Updated on 09/22/2016 10:05AM

Canterbury's handle figures rise but not enough

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Canterbury Park concluded its 69-day race meet Sunday with gains in total and out-of-state handle, but the track’s grand experiment with a lowered takeout rate this year produced results that disappointed track officials.

Canterbury dropped its blended takeout rate from 20.4 percent in 2015 to 16.5 percent in 2016. The takeout on straight wagers at this meet was just 15 percent, while the rake on exotic bets was 18 percent. Canterbury long has produced remarkably robust ontrack business for a track at its total-handle range, and the hope was that the well-publicized takeout decrease would lead to a large rise in out-of-state handle, historically very low at Canterbury.

Indeed, out-of-state handle did improve, rising from $28,621,480 in 2015 to $31,163,538 this year, an 8.9 percent increase, but Canterbury had hoped, according to director of racing Eric Halstrom, that out-of-state handle would rise 25 percent to 30 percent. As a result, the gain failed to offset the takeout decrease.

“Revenue-wise, it was a loser,” Halstrom said. “We didn’t get to where we needed to be. To speak frankly, we were disappointed in the way it turned out.”

Yet even a modest increase in a generally negative environment this season suggests that reduced takeout had a positive effect. Other tracks in the region, like Prairie Meadows and Arlington, have seen handle decline this year, and Canterbury had an unusually wet summer, with 43 races rained off the turf compared with 17 last year. Canterbury struggled to fill fields all meet, especially on dirt, and saw average field size in Thoroughbred races drop from eight starters per race last year to 7.68 this season.

“We’re not the only ones who struggle to get horses,” Halstrom said. “We’re going to have to come up with ideas for next year about how to get more horses in Minnesota.”

All-sources handle rose 5.3 percent to $43,303,974, for a daily average of $627,594 that was up 6.8 percent from 2015. Average handle per race was $66,214, up 5.4 percent from last year. Canterbury again did strong ontrack business, handling an average of $175,948 per card at the Shakopee, Minn., track just southeast of the Twin Cities.

Halstrom said no decisions had been made on takeout rates for the 2017 meeting. “We’re going to have to sit down and think about it,” he said.

Mac Robertson had a sensational season, winning with 30 percent of his starters and easily topping the trainers’ standings with 71 victories, 22 more than Robertino Diodoro in second place. The race for leading jockey went down to the wire, with Dean Butler winning 82 races at the meet, one more than Alex Canchari. Novogratz Racing Stables was the meet’s leading owner by wins with 17.