ONLY THREE RACE DAYS REMAIN FOR 2016

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BY JIM WELLS

Alex Canchari brought in a horse named Daydreaming Diva in Saturday’s first race, in and of itself not a terribly significant event unless of course you are counting wins in the jockey, owner or trainer standings __ or maybe even days remaining to the racing season.

For anyone without a calculator, what that particular win meant at that particular moment was that Canchari had battled back to within four wins of the leader, Dean Butler, tightening up a race that two weeks ago was anything but.

It also meant that Mac Robertson expanded an already insurmountable lead in his quest to regain the training throne he held so long, and that owner Joe Novogratz kept the pressure on in the race for leading stable.

By the time the card concluded, the owner and jockey races were right back where they started the day, with Canchari and Butler notching two wins apiece. The stable of Novogratz and that of Cheryl Sprick and Richard Bremer were locked again the way they started the day after each recording a win. And there were still a mere three cards left in the race meet.

Once all of those issues are settled, there will be other takeaways from the summer of 2016. There already are some.

“Yes, the rain,” said director of racing Andrew Offerman. “Will we dry out in time to start the 2017 meet?”

The wet summer, with numerous races moved off the turf as a consequence, seems now like almost a constant, at least on particular days.

“I know we were off the turf on a lot of Thursdays,” said the Oracle, who added that his summer wasn’t all that good overall, although on Saturday he hit a 38-1 simulcast longshot.

“It’s been a good summer for the locals,” he added. “People like Mac back on top, to me that’s one of the biggest things.”

Indeed, Robertson regaining the spot he occupied on the training throne, beginning in 2005 until Robertino Diodoro supplanted him two years ago, was at the top of many people’s lists.

“That made it exciting,” said media relations director Jeff Maday. “The return of Mac. He and Diodoro fighting it out. ”

Of course, there was that weather.

“We did have some bad weather,” Maday added.

And, of course, numerous injuries depleted the jockey colony, cutting the list nearly in half from start to finish.

And, as Maday pointed out, there are still things to do. Arriving at agreements in the next few weeks, for one, that are to the benefit of all concerned, the track, the horseman, the betting public.

Ted Grevelis and his wife Heather publish the Midwest Paddock Report online in addition to their membership in  ownerships involving four horses. One of the biggest recollections for him will be the climb of Cheryl Sprick and her husband, Richard Bremer, to the top of the ownership ranks.

“They’ve done it with horses they’ve bred and raised themselves,” Grevelis said. “That’s what was supposed to happen because of the agreement between the track and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.”

Dave Miller, the chart caller for Equibase at Canterbury, was once a regular in Shakopee but left seven years ago before returning this summer.

“I returned to a track that is in subtle transition,” he said. “These guys make this work with their promotions. Attendance is up. The food is better. It’s a better track than it was seven years ago.”

On a much different note, Miller said the most compelling detail of the summer was the death of Tom Metzen, the long-time president of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. “That was the most significant news of the summer,” he said.

Kevin Gorg, the former paddock analyst at Canterbury, filled in for track announcer Paul Allen on Saturday. Gorg is impressed by the crowds Canterbury continues to attract while racetracks across the nation continue to decline in numbers. “It’s really amazing,” he said. “I don’t know how they do it, but the crowds keep turning out for the special events.”

There is another takeaway for Gorg, as well. “The competition,” he said. “It was tougher to pick winners this year. There were numerous long-shot winners.”

And Gorg gave a shoutout to new paddock analyst Brian Arrigoni. “Brian did a great job. He had a very good year of picking winners for the public.”

Eric Halstrom, vice president of racing operations, is reserving his analysis until all the details are compiled. “Ask me next week,” he said.

And, of course, there is always a takeaway that has nothing to do with racing. Just ask Oscar Quiroz, the righthand man to Shawn Coady in the photo department.

For Quiroz, the memorable moment of the summer came on a day off, at Stonebrooke Golf Club.

His first hole in one.

“No. 11 hole, 187 yards into a headwind,” Oscar said.

