05/14/2014 11:05AM

Spirits high as 69-card meet begins

Coady Photography
Heliskier will square off against Bourbon County in the 10,000 Lakes Stakes at Canterbury Park.

When racing commences at Canterbury Park on Friday evening, the stable area’s nearly 1,600 stalls will be at capacity for only the second time since 1991. A marketing and purse enhancement agreement reached in 2012 with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, which owns and operates Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, will contribute $75 million to the horsemen’s purse structure over the deal’s 10-year span. This season, purses are estimated to reach a record $13 million for the 69-card meet, an average of just under $190,000 per day.

“The future of racing in Minnesota is bright,” said Canterbury Park President Randy Sampson. “Last season saw another increase in average attendance and ontrack handle. Nationally, we became more prominent because of the increase in the quality of our racing, resulting in the money bet on Canterbury out of state increasing 46 percent.”

The premier race of the meet, the $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby for 3-year olds at a mile over the turf, has been moved from mid-July last year to Sept. 13, closing day.

“The Mystic Lake Derby was repositioned in hopes of attracting horses that have returned to the Midwest after competing in major race meets on both coasts during the summer,” said Eric Halstrom, Canterbury’s vice president of racing operations.

The minimum stakes purse at Canterbury for 2014 will be $60,000 in track-funded races, up from $50,000, with the Dark Star Cup adding $25,000 to $75,000. The Minnesota Thoroughbred Association’s Stallion Auction Stakes, jointly funded by the track and the MTA, consolidated the male and female races and will now be an open race for 3-year olds with a $20,000 purse increase to $55,000. Fifteen stakes had their purses increased for 2014.

Canterbury Park officials also plan to build a $2.5 million event and exposition center. The 30,000-square-foot structure will increase Canterbury’s available event space to more than 100,000 square feet.

“The addition of the event building allows us to host new events throughout the year when space otherwise was not available,” Sampson said. “The new structure allows for standalone events during the racing season, as well as events tied to specific race day promotions.”

It is also anticipated that the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association will host its annual yearling sale in the new facility beginning in 2015. This season, the sale will take place Aug. 11 at the Scott County Fairgrounds.

Trainer Shannon Ritter, a St. Paul, Minn., native, is returning home where she started her riding career. Last season’s leading rider, Dean Butler, returns, as do fan favorite Seth Martinez after a lengthy absence and Shakopee’s own Alex Canchari. Trainer Eric Heitzmann will be a newcomer to Canterbury this season.

10,000 Lakes Stakes

Minnesota racing fans hoping for a matchup of Heliskier and Bourbon County last season before Bourbon County was sidelined midway through the meet will finally get their wish opening night.

Heliskier, a two-time Canterbury horse of the year, will defend his 10,000 Lakes Stakes title after racing at Oaklawn Park in his first two starts of the year. The 5-year-old Mac Robertson trainee is 9 for 11 at Canterbury and has never lost a Minnesota-bred race.

Last year’s 3-year-old phenom, Bourbon County, the odds-on favorite for the Minnesota Derby before he was sidelined for the year, will make his seasonal debut in the 10,000 Lakes. Bourbon County has been training well for Bernell Rhone and blew out three furlongs Tuesday following a five-furlong bullet last week.

The two-time defending Minnesota Classic Champion Coconino Slim, also trained by Robertson, will try to turn the tables on Heliskier after finishing behind him in last year’s 10,000 Lakes.

The 2013 MTA champion 3-year-old Bing’s Magic completes a Robertson trio in the race. Allowance winner Speakfromyourheart, Freedom First, and Victory Sled complete the field.