There’s a new (well, sort of) sheriff in town. Eric Halstrom has returned to Canterbury Park in the role of Vice President of Racing Operations after a successful run at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. With the changes in place for the fast-approaching live racing season, I took a few minutes to pick the brain of the man at the helm for many of them:
Angela Hermann: What are the three most important things you’re focusing on improving this live racing season at Canterbury?
Eric Halstrom: First, the challenge of any racetrack is increasing quality and maintaining quantity with the horses on the backside. We keep working at it and that persistence has paid off. Canterbury has a reputation of being horse-friendly and horseman-friendly, and that along with the purses drew in over 2,000 stall applications for 1500 or so stalls. The second thing we keep working at is handle and pool size, and a lot of that goes with increased field size and number of horses on the backside. It’s a snowball effect with that side of live racing, and hopefully this year we see a corresponding increase in interest pari-mutuelly to go with the increased interest in racing here. Third, of course, we want to find new ways to keep the live racing experience enjoyable for our patrons. Changes like night racing, new tote machines and other improvements in the facility are meant to show our crowd that their support of us is put back into making their experience all the better when they return.
AH: Speaking of the new tote machines, what prompted the switch from Sportech to United Tote?
EH: Our contract was up with our old tote company, and United Tote presented an appealing change with newer machines and features. It is an adjustment, but in the long run this equipment should prove an upgrade over aging equipment.
AH: One of the other changes forthcoming is an expansion of Canterbury’s reach to the northern part of the state, with the Northern Lights Casino in Walker working to simulcast horse racing in the near future. What is the next step in this plan?
EH: We’re very excited that Northern Lights is working with us to make our racing program available to our fans throughout the state, and the hope is to reach out to 10-12 more locations in Minnesota in the future. Horse racing is an exciting experience that many people in this state would like to be a part of but can’t necessarily make it to Shakopee to witness. By bringing simulcast to them, we hope to cultivate its popularity among folks that may not have had a chance to see it on a consistent basis. I’d really like to give credit to the group at Northern Lights for being a pioneer in this partnership, and hopefully it grows in the coming years.
AH: What in your time at the Fairgrounds will show in our program at Canterbury?
EH: I’d say the biggest thing is we’re not afraid to try anything to take racing at Canterbury to another level. For example, we decided to roll the dice and place the Mystic Lake Derby on closing day not only as a grand finish to the meet, but also to fall in line with the timing of national three year old turf stakes. It’s just coincidence that the Louisiana Derby falls on the closing weekend of the Fairgrounds’ meet, but it should work out nicely from a timing standpoint. It could serve as a stepping stone for young horses looking for a spot in the fall in preparation for bigger races towards the end of the year, and eventually serve as a prep for graded stakes or even the Breeders’ Cup.
AH: Who are the new faces that fans should expect to see in the program at Canterbury this year?
EH: There are several new additions this year, both in the jockey colony and in the barns. Shannon Ritter is here with horses from WinStar Farms, one of the leading owners in the country. Eric Heitzmann is here for the first time. The jockey colony is getting larger with riders from all regions of the country, and we’re happy to see them all here.
AH: What should fans expect from you this season in your return to Minnesota?
EH: I’ll tell you what, we’re going to have a heck of a meet. I am very accessible and interested in what the crowd has to say, and I hope that I hear from many. We are not content with where we’re at; we are always seeking to improve. This is a great place to work and a great place to play, and I think it shows in the returning horses, horseman and fans. I’m very happy to be back and to interact with the fans this season. We are continually working to make this track one of the best in the country and I think we’re a bright spot on the racing calendar. In a time where many tracks are struggling to stay afloat, we’re on the upturn. I couldn’t be more excited.