by JIM WELLS
The legislators who attended the tour of Canterbury Park Saturday morning had to feel conspicuous by their presence.
Mark Buesgens and Sandra Masin.
Perhaps Faye Sparks, the chief of staff to Jim Metzen, too.
Despite the terribly small response from state legislators (there are around 201 of them), horsemen treated those who attended as if they were escorting the entire legislative body.
They visited the chapel, the racing office and dental facility, the pool, trainer Bernell Rhone’s barn, the viewing stand on the backside of the track, the test barn and the pressbox. They were also given a look at the starting gate in action with horses provided from the barns of Troy Bethke and Todd Hoffrogge.
Jim Olson, Kelvin Childers and Shannon Riley directed the tour that included HBPA executive director Patrice Underwood, Racing Commission executive director Dick Krueger, MTA executive director Kay King, racing commissioners Jim Lane and chairperson Darcy Hitesman.
“I thought everything went smoothly,” Olson said. “Yes, we hoped for a lot more people, but it was nice to get some Democrats out here.”
Olson referred to Masin and to Sparks.
Canterbury Park president/CEO Randy Sampson also accompanied the group and was kept busy providing details and racing information throughout the three-hour plus tour
Paul Nolan was recruited to provide a jockey’s perspective and showed up wearing a Racino T-shirt. ”You see this orange spot,” he said to a bystander, pointing to the front of his shirt. “That’s rust…waiting for the legislature to give us a Racino.”
Generally, the tour provided the visitors with an education on everything that goes on behind and before and after the races.
Underwood and Sampson provided information some of the horsemen in the group weren’t aware of themselves, such as the 400 tenants who occupy the dormitories connected to the barns. “And another 500 people, exercise riders, jockeys farriers and stable hands who don’t live here, come and go each day,” Underwood told the group.
And stalls for 1,500 horses that needed to be fed, groomed, exercised, bathed and generally cared for on a daily basis.
Sampson talked about the backside routine set up to dispose of tons of stray and shavings on a daily basis and how much of it is sold and reconverted to energy.
The stop at Rhone’s barn put the tour behind schedule by a full 15 or 20 minutes. “Bernell did such a great job explaining everything to them that we didn’t want to interrupt,” Olson explained. “He gave them an education in horsemanship.”
Rhone also pointed out how racing provides livelihoods for himself, his wife, Cindy, his daughter, son and son-in-law.
He also explained how the essentials necessary for racing provide a stimulus to many aspects of the Minnesota economy. Grain and straw alone account for much of that. “I need 10 to 15 pounds of grain and several pounds of straw,” he said. “Per horse, per day, and I have 50 head.”
The services of farriers, vets and tack shops are required on a daily basis. The tour group watched as Scott Rhone prepared a horse for shoeing that is necessary every month or so, depending on the horse.
During the tour group’s trip to the viewing stand, representative Masin struck up a conversation with trainer Bryan Porter, who explained to her that, although he loves and prefers Canterbury, he has to send his best horses to Woodbine race track in Toronto because the purses are better.
And the purses are better why?
“Because they have slot machines,” Porter explained.
Yes, more than 1,900 of them.
Which was the point of the tour, to begin with, educating Minnesota’s legislators on the need for a Racino to help support an industry that puts thousands of people to work. In 2008 alone, the Racing Commission issued 5,5052 occupational licenses associated with racing.
“Our message is just help us compete,” Olson added. “It’s the one issue we bring up to legislators and their eyes just glaze over. As good as this track is, it still needs the tools to compete with other tracks in other states that have Racinos.”
Olson said that videos are being made of the tour and will be distributed to all the legislators before the next session begins.
The lingering question then has to do with horses all right, something about leading one to water but…