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The Ulwellings Provide Quick Proof

Here is hard evidence that the Minnesota racing industry was not only in dire straits but that the recent deal with Mystic Lake is a saving agreement: The Ulwellings, Al and Bill, have been Canterbury Park’s champion owners the last two years.

As Minnesota businessmen they prefer to do business in the state. They prefer racing their horses in Shakopee, but for business reasons have raced them at 19 tracks in recent years in addition to campaigning some locally.

“We were at the Fair Grounds, Prairie Meadows, Arlington Park, Belmont, Assiniboia Downs… Canterbury beat all of them hands down,” Al said. Unless the topic was purses.

The Ulwellings had reached a crossroads in their breeding, foaling and racing plans. “If we had another season like last year,” Al added, “we were going to have to go elsewhere. If nothing got done here this year, we were going to send half of our horses to Iowa and the other half to Chicago.

The Minnesota Racing Commission’s approval Wednesday of Canterbury’s working partnership with Mystic Lake changed those plans.

“Now we’re moving everything to Minnesota,” Al added.

Everything including Stachys (pictured above) who is entered in the $50,000 Brooks Fields Stakes on Sunday.

The Ulwellings won more races at Canterbury last year and the year before than any other owner, yet it was a losing proposition for them.

They had to shift their focus to horses bred in other states to take advantage of the money elsewhere. “It was getting tough just to break even here,” he said. “We bought four Oklahoma-bred yearlings last year. Now at the Minnesota sale we’ll buy our fair share. We couldn’t consider it before.”

The agreement changed all that. The Ulwellings already had 15 horses in Iowa that are now back in Minnesota

Trainer Mike Biehler has 20 of their horses, eight of them two-year-olds. Instead of watching them exit his stalls in the next few weeks, he might have to ask for more space in the future.

The agreement has Ulwelling viewing the future of Minnesota racing through a different prism.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of new trainers in Minnesota next year,” he said. “It’s going to get good. Very competitive. You’ll see a lot of the trainers who used to be here coming back.”

What truly struck Ulwelling was the nature of the agreement that earmarks the entire $75 million from Mystic Lake to Canterbury purses.

“The Sampsons stuck their necks out on this one, with a 10-year commitment. After pushing for 15 years, they get something like this and everything goes to the purse fund. They haven’t gotten enough credit for this deal and they should.”

The purses still won’t match places like Arlington Park, but will put the Shakopee track on more competitive footing. The nature of racing at Canterbury Park alone has always been a large compensating factor.

“You can make more money in Chicago, but everything is first class at Canterbury. The money is better elsewhere but next year we might be closer to an even playing field with Prairie Meadows and the Chicago tracks,” Al added.


Frannie G, a three-year-old daughter of Run With Joy, Canterbury Park’s Horse of the Year in 2007, finished sixth in a starter allowance race at a mile on the dirt Friday at Churchill Downs.

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.