SHAKOPEE, MN – Canterbury Park kicks off the 2017 season Friday afternoon with an eight race card with a first post of 4 PM. For the first time in eight years, Canterbury will launch its 67-day, live racing program on Kentucky Derby weekend.
“Combining live racing with the spectacle that is the Kentucky Derby is the ideal situation,” company president Randy Sampson said. “Derby Day is often the one day that the casual sports fan and excitement seeker comes to the racetrack, many for the first time. Introducing them to live racing will only enhance their experience and encourage another visit; and existing fans love the added action a live racing program offers,” Sampson said.
Traditionally Kentucky Derby Day is the heaviest betting day of the year at Canterbury with nearly $1.8 million expected to be wagered on the race that day.
The Kentucky Oaks will be simulcast during Friday’s live racing program.
A pair of $50,000 stakes are carded for Saturday with the Paul Bunyon for males and L’Etoile du Nord for females on tap as an appetizer to the Kentucky Derby. The L’Etoile du Nord is race 2 on the card and drew six entries while the Bunyon, which features the Most Dangerous Trophy in Racing (a large axe), was carded as the 6th race and features a field of eight.
Top jocks Dean Butler and Alex Canchari are both back this season, as is Orlando Mojica. Mojica, who was third in the jockey standings last year, spotted the field a month before he switched his tack to Shakopee. Jarreth Loveberry made the move from Oaklawn Park while Curtis Kimes and J.D. Acosta have also joined the colony.
Canterbury will be without the presence of long-time fan favorite Paul Nolan this season. Nolan was badly injured in a spill at Will Rogers Downs several weeks ago and has been hospitalized ever since. While Nolan did not experience any broken bones, he has severe swelling of the spine and will need extensive rehabilitation and physical therapy. He will be transferred from Oklahoma to Craig Hospital in Denver to begin a rigorous physical therapy regimen.
“There is no set in stone prognosis,” said Nolan’s wife Sherry. “It will be a very long recovery. Much depends on the swelling and bruising of his spine. His spirits are good and he is eager to advance in his PT. I’m doing the best I am able. Paul and I are so very grateful for all the support we are continuing to receive. Please keep him in your prayers.”
A Go Fund Me page has been set up for the Nolan family here.
Last year’s top trainer and Canterbury Hall of Famer Mac Robertson is settling in to his traditional barn as has fellow Hall of Famer Bernell Rhone who has not missed a racing season in Minnesota since the track opened. Both Karl Broberg and Robertino Diodoro will have a presence at Canterbury again and it is expected that major barns will continue to ship in for the major stakes on the calendar.
While the wagering menu has changed little for the season, there is the addition of a Jackpot Pick 5. The fifty cent base wager will require a single winning ticket or 50% of the pool will be paid out in a consolation and 50% will carry over to the next racing day.
Additionally, Canterbury has abandoned the bold experiment with takeout reduction tried last season. In 2016 Canterbury had the lowest takeout structure in the country with a blended takeout rate of 16.5%. Takeout will revert to 2015 levels (20% blended for all wagers – 17% for across the board wagers and 23% for exotic wagers).
In the company’s annual report, President Randy Sampson stated that “Pari-mutuel revenues decreased by 5.4% in 2016 compared to 2015. Our decision to reduce the takeout rate on our live racing to the lowest level in the country to promote our racing product nationally did not generate the increase in wagering volume we anticipated and resulted in an 8.7% decrease in total revenues from on-track and out-of-state wagering on our live races.”
Though the reduced takeout did not prompt wagering as hoped at Canterbury, lowering takeout may still be a valid strategy. However, for various reasons – small fields, weather, large percent of winning favorites, and more – lowering takeout did not work out at Canterbury.
Canterbury will be looking to beef up its on track rewards program for players as well as hosting targeted promotions via ADWs, whose presence in Minnesota became legal this year.
“We are offering our top on-track live racing players specific incentives targeted to their play. These incentives can increase their rewards and provide tangible benefits,” said Media Relations Manager Jeff Maday.
“We know that our best exposure to the national racing and wagering audience will come on Thursday and Friday night,” Mayday continued, “so we will be working with some ADWs to offer additional incentives to their clients that wager on Canterbury races. Look for those programs to begin in June when we begin racing on Thursdays.”
Friday’s eight race card has an average field size of eight horses per race as horses continue to populate the backside, though Saturday’s card drew an average of nearly nine horses per race. An incentive program has been put in place to try and beef up early season field size with horses starting in May that have never started at Canterbury but have raced this year eligible for a $500 starting bonus.
For the first three weeks, live racing will be held two days a week, Friday night and Saturday afternoon. After opening night, Friday post times will be 6:30 PM and Saturday post times, with the exception of Triple Crown Saturdays (1:45 PM), will be 12:45 PM.
Thursday night racing (6:30 PM) will start on June 8 and holiday racing will be held on Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day at 12:45. The annual fireworks night will be July 3rd and live racing will start at 4:00 PM that evening. The $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby (1 mile, turf) will be run on August 26 and will carry a 4 PM post time.