A rainy first night hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of the racing fans tonight at the season opener at Canterbury Park. The fans are out strong, maybe not as strong as they would have been on a warm, sunny evening, but the crowd was hopping and were thrilled to respond when track announcer Paul Allen exhorted them to make some noise before the gates sprung open for race 1.
As the season gets started and the damp has kept me up in the pressbox, I thought I’d ruminate on a few things as the season gets started. Just some of the things I’m interested in following as the season moves along:
1) Heliskier: Is the 4-year gelding going to be able to maintain his “superhorse” status as the season rolls along? Last season he was a sterling 4-4 and was simply unchallenged. There was some hope that he may debut in open company before this Canterbury season but that was not to be as he makes his debut as the odds on favorite in the $50,000 10,000 Lakes Stakes on Saturday. If you watched his Minnesota Derby win and didn’t get chills down your spine as he simply accelerated away from the field under very little urging from jockey Derek Bell, you ain’t really a fan.
2) Trainer and Jockey Race: With new jockeys and trainers coming to town the two races should be a very competitive. Roger Brueggemann running the Midwest Thoroughbred operation already has a win and a place on the opening card and EM Martin marked his return to Canterbury with a win on board. Mac Robertson, perennial leading trainer here, may have a tougher road to hoe, but Mac has a deep bench and knows this track better than most – he won’t just roll over for the invaders and neither will jocks Dean Butler or Derek Bell. It should be fun to watch.
3) Field size/handle/payoffs: arguably the field size is a bit disappointing opening weekend given the burgeoning horse population on the backside, but as more horses arrive and the Minnesota breds get ready to race, the field sizes should increase and there should be better wagering opportunities and payoffs. Favorites shouldn’t be winning at a nearly 40% clip anymore and the low takeout pick fours should really start paying nicely allowing bettors to spread their wagers a bit more leading to higher handle. It will be interesting to watch the pools as the season progresses and see if that handle starts to climb.
4) Closer to home: First time in years that we didn’t get a claim at Tampa to start the season. I wish I could describe my frustration, but I really can’t adequately explain it. We lost 4 shakes and another horse we were going to drop a slip on scratched the morning of a race. Additionally we vetted out another horse who turned up with a bad ankle. Granted, the $500 we spent saved us $16,000 overall, but it WAS frustrating that the horse didn’t check out.
The season is underway, we’re halfway through the first night’s card and on our way to the first stake of the season, the Lady Slipper. The band is playing, the crowd is cheering and the sloppy track is drying. We started the card with three sixes coming up winners, but that streak is broken now too.
Best of luck to everyone this season and make sure to stop me and say hello when you’re out at the track!