Concern mounts as Canterbury Park deal with Mdewakanton Sioux nears end
The photo appeared in Scott Rake’s Facebook feed last month, a digital relic from a day 10 years in the past. He and Jeff Hilger, another racehorse owner and breeder, were celebrating a historic event for their industry: the approval of a deal that would nearly double purses at Canterbury Park, providing about $70 million in additional funds during of the next decade.
This day ushered in a new era for the Shakopee track. But last week, with the deal’s finish line in sight, Rake recalled it with more melancholy than joy.
“It was the right thing to do at the time,” Rake said. “It breathed some life into the track. But now we’re back to uncertainty.”
The 2012 agreement between Canterbury Park and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) is due to expire on December 31. Although negotiations to extend it continue, its potential end has become the Clydesdale in the hall of Minnesota’s horse racing and breeding industry – impossible to ignore, uncomfortable to discuss and powerful enough to inflict pain. pain.
The deal transformed Canterbury from a struggling track with declining scholarships into a nationally recognized venue. During this summer’s 65-Day season, the track expects to pay $15 million in total, including $7.28 million from the SMSC deal. SMSC money has fueled a 134% rise in purses since 2011, improving the quality of racing in Canterbury and inspiring a brief baby boom at Thoroughbred farms in the state.
Neither the track nor the tribe talk about the negotiations, providing no indication of what each side is looking for. With the expiration date looming, breeders are already pulling out, further reducing an already insufficient supply of racehorses.
Only 105 thoroughbred colts were registered as Minnesota horses this year. That number is the lowest since at least 2000, and down nearly 60% from 2014.
“From a breeding perspective, the damage has already been done,” said Joe Scurto, president of the Minnesota Thoroughbred Racing Alliance, a state racing industry advocacy group. “You can see what happened to the foal crop.”
Scurto is optimistic Canterbury can maintain high quality racing, “but purse money is a big driver of the sport,” he said. “And if there are fewer, we might be looking at fewer race dates and fewer horses coming to Minnesota.”
Representatives of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux community declined to be interviewed. In a statement, its works council said SMSC “enjoyed our relationship with Canterbury Park over the past decade”, adding that the council is engaged in “active conversations about the future” of the deal.
Canterbury Park President and CEO Randy Sampson said a resolution must be reached by this fall as plans for the track’s 2023 racing season will be submitted to the Minnesota Racing Commission in November. .
“At this point, it’s hard to predict what the outcome will be,” Sampson said. “Both parties have an interest in moving forward. We continue to have very positive discussions.”
If the deal comes to an end, Canterbury could seek other gambling options to generate money, such as sports betting. These efforts have been suspended for 10 years. The SMSC contract prohibits Canterbury and its riding associations from promoting or lobbying for the expansion of gambling, sidelining them from last spring’s legislative debate on the legalization of sports betting.
A breach of contract could force Canterbury to repay all of the SMSC money – including $68.5m in scholarships and $11.8m in marketing funds – and potentially more in damages.
Despite the unpredictability, Sampson stressed that Canterbury are not shy about their long-term commitment to live racing. Scott Rake, who bred champions Canterbury Sky and Sea and Bourbon County, plans to stay involved, but only as a horse owner. He quit the livestock business, a decision based “nearly 100 per cent” on issues surrounding the Canterbury Scholarships.
“I don’t see a scenario where horse racing in the state of Minnesota could continue if there wasn’t some kind of alternative revenue stream,” Rake said. “But our hands are tied even to consider [additional gaming] until the end of the agreement. There’s a huge sense of uncertainty.”
Several Canterbury horse owners, breeders and trainers declined to comment on the situation. The fear of breaking the contract and the sensitivity surrounding the negotiations made many of them reluctant to discuss it.
It was a different story in 2012. For years, track officials lobbied for state approval to add slots or other games, mimicking the reinvented racetracks. as “racinos” to inflate stock exchanges. The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association successfully fought all of these proposals.
At the request of the Governor at the time. Mark Dayton, representatives of both parties have decided to end these annual skirmishes and cooperate. The partnership has revitalized Minnesota’s racing and breeding industries.
