The skies were leaden most of the day and into the evening, giving way from time to time to a thunderstorm that drenched the racetrack and reduced attendance on the first Thursday night racing of the meet.
Dollar night, as some patrons call it, produced a lot of leftovers, or as press box impresario Jeff Maday sized it up: “We’ll be eating hot-dog casseroles for the next week.”
The skies were not the only leaden feature of the day. The footing on the racetrack was, too. The racing started with sloppy going that gradually turned to muddy.
The one thing impossible to dampen on this day was the spirit of the horsemen, who were buoyant from start to finish, win or run second in some instances. There is always another day in such cases, something that was uncertain until the deal with Mystic Lake.
There was a real bounce to their steps on Thursday, one day after the Minnesota Racing Commission voted 5-3 to approve a marketing partnership with Mystic Lake that will pump $75 million into purses at Canterbury Park over the next 10 years, including $2.6 million this season.
Jeff Hilger, who spearheaded a horsemen’s Racino drive at the legislature that eventually led to the Mystic Lake agreement, watched with his wife, Deb, as their 3-year-old Quote To Cash broke his maiden in commanding fashion under Tanner Riggs.
“This is a good day, too,” said Deb. The other, of course, was Wednesday and the Racing Commission approval.
The purse increases are retroactive to the first day of the meet, but Thursday’s program included official recognition of those payments for the first time.
Quote To Cash, for example, was running for a winner’s share of a $17,920 purse, which included $4,000 from the agreement, referred to in the race program as the “Mystic Lake Purse Enhancement Fund.”
“This makes it almost worthwhile,” Jeff Hilger said, grinning.
Hilger spent the first 15 minutes after the race answering calls on his cell phone, several of them congratulatory wishes. One of the calls came from trainer Mac Robertson who had assured Hilger of a win.
Bobble Doit won the fourth race on the card, a 5 ½ furlong event for maidens that included an additional $5,500 from the Mystic Lake fund. That produced knowing smiles from trainer Bernell Rhone and the winning rider, his son-in-law, Dean Butler.
Trainer Doug Oliver, in semi-retirement, was offered a look at the purse enhancement on a race and shook his head in amazement. Does the agreement have him second-guessing a bit?
“I’m not sure what to do,” he said, clearly enticed by the windfall that will breathe new life into the Minnesota horse industry.
The winner of the seventh race was a four-year-old filly, Mighty Tizzy, trained by Miguel Angel Silva. That race was enhanced by $3,000.
“Beautiful, beautiful,” Silva said, smiling. “I’m just waiting for it (the win) to become official.”
Well, the agreement now is, and so, too, was Silva’s win moments later.
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.