The 2012 racing season at Canterbury Park is over and for the first time I have the sincere pleasure of saying I visited the Suburban Minneapolis racetrack before they closed the doors. A long time coming to be sure, but the trip was well worth the wait. Turf racing, real dirt, and low takeout rates, were on the list of things I knew to expect at Canterbury, but I was pleased to see a whole lot more.
On a day with over 17,000 people in attendance, which is one of the largest crowds in the history of the 28-year-old track, I experienced a small town feel combined with a professionally run race track. Despite the overflow crowd, I always felt the Canterbury staff had things running smoothly, which is not always the case with bigger tracks when they are graced with a huge crowd. Most of all, the feeling of pride for thoroughbred racing in Minnesota was palpable, giving me a really good feeling about the future of the place. A future that has at times been in serious jeopardy, now seems to be as bright as ever with a recent agreement between the track and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community that should insure the health of Canterbury for the next ten years.
Fittingly, Sunday’s card was all about the Minnesota bred. The nineteenth edition of the Festival of Champions was a kind of meet-end series of championships for the best horses bred in the Gopher State. Highlighting the day were a pair of good looking juveniles and an old pro sprinter. The six-year-old Nomorewineforeddie became a bit of a Minnesota-bred legend by winning his third consecutive $50,000 Minnesota Sprint Champiosnship. I thought the heavily favored son of Scrimshaw might be in for a real battle when he entered into a three-way early pace duel, but he was up to the challenge and then some, drawing away to score by 6½ lengths.
Both juvenile winners were also impressive. First it was Sugar Business setting a stakes record in the $65,000 Northern Lights Futurity. In only his third lifetime start, the son of Stormy Business completed the six panels in 1:10.32, making it easily the fastest time in the history of the race. Then came Badge of Glory (above) who easily dispatched of her main rival, Bleu Moon Magic, before coasting home an easy winner in the $65,000 Northern Lights Debutante. It was the second straight impressive win for the daughter of Badge of Silver at Canterbury. Other winners included, Coconino Slim, who went wire-to-wire in the $50,000 Minnesota Classic Championship, and Congrats and Roses who romped home in the $50,000 Minnesota Distaff Classic.
While I was able to see many of the best state-breds in Minnesota, there unfortunately was one glaring exception. The star of Minnesota racing is the three-year-old, Heliskier. Recently named Horse of the Year in the state, the undefeated Minnesota-bred won all four 2012 starts in dominating style to go along with two huge wins last year as a juvenile. In his most recent outing, the son of Appealing Skier rocked his competition in the Minnesota Derby in his first try running a route of ground. It would have been great to see Heliskier (above) on the Festival of Champions Day, but it appears the talented colt has been put away for the year, with designs to be back next year for perennial leading trainer Mac Robertson.
Heliskier, or no Heliskier, I had a great time at Canterbury Park. Not only a good place for a handicapper and grizzled race tracker like me, I also enjoyed the family atmosphere for my wife and young daughter. People were having fun, and the track does a great job of offering all the right things for the different kinds of racing fan. If your into the whole casino thing, Canterbury's looked good without being obtrusive to the races. The facility, like so many others built in its era, used the glassed-in box formula, but from the distinctive red steeples on the roof, to the fair-style fan offerings throughout, to the very fan friendly viewing of the paddock, Canterbury definitely manages to offer a unique overall feel and is not quite like any other track I have ever visited.
Oh yeah, and if you are keeping score, Canterbury became the second new track for me this summer, after Fort Erie, meaning I have now seen live thoroughbred racing at 45 different race tracks. It’s a number I am both proud of, but also that I need to expand in my lifelong quest to watch the best sport in the world live and in living color.