The grandfather had a twinkle in his eye as he smiled at the little girl in front of him. She looked at him as he drew his hands up and mimed blowing a trumpet just as the track bugler Lynn Deichert performed the call to the post. He looked at his granddaughter and said “Who wants to go see the horses?” She threw her arms up in the air (still clutching a much beloved stuffed horse) and answered emphatically “Me! Me! Me!” He laughed as he swung her into his arms and the family followed as he said “Let’s go see some horses!”
Canterbury Park is a jewel of a race track located on 355 acres in Shakopee, Minn. It is less than a half hour from Minneapolis. It is well-kept, friendly and open with great sight lines. It is extremely family-oriented. And the kids! Oh my goodness! Canterbury Park is doing a dynamite job of creating a future fan base for horse racing. When the brand new starting gate is wheeled in front of the track, families flock to the rail. Kids poke their heads up intently to watch the horses load into the gate. A young man bounces his toddler on his shoulder and asks him “Who are we cheering for? Pick a number!” “The six!” And he showed his son how to watch for the No. 6 horse during the race. “Get ready to cheer! Here he comes!” The toddler raised his fist into the air and yelled. The horse lost but Dad immediately turned it into a learning moment and said “Hooray! It’s OK! We didn’t win but we had fun! Hooray for the six!” He bounced him high into the air and his son grinned from ear to ear.
From the very first impression, Canterbury Park greets its customers with open arms. They have one of the best programs I have ever seen. It has scads of information for all level of race goers. Pages devoted to beginners. Any newcomer would feel instantly welcomed. Lots of explanations such as “What is a flipping halter?” (It is a halter designed to prevent a Quarter Horse from flipping or rearing in the starting gate!) It runs you through all the basics with ease.
The meet runs from early May through Labor Day and features both a dirt and turf course. Originally the track opened in 1985 as Canterbury Downs. It is thriving with a 10-year, $75-million purse enhancement and a marketing agreement with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. In 2015, they paid record $14.1 million in purses that averaged over $200,000 daily. They are extremely proud for being known for the lowest betting take out in America which means that everyone is a winner!
Currently, the infield is being renovated. They are reshaping the infield and consolidating two small ponds into one large pond. This will lead to the construction of an infield event space. Smart thinking to add a place for live concerts and events! I have a feeling it will be a welcomed addition.
Canterbury Park is strong about honoring their racing history. You can see a photo tribute and saddle of a young Mike Smith beaming as he won his 1000th race. Around the corner is a lovely tribute to the elegant Mrs. Frances Genter who won the 1990 Kentucky Derby with her homebred colt Unbridled. As you look up and see her petite, adorable, black and white ensemble and her silks, you are immediately overwhelmed with the memory of trainer Carl Nafzger calling the Derby out loud to her. Amid tears, shouts and kisses, the 92-year-old couldn’t see the track. It is one of the most beloved moments in the annals of the Kentucky Derby. She and her husband had a long history of racing at Canterbury Park.
It is thrilling to look at the horses that were racing on Memorial Day weekend. The list of famous sires was extensive and included Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown, Dynaformer (sire of Barbaro), Derby winner Street Sense, and other well-known horses such as Langfuhr, Dunkirk and Colonel John. The crowd cheered when Maggi Moss’s Politicallycorrect trained by leading trainer Robert Diodoro won. The 7-year-old gelding is by the well-known Kentucky sire Kitten’s Joy owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey.
I met handicapper Johnny Love and Canterbury Park’s brand-new paddock analyst Brian Arrigoni. Johnny was extolling how great Brian’s first day on the job went because he gave a 12-1 longshot and the horse won! Gutsy! Brilliant! Brian is living the dream as he is a local Minnesotan who has been coming to the track “since he was in a stroller.” Paul Allen, the voice of the Minnesota Vikings has been the race track caller since 1995. He is extremely skilled and it’s enjoyable to listen to his extensive vocabulary. I laughed when he referred to a horse who was blocked in on all sides as “being sequestered!” It was the perfect description.
The crowd filtered onto the apron in anticipation of the T-shirt toss. Staff members stood in the winner’s circle with the largest slingshot I have ever seen. They shot T-shirts into the upper balcony and all over the apron. Kids were dancing with delight and showing their parents their newly acquired T-shirts. The crowd loved it.
Which is exactly the point. Canterbury Park has found a way to make horse racing a family-friendly and fun day at the track. There is something for everyone. One classic touch by the track is worth mentioning. They have copies of the Daily Racing Form chained to a counter next to the betting windows in case you need to study the past performances when you place your bet. There it is! All the information you need; your program with daily racing analyst Brian Kohn, the Daily Racing Form, the info from the paddock analyst Brian Arrigoni and a full card of wonderful racing. Great entertainment, fabulous race track calling, free T-shirts and wonderful food. It’s worth the trip. Gather the family and have an enjoyable and entertaining time at the track! One thing is for sure – the kids will have a great time!