Canterbury Park lost an estimated $3 million during the shutdown of Minnesota state government, and track officials don't know whether they can make up the loss this season.
Live horse racing, simulcasts and the track’s card club were closed for 20 days. Canterbury Park temporarily laid off 1,000 employees, from service staff to poker dealers, and the shutdown affected hundreds of others—barn workers, trainers, jockeys and horse owners. The track re-opened on July 21 with a day of free admission.
Canterbury President Randy Sampson estimates a loss of $1 million in revenue each week.
"(The shutdown) caused undue hardship to far too many," he said.
On the eve of the shutdown, Sampson warned state legislators that should the track closure drag out, people involved with the track’s backside may decide to leave Minnesota and not return for the rest of the season, which ends in early September. The final impact of the shutdown won't be known, Sampson said, until the racing season is over. Typically, a season runs through Labor Day weekend, but officials plan to add an extra week and reschedule as many canceled races as possible.
The track appears to have reopened soon enough that the majority of those involved with racing and their horses remain on scene. Horses that had been entered in canceled races are now eligible for extra bonuses if they run at Canterbury later this season.
Sampson’s warning looked prescient 10 days into the shutdown, as talk in the barns turned from racing rhetoric to packing plans. Phil Hartman, an owner/trainer from Arizona, brought eight horses with him to Canterbury for the racing season.
“I just shipped up here less than a month ago,” he said during the shutdown. “Now I’m getting shut down. Now we have to go to another track or go home. It’s a bad deal.”
Kevin Danger owns a few horses and trains about a dozen horses at Canterbury. He and some of the owners who hire him live off the horses’ winnings. Complicating the situation for trainers like Danger is they train Minnesota-bred horses, who lost out on special races for greater purses against other Minnesota-bred horses.
“We don’t have to run them against expensive horses from Kentucky,” Danger said. “A lot of them don’t have the talent to go somewhere else and make the owners money.”
David Sorum shares a veterinarian practice with his wife, Alicia, that operates solely at Canterbury Park during the racing season. During the shutdown, he said business "slowed down by at least half.” Some owners, he said, shipped their horses to races in other states.
“It’s hard on the horses to ship them back and forth every other weekend," he said.
Businesses near the track seemed to have fared better. Gloria Lemieux of Savage runs the kitchen of the AmericInn, which is across Canterbury Road from the track and houses many traveling horse people. During the shutdown, the restaurant still drew people headed to and from Valley Fair.
Lemieux and her daughter also raise, train and race horses.
“All of my grandkids grew up loving that track," she said. "They didn’t think it was about the money. You just go to the track and watch those beautiful horses run.”