Canterbury Park to Offer Lowest Takeout in U.S

lowest takeout in America

Win, Place, Show 15 percent; Exotics 18 percent

Canterbury Park racing officials today announced a sweeping reduction in pari-mutuel takeout that will result in the Shakopee, Minn. racetrack offering a wagering product priced lower, on average, than any track in the country. With win, place, show takeout set at 15 percent and all exotic wagers at 18 percent, Canterbury Park will be the best horse racing wagering opportunity in the United States when its 69-day race meet begins May 20.

“Canterbury Park has long strived to be the most horsemen-friendly track in the country. Now, we want to be the most horseplayer-friendly racetrack in America,” Vice President of Racing Operations Eric Halstrom said. “With the growth in the quality of our racing program we, with the support of our horsemen, are taking the next step and making our races the most profitable wagering opportunity. By changing our takeout to the lowest in the United States, we’re giving horseplayers worldwide great value and drawing attention to what is sure to be the finest racing season in Minnesota history.”

Horse racing is conducted using a unique form of wagering called pari-mutuel wagering. Within the pari-mutuel system, all wagers are pooled together and those that pick winners share the money within the pool after a portion of the pool is withheld by the racetrack. This withholding is called takeout. The takeout is used to pay for purses for the races and to pay the operator, Canterbury Park, for putting on the races and facilitating the wagering.

Racing and gaming industry economists suggest that handle, the amount of money wagered, will increase substantially as takeout is reduced. Canterbury officials are confident that bettors will embrace the lower takeout and continually improving quality of racing with field size that regularly exceeds the national average. Horsemen purses have increased by 91 percent since 2010 due to tribal purse enhancements, and out-of-state handle on Canterbury’s races has risen by 114 percent over that same time period.

“We have been successful in increasing handle as our racing quality has improved. However, substantial upside still exists, and we believe this bold move will help us recognize that potential and create passionate Canterbury Park fans throughout the country.  We’re excited to offer something that no other racetrack in the United States has – the highest return to bettors all over the world,” Halstrom said.

Tom Metzen, President of the Minnesota Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, which represents trainers and owners racing in the state, is in agreement with the takeout changes. “Racing at Canterbury Park continues its upward trend and the Minnesota HBPA supports the idea of a reduced takeout for our horseplayers,” Metzen said. “It will not only increase handle but show race fans everywhere what a jewel Minnesota racing is on the national scene.”

The reduction in takeout has also been met with widespread approval from major racing organizations including the nation’s premier horseplayer advocate group, the Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA).

“Canterbury Park has made a bold gesture for 2016, lower takeout for all. Their new wagering menu offers tremendous value. It also tells me they want my business,” HANA President Jeff Platt said. “I’ll be giving Canterbury a long, hard look this year and would encourage horseplayers everywhere to do the same.”

The takeout restructuring will be discussed by the Minnesota Racing Commission April 21.

The Adventure That Never Happened

rachel v zenyatta

By Jeff Maday

At some point in 2009 Dark Star told Canterbury Park president Randy Sampson that if Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta were to meet on a racetrack that he would take the boss to see the spectacle. Dark’s thinking was that this magnificent match-up, as intriguing as any heavyweight bout, would take place that fall at the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita.

Rachel Alexandra’s owner, Jess Jackson, despised synthetic surfaces and vowed never to race her on “plastic” which ruled out racing’s premier day.

Breeders’ Cup came and went. Zenyatta dispatched the boys in the Classic and remained unbeaten yet had to settle for second in Horse of the Year balloting when Rachel Alexandra was awarded that honor. According to voters, Rachel was more accomplished. In the minds of racing fans however, a championship should be decided on the racetrack not on paper.

Then the news broke in early 2010 that the showdown could in fact happen and very soon at that.  Oaklawn’s owner Charles Cella proposed boosting the purse of the April 3 Apple Blossom Stakes from $500,000 to $5 million should both Rachel and Zenyatta appear in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

The Rachel camp of Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen hemmed and hawed, saying that April 3 was too quick to come back from the mare’s upcoming Fair Grounds race and that she needed more time. Cella obliged by moving the race to April 9 and the game was on. “I’ve never had so much trouble giving $5 million away,” Cella told the Daily Racing Form.

