By Noah Joseph
1995 was an exciting year for horse racing: from trainer D.Wayne Lukas winning all three Triple Crown races with two different horses; dominating Serena’s Song who beat her fellow females and males across the country; to the powerful Cigar, who carried fans on a twelve-race winning streak to Horse Of The Year honors.
But in Minnesota, 1995 had extra-special meaning in horse racing. Because this week, in fact this weekend, is the exact same weekend that Canterbury reopened.
The Shakopee, Minn., racetrack reopened as Canterbury Park thanks to the Curt and Randy Sampson and Dale Schenian, who wanted to bring racing back to Minnesota. In 1990, what was then Canterbury Downs was struggling. Gone were the days of large crowds, quality horses, and major wagering. Despite having some exciting horses and racing, the track just wasn’t the same. That year, Ladbroke, a British betting company, purchased Canterbury in an attempt to return it to its former glory, and renamed it Ladbroke Canterbury Downs. Needless to say, only the name changed. Purses dropped, fewer races were being run, fewer people came, and the track which was once something close to a vibrant city became a desolate ghost town. The track closed in 1992.
When the track reopened, it was as if the old Canterbury had sprung back to life. Better horses ran in more races, more fans came, and more money was being bet. Billy Three won the first race for owner/trainer Don Rice and jockey Paula Bacon. Reopening day was a smash. More than 7,000 fans came and bet almost $500,000 on the 10 races.
So if you’re at Canterbury this weekend and you see the Sampsons and the Schenians, thank them for bringing horse racing back to Minnesota, where we party like it’s 1995.
(Also, one fun fact since it’s Preakness weekend. The first stakes race run at Canterbury Park was the Hoist Her Flag, which was won by Authorized Staff, ridden by Jesus Castanon. Castanon is known for riding the 2011 Preakness winner, Shackleford.)