05/18/2016 3:06PM

Canterbury Park hoping to attract bettors with low takeout rates

Coady Photography
Bourbon County will try to repeat in the 10,000 Lakes Stakes on Friday.

Canterbury Park’s grand experiment – dropping its takeout rates to the lowest level in the country – begins with an eight-race card Friday night.

The Twin Cities-area track has a blended takeout rate of 16.5 percent this year, down 20 percent from its 2015 meet. The takeout on win, place, and show wagers is 15 percent, while all exotic bets have an 18 percent takeout.

Canterbury, blessed with unusually strong attendance and ontrack handle, wants to boost simulcast wagering on its product, and all the positive publicity on the takeout drop should bring more eyes nationally to Canterbury’s past performances. Track officials hope their product proves appealing enough to keep new customers willing to give the track a look because of the takeout plan.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that this is going to be the best racing meet in the history of Canterbury,” said Eric Halstrom, vice president of racing operations.

Canterbury runs a mixed Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse meet, tilted about 80-20 toward Thoroughbreds until mid-August, when the meet goes all-Thoroughbred. The race week spans Fridays through Sundays in May before adding Thursdays in June, July, and August. Weekday cards begin at 6:30 p.m. Central, Sunday cards at 12:45, and Saturday cards at 12:45 except during August, when Saturday post time moves to 6:30.

There’s a new racing secretary this year, Robbie Junk, and Halstrom said he’ll have some new stables from which to draw entries this summer, with Joe Sharp, Karl Broberg, and Kellyn Gorder expected to run local strings. Robertino Diodoro, the leading trainer at the last two meetings, has horses in two races on opening night, and Canterbury stalwart Mac Robertson will win his share. At $1.74, Diodoro had the highest $2 win return on investment among the top 10 trainers last season.

The 2015 meet’s leading rider, Leandro Goncalves, is based at Indiana Grand right now, creating a wealth of opportunities for other jockeys.

Canterbury’s races will be broadcast in high definition this year, and Halstrom said the base of the track’s surface was renovated during the offseason. Canterbury ran 153 grass races during its 2015 meet, and Halstrom said the course is in great shape this season.

Canterbury’s standard attendance ranges from 5,000 to 8,000, an incredible number for a track that averaged well under $1 million in total daily handle last year, and it’s the relatively low number of offtrack players that makes Canterbury believe that its reduced-takeout experiment can work. Canterbury has more room to grow its raw number of players and is betting that the increase in bets made on its product will offset the decrease in the amount of revenue derived from each bet.

Friday’s eight-race card drew 64 entrants, including also-eligibles, and has the 10,000 Lakes Stakes for Minnesota-bred dirt sprinters as a race 7 feature. Bourbon County won the 2015 edition of the race by more than seven lengths and is the 7-5 morning-line favorite to repeat, but where last season he got in a Tampa Bay Downs prep race before the 10,000 Lakes, this time he races for the first time since September.

Bettors looking for an alternative will find obvious challengers among his six rivals who also are making their first start since last fall.

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