By T. D. Thornton
Despite coming off a record-handle season, Canterbury Park is proposing a 10-day schedule slice and a $45,000 average daily purse cut for 2023.
The reductions were made public this week as the Minnesota track faced a Nov. 15 racing commission deadline to apply for next year's dates at the same time it is trying to extend or renegotiate an expiring agreement with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. Since 2012, that deal has provided purse funding in exchange for the track and horsemen not pursuing additional forms of gambling, and it expires Dec. 31.
The 54-date season would begin May 27, the latest start in Canterbury Park history, and end Sept. 16. The track would cut back by hosting just three-day race weeks for the bulk of the season, although parts of July and August would feature four days of racing.
Rachel Blount of the Minneapolis Star Tribune first broke the story, quoting Canterbury's chief executive officer, Randy Sampson.
“At this point, we need to plan for how we will manage the racing season if there isn't an extension,” Sampson told the Tribune. “We would all like to run more days, but I think this is a great compromise. I'm quite optimistic it will work out fine.”
Canterbury handled $97.6 million in 2022 over a 64-day season that paid an average of $245,000 in daily purses.
Mike Cronin, the executive director of the Minnesota Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, told the Tribune that horsemen are attempting to focus on the longer-term future.
“We knew we would have to make some compromises for next year, and Canterbury would have to make some compromises,” Cronin said.
“The hope is that we can navigate this together. All things considered, we're excited about next year, but our real focus has to be on 2024 and beyond.”
The potential lack of a funding agreement isn't the only issue. Racing in general in the Midwest will be shifting for 2023 in ways that could increase competition to Canterbury from other regional tracks.
Ellis Park in Kentucky is racing under new ownership, and although Ellis is scheduled to race essentially its same block of 24 dates next year over the same summer template, new owner Churchill Downs, Inc., is expected to put a renewed emphasis on racing there by strengthening the racing program.
In Illinois, Hawthorne Race Course will return a summer Thoroughbred season to greater Chicago after a one-year absence in the aftermath of the sudden and permanent closure of Arlington International Racecourse by racing Mar. 4-Sept. 4.
And in Nebraska, casino gaming and sports betting at tracks are in the pipeline for 2023, with Legacy Downs (formerly Lincoln Race Course) and Fonner Park both expanding their schedules.
Extensive renovations are also planned for Canterbury, so the later start to the season at least affords extra time to complete a new barn and a new dormitory, plus replace the track's lighting system.
Canterbury's proposed dates must be still approved by the Minnesota Racing Commission in December.
“A lot of tracks around the country are already running three days per week, so the horsemen are used to it,'” Sampson told the Tribune.