Although Canterbury’s Racebook and Card Casino are on ‘pause’ until Dec. 19, horse racing, along with much of the sporting world, continues on. Three winter racing staples open this week as Tampa Bay Downs begins a 90-day meet on Wednesday and Fair Grounds begins its 149th season on Thanksgiving Day. The New Orleans track will run 76 dates. Delta Downs, also in Louisiana, begins today.
Track announcer Richard Grunder returns for another meet at Tampa Bay Downs. Grunder has the seasons figured out as he summers in Shakopee as a jockey agent and winters in the Florida sun. “We’ll have a very good meet,” Grunder said. He expects to see a lot of shipping back and forth from Gulfstream as has been the case. He noted top trainer Chad Brown has a handful of stalls at Tampa. Brown also will have a Fair Grounds’ string for the first time. “I looked at the overnight and we have full fields,” Grunder said. The popular winter met will attract millions in wagers each day.
Trainer David Van Winkle, a Canterbury Hall of Famer, will race at Tampa after leaving Turf Paradise which has been home for two decades. The turmoil and uncertainty at the Phoenix track necessitated the move. Trainer Kerri Raven is also at Tampa, as is a southwest racing fixture Jon Arnett. They join Bernell Rhone and Tim Padilla who have made Tampa their winter race place for several years.
Canterbury riders Dean Butler and Chad Lindsay will also be found in the entries.
Tampa raced through the pandemic earlier in 2020 when safety measures were in their infancy, and Grunder was part of a successful and safe Canterbury season. The precautions are second nature to him. “Sure there is some grumbling but everyone is doing what has to be done,” he said. The face mask is almost an appendage now.
The recent announcement of Canterbury’s 2021 racing dates is cause for optimism for Grunder who has been in Shakopee since the Canterbury Downs days of the 1980s. “Looks like purses will return to the 2019 level,” he said; an important fact for a jockey agent who will be back in the spring with two live riders.
Meanwhile at Fair Grounds, top Canterbury jockey Francisco Arrieta will take up residence. Trainer Gary Scherer is there and several Mac Robertson runners will be found racing under his father Hugh’s name including A. P. Is Loose who is entered in race 3 on opening day. The 9-year-old Minnesota bred is one of the top earners in the history of Minnesota thoroughbred racing. He faces another name familiar to Canterbury fans, the 10-year-old Broken Key from Scherer’s stable.
At Delta Downs can be found Canterbury’s 2020 leading trainer Joel Berndt and leading rider Ry Eikleberry. Berndt has traveled to Delta the past few years making the Delta / Chicago / Shakopee circuit his bread and butter. Eikleberry normally would be located in New Mexico. Also at Delta are trainers Robertino Diodoro and Karl Broberg.