A crowd of 8,585 gathered at Canterbury Park for “Buck Night” last night. The racetrack had the feel of an Irish wake. A live band played music between races and the always popular “Buck Night” promotion offered up $1 beers and hotdogs, but with no budget decision from the state forthcoming before midnight, the track was readying to close after the last race. With funding for the Minnesota Racing Commission (MRC) cut off it was determined that the track could not continue to operate live racing, the card club or even simulcasting.
Earlier in the day Canterbury filed suit in Scott County District Court (where the track is located) to try and get injunctive relief to the closure on the grounds that the MRC is funded by the fees the track pays, in advance, to the state. There is no drain on general fund money and the Commission is considered self-funded but the Governor’s counsel motioned the court to lump together all petitioners against shutting down into one motion which was referred to the state Supreme Court. The Court ruled on Thursday afternoon to allow the consolidation of the petitions and referred the matter back to Ramsey County District Court in St. Paul to the court of Judge Kathleen Gearin. Earlier in the week Judge Gearin had stated that she was predisposed to very narrowly define “critical” state functions to allow departments to operate so the feeling going into the hearing this morning at 9 AM is not very positive though it is unknown what her opinion is going to be with the arguments not being that the Commission function is critical, only that it is self-funded and not subject to the shutdown.
At risk this weekend are four stakes contests: the $35,000 Shot of Gold and the $50,000 Blair’s Cove on Sunday and the $35,000 MN HBPA Mile and the $50,000 Dean Kuntz Derby; the largest revenue weekend of the year; the traditional fireworks display that draws 20,000 to the track and areas surrounding it; and the future of racing in Minnesota. While this last point may seem a bit melodramatic, consider the following. If you were an owner or trainer and decided to send your stable to Canterbury for the summer, knowing you’d be running for a bit less money but that the atmosphere and track management were first rate and then this happens? How inclined would you be to come back? How inclined would you be to stay? And just how many days being closed to do you take before you ship out for Chicago, Iowa or Indiana? Next year when you go and ask the trainer to come back, how do you answer the question, “After what happened to me last year, why should I come back?”
An interesting side angle here is where the talks for the racino are fitting in to the budget talks. Should there be a budget agreement that includes provisions for a racino at Canterbury Park, there will be a pretty good answer to that last question.