Dark invited me along and the planning for what would be an epic adventure began. Hotel rooms in Hot Springs were at a premium and nearly impossible to find without a significant investment. Working contacts in Arkansas we managed to secure a house outside of town. Photos of the accommodations indicated that this compound was fairly secluded, backed up against what looked like either a lake or a swamp, and suitable for the hi-jinks likely to ensue. It also was large enough to house the entire traveling party which now included Randy’s brother Russ and a limousine driver.

Yes, a limousine driver, because in classic Dark Star fashion we would not fly but rather Dark arranged for a limo to take us from the Twin Cities to Hot Springs and shuttle us around town during the stay.

With everything set, all we needed to do was wait for spring to arrive and it was off to the healing waters of the spas, duck boats tours and the biggest race of the decade.

The prep race for Rachel Alexandra was to take place March 13 at Fair Grounds in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes. The conclusion was forgone. This was to be a coronation of sorts. An easy win for Rachel and then on to Oaklawn to validate the Horse of the Year title.

“New Orleans was a very pro-Rachel town and people would come watch her work in the mornings,” said Eric Halstrom, at that time the man running the racing program at Fair Grounds.  “HRTV had our TV guys film the works and they’d play it later in the afternoon.  When Steve (Asmussen) would school her, always in the afternoon, people would be hanging over the paddock rails watching her. By the time the New Orleans Ladies arrived, the buzz was off the charts. The biggest crowd in decades turned out.  We guessed it at 15,000 in a place that uncomfortably holds 10,000.  No promotion or giveaway…just a huge racing crowd,” Halstrom said.

“When the horses were being saddled it was bedlam.  Literally a dangerous situation with everyone trying to get a close up of Rachel.  Jess Jackson was being mobbed. Steve was all business. There was a $2 million show bet…I’d never seen that number on a tote board.”

Rachel was 1 to 20 in a short field.

Randy settled into the couch in the Canterbury press box that afternoon to watch the New Orleans Ladies Stakes. I paced behind the couch in anticipation.

Rachel took the lead but was collared by Zardana as they prepared for the drive. Surely Rachel would kick on. Zardana can’t pass her. Zardana can’t ruin this.

“When they turned for home you could see Rachel was in trouble.  The 15,000 people went dead silent,” Halstrom said.

Zardana did kick on; Rachel did not. Zardana made the final visit of her career to the winners’ circle that day.

“I don’t think we will be going to Oaklawn,” Randy said in a manner that only he could. And with that he left the press box.

“The owner of the Zardana was a guy named Arnold Zetcher and he was very nice and gracious.  He apologized to me for what had happened.  He was happy but knew the ramifications of Rachel getting beat,” Halstrom said.  “The silence lasted while people filed out.  It was the most depressing moment I’ve ever seen at a racetrack.  And watching Rachel being unsaddled and then walked back to the barn was a sad moment because anyone that knew racing knew that she wasn’t the same filly.”

I phoned Dark later that evening to commiserate. The announcement that the big race was off was only a formality, and it did come the next day from Jackson.

Dark took it in stride and we were back at the track early that week, likely playing a Tuesday card at Parx or buggies somewhere.

When spring comes around and Oaklawn is hitting its stride, I think of the race that might have been but more so of what would have been the trip of a lifetime in a limousine to Hot Springs with the great Dark Star and the boss.

 

Dark Star, a Canterbury Hall of Fame member, passed away in 2012.

Dark Star and Trent Tucker
Dark Star and Trent Tucker

Q and A with the man in charge of racing: Eric Halstrom

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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.

Angela Hermann

Remembering Dark Star

On the morning before the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes, the racing community at Canterbury Park said goodbye and paid its respects to a man who would not only have been present but at his boisterous best if fate had not intervened.

There was after all the disappointing defection of a horse pointed toward the Triple Crown. That would have drawn a comment or two of outrageous nature from the fellow in question here.

There was the heat and early morning humidity enveloping the assembled group in the paddock. Even his best friend, Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Radio 1500, made reference to the distaste for such weather by the fellow in question.

One story followed after another about the fellow in question, George Chapple or, as the world knew him, Dark Star.

What was revealed about Dark Star, who died June 1 at age 66, was right out of a George Roy Hill production.

