result that left Bob Petersen breathless. “I’m shaking,” he said.
Understandably. The Petersens won the last race at Canterbury on Saturday night with The Inclindenator, then jumped in the car and headed to Prairie Meadows where they had a horse in the last race there.
“It’s all about getting out of the gate in quarter horse racing,” Bob said. “Our horse didn’t break in Iowa and ran dead last.”
Oh, yes, Bob did bet on his horse.
Jesse Garcia continues to mend after being unseated leaving the gate in a race the week before last. He was diagnosed with a hairline fracture of the right clavicle. He tried riding last Thursday but made it through only one race before taking off his horses for the day in excruciating pain.
Garcia said Sunday he hopes to get an MRI early this week. “My goal is to be back for the Claiming Crown if not sooner,” he said. Garcia said he has two mounts and possibly three for the Claiming Crown on Aug. 2.
SOMETIMES EVEN CHICANERY’S NOT ENOUGH
HBPA president Tom Metzen had a horse named Ty Two in the fifth race on Sunday, and was desperate to get him back in the winner’s circle.
Ty Two ran six times at Fonner Park over the winter with three wins and three seconds. He won his maiden appearance at Canterbury on May 18 but was out of the money in two subsequent races.
So, on Sunday, Metzen conjured up an idea. The leader of Canterbury Park’s horsemen was wearing a Fonner Park cap as he entered the saddling paddock. “Maybe this will fool the horse,” Metzen said. “If the thinks he’s back at Fonner, he might win again.” Alas, no such luck. Ty Two ran out of the money once more.
Maybe next time a hat that says “If Horses Don’t Pull their Own Weight, They pull Grain Wagons.” Something along that line.
A PICTURE’S WORTH ???????
The silent auction that benefited the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund wasn’t exactly silent Sunday afternoon. One of the more interesting bidding matches was for the painting of Secretariat winning the Triple Crown races, signed by artist Fred Stone and the horse’s rider, Ron Turcotte.
The first intense segment of wagering took place between Dave Yost, the cook in the jockey’s room, and trainer Bobbie Grissom. First, Yost made a bid, and then Grissom right behind. It went back and forth several times. Then jockey Jesse Garcia jumped in. With five minutes left in the bidding, Yost dropped out with the latest bid, by Grissom, at $1,950.
One of Grissom’s clients, Bob Lindgren of Prior Lake, is a tax man. “He said I can deduct anything I pay more than the picture’s worth,” she said.
A wise-cracking bystander chimed in. “Yeah, I’d say it’s worth five bucks, Bobbie.”
The tension mounted during the wagering and it appeared that Grissom had won. With seconds remaining an emissary for trainer Shawn Talbot jumped in with a bid for $2,150. Grissom jumped at a chance to counter, but the bell for the seventh race went off, ending the bidding.
“Oh, well, I tried,” she said.