Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Closing Her Up

Our warm seasons in Minnesota are short, at least they feel really short when you have -23 high temperatures some winter days, so we try and savor the Canterbury Park live racing season while we can.

Admittedly there was not a lot to savor on the racetrack for us personally this year, we only managed one win this season, but there were certainly great moments.

Trainer Robertino Diodoro, in his second season training at Canterbury, seized the training title from 9 time champion Mac Robertson.  This is the first year that I can remember that Mac didn't have the title wrapped up with 4 - 6 weeks to go.  I had a chance to talk with Diodoro after his Castletown won the $40,000 HBPA Sprint Stakes and asked him what changed between his debut season, where he had a hard time reaching the winners' circle, to this season.

“We had help issues, horses getting sick, you name it,” Diodoro said.  “I wasn’t going to come back but [Minnesota HBPA President] Tom Metzen kept after me in Phoenix to try again.  I do really like it here and after evaluating our horses and where they would fit, I decided to give it another try, but we weren’t going to do it halfway.”

                                                       Trainer Robertino Diodoro

Diodoro tied the Canterbury Park record for wins by a trainer on a single card, taking six on the final day, albeit in a highly unusual way, winning both ends of a dead heat in the $75,000 Shakopee Juvenile stakes which counted as two wins.  I'm not sure which feat is more impressive: winning six races or getting six wins in five races!

                                         Mercedes Stables owned/Diodoro trained dead heat.

The jockey race was another that came down to the final day.  The trio of defending champion Dean Butler, Ry Eikleberry and Alex Canchari entered the final day with Eikleberry sporting a two win lead over his rivals and was able to hold off Canchari, taking the title 64 - 63.
The Indian Horse Relay was again a highlight of the meet for me.  These kids are truly amazing.  For those not familiar, there are several teams that consist of a rider, holder and mugger.  Three horses on each team go a lap each (1 mile) and at the end of the lap, the mugger grabs the horse coming in at nearly full speed while the rider jumps off one mount and vaults on another for another lap.  This year's winner was Dolphus Racing from the Cheyenne River Sioux Nation.

Horse exchange in the Indian Relay

And things can get dangerous - this rider was not seriously injured.

The big race of the season was the $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby, run on closing day for the first time in it's 3-year existence.  According to Canterbury's Vice President of Racing Operations Eric Halstrom,"“We had hoped that moving our biggest race to the end of the season would allow us to draw horses from tracks where we had not before."
Halstrom wasn't mistaken.  Ten of the 12 entered for Saturday most recently raced at tracks other than Canterbury, including Saratoga, Monmouth, and Parx in the east, Del Mar in southern California, and Northlands Park and Woodbine in Canada.
The winner was Long on Value who swept passed the early leaders Chairman Crooks and the favorite General Jack to take the richest race in the Canterbury Park era of Minnesota racing.
While the leading owners of the meet were brothers Al & Bill Ulwelling for the third time in five years, it's hard to imagine an owner having a better year than Rake Farms LLC.  Proprietor Scott Rake breeds and races a small stable but had some of the biggest wins of the year with filly Sky and Sea and gelding Bourbon County.  Between the two, four divisional honors were captured including Sky and Sea being named the Horse of the Year for the 2014 season.

Sky and Sea

From a business perspective, stats at the track were relatively flat but in an era when contraction is the norm and tracks are struggling to fill fields and just stay open, flat is the new up.
From my recap in the DRF:
Total purses for the meet were up 5.4 percent over 2013 with the track paying out $13,120,706 over the 68-day season.
Field size, which was a decade-best 8.36 horses per race in 2013, remained steady with 2014 fields averaging 8.22 starters per race.
Claiming activity at the Shakopee oval was up sharply year over year, with the number of horses claimed nearly doubled from 2013, 165 compared to 65, with a total value of more than $1,000,000, an increase of 79.3 percent year over year.
While the track still enjoyed robust average attendance, averaging 6,419 fans per race day, on-track handle slipped 7.5 percent year over year. Out-of-state handle, however, remained strong, essentially flat after the giant 31.8 percent increase from 2012 to 2013. All-sources handle saw a dip of 2.5 percent from 2013 numbers.
The purse increases have not subsided yet, either.  I believe that there are two more years of increasing from the original SMSC agreement before that money flattens out.  Additionally, we reached the bottom as far as Minnesota bred foal crops go.  This past year was the lowest number of 2-year olds we will see.  Starting next year the crops goes up exponentially and we should start seeing more MN bred races filling and more opportunities to race.
From a selfish business perspective it was a difficult season but overall it was another dynamic season of racing in Minnesota.  While we didn't win as many races, we'll just need to get better go forward.  And this summer wasn't a total loss as it was also the emergence of Heather as a bonafide photographer.  All the pictures here are hers and, if you follow her on Twitter (@raezen12 - and if you don't, I encourage you to do so), you've seen more of her marvelous photos all season long.
So off we go to regroup and try and come back stronger next season.  Now we'll focus on the baby and getting ready for 2015.  As always, we'll talk Breeders' Cup when the time comes as well as thoughts on various racing issues as the winter goes on and, of course, keep you posted on our activities as well.
I leave you today with the complete rundown of the divisional winners from this past season at Canterbury Park.
Horse of the year, 3 year old filly, top sprinter – Sky and Sea

Older horse – Bourbon County

3 year old colt/gelding – Speed is Life

Grass horse – Dear Fay

Older Filly/Mare – Talkin Bout

2-year old – Hold for More

Claimer of the meet – Terice

Quarter Horse – Dirt Road Queen

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