What became quite clear during the proceedings to honor Dark Star’s life was that if you thought you knew him, you really didn’t. If you thought you had seen it all, you really hadn’t.

The long-held contention that Dark was one-of-a-kind proved to be not nearly adequate as a description for the man.

As the stories unfolded from one friend after another, it became obvious that we clearly underestimated his talents for pulling off a scam.

More on that matter later.

Click Here to Watch Video From WCCO TV

Kevin Gorg and Paul Allen agreed, for different reasons, that Dark would have been all over Union Rags in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, the on Saturday.

“He always bet the favorite,” Allen said.

“That was his Derby horse. He would have wanted to prove he was right,” said Gorg.

On Saturday, the Dark Man got his winner.

Just as Dark’s friends and acquaintances got a glimpse of him theretofore not seen during the morning tribute to the man.

Eric Halstrom, the former Vice President of Racing at Canterbury Park and now the GM of the Fairgrounds in New Orleans, told the story that still had loose ends until he, Joe Friedberg and Reusse conferred.

In a nutshell:

During a recent visit to New Orleans, Dark and Halstrom were strolling the French Quarter when the Dark Man stepped into a furniture story. Dark disappeared somewhere in the store moments later. Meanwhile, a man collapsed on the floor near Halstrom.

Long story short:

Dark appears moments later claiming to be a fellow named Dr. Herman Brown. “Stand aside,” Dark said to the small gathering around the man, which included Halstrom. The Dark Man, meanwhile, begins his ministrations which included asking the man if he is diabetic.

Then the paramedics arrive, rescuing the Dark Man from what would have become a tough situation. He tells them that he has diagnosed the man in a diabetic shock. They go with it and it turns out he is right. The storeowners are impressed and inquire of Dark the Doctor what they might do to repay him.

The Dark Man chooses a $700 table he has been eyeing in their store, for a young niece he wants to surprise and asks that it be shipped.

Halstrom has no idea where the table was shipped, until Saturday when he’s speaking with Friedberg. “I know where it was shipped – to Reusse,” Friedberg said.

Not until Saturday was the full story told. The table was shipped to Reusse, and Dark later picked it up.

Friedberg added the story of how he represented Dark in an insurance case. The Dark Man claimed that a baseball card collection worth more than $300,000 had been stolen from the trunk of his car at the Minnesota State Fair.

Friedberg was still asking himself Saturday why a man would leave such a valuable item in the trunk of his car at the state fair. Nonetheless, legitimate questions be damned, Dark won his insurance claim and collected $285,000.

Perhaps he used some of that money, to put a steam room into the apartment he rented. Which raised a question of a different sort from Reusse.

“What man in his right mind,” Reusse wondered, spends $37,000 to install a steam room in a rented apartment?”

Dark Star, that’s who, a man who would have had the Belmont winner on Saturday.

MINNESOTA STALLION BREEDERS’ AND NORTH CENTRAL QUARTER HORSE DERBY

Amber Blair refuses to read a word of any kind about a horse she trains before a race. She will check it out afterward upon returning to the barn.

Whatever she reads about a 3-year-old gelding she trains named Painted Lies will pretty much match what happened on the race track Saturday afternoon.

The overwhelming favorite in the 400-yard race, Painted Lies streaked to the wire under Cody Smith just in front of fast closing Feature Dreamgirl and Explosive Guns, in a winning time of 20.339.

Blair’s only concern before hand?

“Bad luck,” he said. “I’m very superstitious.”

The winning owner Tom Maher of Pierre, S.D., was as excited about the agreement between Canterbury Park and Mystic Lake as he was his horse’s victory.

Maher has been coming to Shakopee since 1985 and was enthralled by the agreement.

“I’m delighted with it,” he said. “It is really something that the Sampsons made the deal, thinking of us horsemen first. I’m really impressed with it.”

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

Remembering Dark Star

On the morning before the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes, the racing community at Canterbury Park said goodbye and paid its respects to a man who would not only have been present but at his boisterous best if fate had not intervened.

There was after all the disappointing defection of a horse pointed toward the Triple Crown. That would have drawn a comment or two of outrageous nature from the fellow in question here.

