Tom Metzen was eulogized on Tuesday as a man of passion, a horseman in every sense of the word, and above all else a family man, an individual who poured his heart and soul into the industry he loved and assimilated children and grandchildren into the sport along with him.
He had a crusty, hard-edged demeanor that disguised a soft, tender side, “a marshmallow interior,” according to his brother Dave.
Metzen fought cancer for nearly three decades, outliving original medical expectations by 28 years, due in part if not greatly because of the passion he had for horse racing and the men and women employed in the barns at Canterbury Park and at Turf Paradise in Phoenix. With him through his long medical ordeal and always at the table he occupied in the grandstands at Canterbury and Turf Paradise in Phoenix was his wife of 57 years, Karen.
He died last Wednesday, two days after his 78th birthday. His brother Jim, a long-time state senator, died one month earlier.
Friends, relatives, horsemen, horse breeders and owners, employees of Canterbury Park and individuals he met while operating Metzen Real Estate Agency in South St. Paul attended the memorial at St. James Lutheran Church in West St. Paul.
Metzen was a past board member of the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association and served nearly 20 years as president of the Minnesota chapter of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. He was executive director of the Arizona HBPA and first vice president of the national HBPA and a Central Region vice president for that organization. In 2006, Metzen was named HBPA national man of the year.
He was a past vice chairman of the Minnesota Racing Commission and cast the deciding vote that ousted the Ladbroke Corp., from Canterbury Downs in 1992, saving horse racing in the state as a result.
Metzen started racing horses in the 1970s, racing at tracks in Canada, South Dakota and elsewhere, often driving to Omaha for races at AkSarBen. He campaigned tirelessly to bring racing to Minnesota, celebrating its arrival in 1985. He fought diligently to build a track in Eagan yet when the license was awarded to Shakopee instead, Metzen’s response revealed his deepest thoughts on the matter.
“It’s a lot better than driving 400 miles,” he said.
He didn’t get all that he campaigned for but he got the most important part. Horse racing was about to join the sports scene in Minnesota.
Dave Metzen described the start of his brother’s deep commitment to family and how it originated. When their father died young and unexpectedly, Tom dropped out of college, doing everything as he always did, with extreme vigor.
“Everything he did he did with passion,” Dave said. “He was a role model who taught us never, ever to give up and that family comes first. He was only 20 years old and he was supporting the family. ”
Metzen was a person who did things his way, and his brother provided some of the specifics.
“We found out he was dating a girl from Humboldt High School, and (in those days) people from South St. Paul didn’t date people from Humboldt,” he said. Nonetheless, Karen was swiftly and fully accepted into the family.
According to his brother, Metzen also collected speeding tickets as if they were awards. “He once got a ticket in Iowa and hadn’t gone 100 miles before he got another one,” Dave added.
He also recalled the time that Tom threw up a few Christmas lights at his home at 136 10th Ave. North in South St. Paul. Meanwhile, the owners of the house at 136 10th Ave South went all out with their holiday decorations.
Metzen’s home was selected the holiday lighting winner. “We tried to explain to him that (the contest officials) got the wrong address,” Dave said. But Tom would have none of that argument. “He would insist to this day that his house was the winner.”
Also eulogizing Metzen was Canterbury Park president Randy Sampson.
“I worked and negotiated with him for nearly 20 years,” Sampson said, “and during that time I don’t think I ever said no to Tom. He was the patriarch of Canterbury.”
Sampson went on to say that at many if not most racetracks, HBPA officials and track management are adversaries. Not at Canterbury.
“Tom and I considered ourselves partners,” Sampson added, adding that Metzen was part of almost every significant accomplishment in Canterbury Park history. “I don’t know where we’d be without Tom,” Sampson said. “We are all here to celebrate a great family man and a great horseman.”
In a final tribute, Sampson said that a race named for Metzen will be part of the racing card on closing day this year.
Dave Metzen summed up his brother’s life and love of horse racing this way:
“He ran a great race, and he wound up in the winner’s circle.”
by JIM WELLS