Prior to the deal, Canterbury’s scholarships had been falling for five years, falling to $6.4 million in 2011. They soared to $12.5 million in the second year of the deal. Wealthier purses attracted more stables and higher quality horses, sending betting to new heights.
Last year’s handle reached a record $90.9 million at Canterbury Park, more than four times the amount wagered in 2011. This season has already produced the biggest one-day handle in history of Canterbury Park, when $4.7 million was wagered on June 22.
“This day would not have been possible without [the SMSC agreement]”Sampson said. “It allowed us to maintain the size of the fields better than the other tracks. The marketing dollars helped us build an audience for the race. We were able to recruit new trainers and new jockeys. There is no doubt that it has been transformational.”
The higher purses have also encouraged Minnesota breeders to improve the quantity and quality of their operations. In 2012, the state’s crop of Thoroughbred colts dropped to 118, less than half the number produced four years earlier. SMSC money guaranteed significantly higher purses for a decade, and in 2014 the number of foals soared to 251.
The number has fallen sharply since then as the end of the deal neared with no word on an extension. Sampson said that was a concern. The trend isn’t limited to Minnesota — national foal crops have been in steep decline since 2006 — but Minnesota breeds are especially vital to the Canterbury horse population.
At this point, Canterbury maintains high quality races. Andrew Offerman, senior vice president of racing operations, said the track has always been able to fill high-stakes races for young Minnesota-bred horses, even in lean times. He expects that to continue, adding that the current state breeds are “the best we’ve ever had.”
But Rake said several high-end Minnesota-bred yearlings — including one of his own — have recently been sold to out-of-state owners. Depending on what happens with Canterbury handbags, they may never run on their own turf.
“A lot of these horses have left the state and they’re not coming back,” Rake said. “That’s the real impact. It was assumed that if a horse was born in Minnesota, it would probably race in Canterbury. That’s not necessarily the case now.”
New way forward?
If the SMSC deal does not continue, Canterbury could adapt in a number of ways. It could shorten its season, which would limit the impact on daily stock exchanges. Current state law requires Canterbury to hold at least 50 days of live racing per year, with recent seasons taking place between 65 and 70 days.
The track card club contributes a percentage of revenue to the scholarship fund, which accounts for approximately 25% of the scholarships. Riders could ask for a bigger cut in card club revenue, though that wouldn’t significantly increase the purses.
Canterbury would also be free to pursue additional games if the deal expires. The contract prohibits the track from promoting or lobbying for expansion of the game in Minnesota, and it prohibits Canterbury from participating in any expansion of the game enacted into law. Another clause obligates Canterbury to cooperate with the tribe in opposing the legalization of gambling currently not permitted in Canterbury, “to the extent SMSC reasonably requests”.
The state Senate sought to include Minnesota’s two racetracks – the Canterbury Harness Track and Running Aces in Columbus – in sports betting legislation being debated last spring. The tribes objected to this idea and the session ended without a resolution.
If Canterbury and SMSC agree to an extension, it will need to be approved by the Rider Groups and the Minnesota Racing Commission. With the track now on solid ground, it is uncertain whether a deal with the same strict bans will be approved.
Scurto of the Minnesota Thoroughbred Racing Alliance expects Canterbury to consider a wide range of options to fund future purses.
“They were creative from day one,” he said. “People who participate [in racing] confidence that Canterbury is engaged. They will find a way. They always have. And the industry will support these efforts.”
Whatever happens with the deal, Sampson said Canterbury are determined to build on the foundation the deal has laid. The track has announced plans for a multimillion-dollar renovation of the stable area, including new barns and sleeping quarters, which is expected to begin this fall.
“In these 10 years of agreement, there has been incredible progress,” Sampson said. “We continue to invest in horse racing for the long term.”
Rake wants to help Canterbury get there, even if he doesn’t know how.
“The deal did everything it was supposed to do,” he said. “Racing at Canterbury has never been better. But these are tough times for the whole industry. We’re going to have to find a way forward.”