There was the heat and early morning humidity enveloping the assembled group in the paddock. Even his best friend, Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Radio 1500, made reference to the distaste for such weather by the fellow in question.

One story followed after another about the fellow in question, George Chapple or, as the world knew him, Dark Star.

What was revealed about Dark Star, who died June 1 at age 66, was right out of a George Roy Hill production.

What became quite clear during the proceedings to honor Dark Star’s life was that if you thought you knew him, you really didn’t. If you thought you had seen it all, you really hadn’t.

The long-held contention that Dark was one-of-a-kind proved to be not nearly adequate as a description for the man.

As the stories unfolded from one friend after another, it became obvious that we clearly underestimated his talents for pulling off a scam.

More on that matter later.

Click Here to Watch Video From WCCO TV

Kevin Gorg and Paul Allen agreed, for different reasons, that Dark would have been all over Union Rags in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, the on Saturday.

“He always bet the favorite,” Allen said.

“That was his Derby horse. He would have wanted to prove he was right,” said Gorg.

On Saturday, the Dark Man got his winner.

Just as Dark’s friends and acquaintances got a glimpse of him theretofore not seen during the morning tribute to the man.

Eric Halstrom, the former Vice President of Racing at Canterbury Park and now the GM of the Fairgrounds in New Orleans, told the story that still had loose ends until he, Joe Friedberg and Reusse conferred.

In a nutshell:

During a recent visit to New Orleans, Dark and Halstrom were strolling the French Quarter when the Dark Man stepped into a furniture story. Dark disappeared somewhere in the store moments later. Meanwhile, a man collapsed on the floor near Halstrom.

Long story short:

Dark appears moments later claiming to be a fellow named Dr. Herman Brown. “Stand aside,” Dark said to the small gathering around the man, which included Halstrom. The Dark Man, meanwhile, begins his ministrations which included asking the man if he is diabetic.

Then the paramedics arrive, rescuing the Dark Man from what would have become a tough situation. He tells them that he has diagnosed the man in a diabetic shock. They go with it and it turns out he is right. The storeowners are impressed and inquire of Dark the Doctor what they might do to repay him.

The Dark Man chooses a $700 table he has been eyeing in their store, for a young niece he wants to surprise and asks that it be shipped.

Halstrom has no idea where the table was shipped, until Saturday when he’s speaking with Friedberg. “I know where it was shipped – to Reusse,” Friedberg said.

Not until Saturday was the full story told. The table was shipped to Reusse, and Dark later picked it up.

Friedberg added the story of how he represented Dark in an insurance case. The Dark Man claimed that a baseball card collection worth more than $300,000 had been stolen from the trunk of his car at the Minnesota State Fair.

Friedberg was still asking himself Saturday why a man would leave such a valuable item in the trunk of his car at the state fair. Nonetheless, legitimate questions be damned, Dark won his insurance claim and collected $285,000.

Perhaps he used some of that money, to put a steam room into the apartment he rented. Which raised a question of a different sort from Reusse.

“What man in his right mind,” Reusse wondered, spends $37,000 to install a steam room in a rented apartment?”

Dark Star, that’s who, a man who would have had the Belmont winner on Saturday.

MINNESOTA STALLION BREEDERS’ AND NORTH CENTRAL QUARTER HORSE DERBY

Amber Blair refuses to read a word of any kind about a horse she trains before a race. She will check it out afterward upon returning to the barn.

Whatever she reads about a 3-year-old gelding she trains named Painted Lies will pretty much match what happened on the race track Saturday afternoon.

The overwhelming favorite in the 400-yard race, Painted Lies streaked to the wire under Cody Smith just in front of fast closing Feature Dreamgirl and Explosive Guns, in a winning time of 20.339.

Blair’s only concern before hand?

“Bad luck,” he said. “I’m very superstitious.”

The winning owner Tom Maher of Pierre, S.D., was as excited about the agreement between Canterbury Park and Mystic Lake as he was his horse’s victory.

Maher has been coming to Shakopee since 1985 and was enthralled by the agreement.

“I’m delighted with it,” he said. “It is really something that the Sampsons made the deal, thinking of us horsemen first. I’m really impressed with it.”

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.