The 26th Minnesota Festival of Champions takes place tomorrow at Canterbury Park. The special event debuted in 1992 to pay tribute to the Minnesota horse breeding industry, and acts as the unofficial celebration of the Canterbury Park live racing season.
“Festival day is like the Championship game of the season,” said trainer Bernell Rhone, winner of 20 festival races. “You spend all year getting ready for this day, the money is good, and the different categories really help each horse succeed individually. It’s a very special day.”
Why is the Minnesota Festival of Champions so memorable to Canterbury Park and its members?
For jockey Derek Bell, it’s all about the competition. “There are a lot of nice horses that day,” said Bell. “I consider myself lucky each time I get to ride on festival day.” Bell is the most winning jockey in Festival history with 24 wins.
“A lot of good riders, trainers, owners and breeders participate in the Minnesota Festival of Champions,” added jockey agent Chad Anderson, who won seven festival races when he was a jockey. “It makes for a very fun and exciting day of racing at Canterbury Park.”
Track announcer Paul Allen loves how it reveals true dedication. “The day is all about Minnesota. Having been here a quarter century calling races I have a high level of respect, adoration and love for those who have been through the battles to keep racing strong at Canterbury,” he said. “This is a day many of those people get a chance to compete and get paid. It’s our State Tournament for Minnesotans and forever will be my favorite day we present.”
Festival Day will offer record purses this year with each thoroughbred stakes race, and there are six of them, worth $100,000. The quarter horse Futurity and Derby will each pay more than $55,000.
It’s more than the money, though. The Minnesota Festival of Champions was created to send a message to the Minnesota horse industry and the owners of the state’s only pari-mutuel facility; the message that there is still a market for horse racing in the state.
“When the first Festival took place in 1992, it proved that there was still an interest in horse racing among Minnesotans,” said Clerk of Course Peggy Davis. “It’s always so fun to see everyone at the track enjoying the races.”
As Canterbury Park and the state’s breeding industry continue to expand, the excitement of racing on Festival day continues to grow as well.