BY JIM WELLS
Jockeys, stable hands, concession workers, grain suppliers, horsemen and their families spread out on the grandstand apron Wednesday afternoon, most of them unemployed.
In the barns on the backside, 1,300 unemployed horses whinnied, chewed on straw, pranced in their stalls and waited to return to work as well.
More than 1,000 people who work in the racing industry were on hand for a press conference and rally called by state legislators from the area, Sen. Claire Robling of Jordan and Rep. Mike Beard of Shakopee, who expressed their support for the racing industry and pledged to help in reopening Canterbury Park.
Meanwhile, unemployed workers at Canterbury and in horse businesses associated with racing pitched their messages on signs just about anywhere one cared to look.
Need More Taxes. Try a Racino.
I Want My Job Back.
The Government Shutdown is Killing Horse Racing.
Turn Our Lights Back On.
Get Us Back On Track. Pass a Racino.
Of the numerous signs, one drew repeated comment:
Quit Horsin’ Around.
The track supplied lunch, hot dogs, chips and cold drinks, to the horsemen who gathered for the occasion. Track president and CEO Randy Sampson addressed the workers before the press conference, thanked them for their ongoing patience and support and urged them to stay positive, while updating them on current negotiations to reopen Canterbury.
Robling expressed her support for a Racino, considered necessary for the state horse industry and Canterbury to grow, for them to compete with states that already have those advantages.
“That would be a big win for racing and a big win for the state,” she said. “The polls show (consistently) that 70 percent of the state supports a Racino. Twelve other states have Racinos and we know that they’ve been successful. We need to look to our neighbors (for successful ideas).”
Beard acknowledged that horsemen and their stables, that breeding farms, that Canterbury itself are examples of Minnesota small businesses that need support. He urged Governor Dayton to call the legislature back to work so that they could do something about resolving the work stoppage that has affected Canterbury, the Minnesota horse industry and the state.
Mayor John Schmitt of Shakopee talked about the billion dollar entertainment industry in the area, mentioning Valley Fair, Canterbury Park and, to a scattering of boos, Mystic Lake. “I knew I’d get you with that one,” he said.
“We need the doors open (at Canterbury),” Schmitt said. “We need the ponies back on the track.”
Jeff Hilger, a prominent breeder from rural Stillwater, talked about the horse industry and Canterbury as “truly a family. We stick together,” he said. “You all should be very proud of the way you have handled a very troubling situation.”
Jockey Paul Nolan delivered perhaps the most heartfelt words on the ongoing situation. Many trainers and horsemen travel to Canterbury annually from Florida, Texas, Arizona, Nebraska, the Dakotas.
“I probably came the farthest,” said Nolan. “I moved here from England. I made Minnesota my home. I am a Minnesota resident. I love it here.”
Nolan also spoke for many of his colleagues, who are at Canterbury summer after summer, lured here by a well-kept backside, superb track conditions and Canterbury management.
“Every jockey I know loves this place,” Nolan said. “We love Minnesota, the people here, the track, the crowds for the races. But we have only 62 days of racing. We need every one of them.”
Trainer Mac Robertson commented after the press conference.
“It’s sad,” he said. “But what can we do. We’re powerless.”
For 60 minutes Wednesday afternoon, it didn’t seem that way. One sign sized up the general attitude:
Do your Job. Put us Back to Work.