Canterbury Park’s 65-day racing season comes to an end with 5 p.m. (CDT) programs Tuesday and Wednesday and a 4 p.m., 13-race program Thursday.
General admission will be free the final three days as part of fan appreciation week to cap a season that began with uncertainty but concludes leaving racetrack officials both pleased and optimistic.
“People were here enjoying the Minnesota summer ritual that is live horse racing at Canterbury Park, and it was wonderful to welcome patrons back to the track,” said Canterbury Park vice president of marketing John Groen.
Business levels at Canterbury Park increased sharply when compared to the 2020 pandemic-shortened and restricted race meet, with more dollars wagered, more spectators in the stands, and the return of the energy and buzz associated with Canterbury Park’s live racing experience.
Had he been asked in January or February, Groen might not have been as enthusiastic. Planning during a pandemic for promotional events months in advance was a difficult task. Add to that the labor shortage faced by the entertainment and hospitality industry, and it became daunting.
In 2020, with limited spectators allowed, Canterbury deviated from the 25-year tradition of Thursday through Sunday horse racing and ran races Monday through Thursday to have increased exposure with the national simulcast audience. That plan worked, and wagering on Canterbury races increased substantially.
For the 2021 season, track officials adopted a hybrid racing schedule featuring Tuesday through Thursday early evening post times, along with Sunday afternoons.
“Our goal for 2021 was to see if we could achieve the best of both worlds by keeping the national wagering audience on weeknights while welcoming our enthusiastic fan base back to the track on Sundays,” said Groen.
Canterbury back-loaded the popular Sunday promotional events that accompany horse racing, such as corgi races and Extreme Day, into the later summer months when there was a much better chance that restrictions would be eased.
Spectators, as planned, did come by the thousands on Sundays as Canterbury averaged more than 8,500 guests for family day racing after the fourth of July. Canterbury officials expected Sunday afternoon handle would revert to 2019 levels, averaging $300,000, when faced with the competition of major tracks running at the same time.
“We were wrong about the Sunday handle projections, pleasantly so,” Groen said.
Sundays averaged $894,736 in handle from wagers made outside of Minnesota; nearly triple the 2019 figure, while weeknights remained consistent with 2020 figures, averaging more than $1 million in handle per race card.
“We presented a great racing product in 2020 to new participants nationally, and that exposure carried over to all of our race days this year,” said Groen. “It really was a positive summer for Canterbury, and we hope our fans will take advantage of free admission the week to enjoy our final three days of racing.”
AQHA News and information is a service of the American Quarter Horse Association. For more news and information, follow @AQHA Racing on Twitter, "like" Q-Racing on Facebook, and visit www.aqha.com/racing.