From Day One, we have felt it paramount in importance to open the lines of communication with all stakeholders in Minnesota Thoroughbred racing. This is the driving force for an industry first in which we have called together representatives of the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association and Canterbury Park management to meet periodically so we can all be on the same page with the same and accurate information. We have also been appreciative that officials of the Minnesota Racing Commission have joined these meetings to offer their expertise and perspective. It has been heartening to witness just how much we can learn and accomplish when we understand the challenges of our fellow stakeholders. So, to that end, we wanted to begin a new tradition this year with a Minnesota HBPA end-of-the-meet letter, a letter to detail the Association’s work and the state of Thoroughbred racing in Minnesota.
First, there was a major political achievement at the capitol. As you may remember, when government shut down, so did racing, even though we are self-funded. This will not be the case anymore, as legislation was passed this year that will keep us running should the government shut down.
The lifeblood of Thoroughbred racing are owners. For months and months, in-season and off-season, the Minnesota HBPA and Canterbury Park worked on plans to create a program that would both attract new owners to the sport, while also positively reinforcing current owners. From all the meetings and all the discussions, the Minnesota Racehorse Engagement Project was launched this June. We were especially pleased that the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association enthusiastically joined the effort and that all parties agreed to a minimum of three years of funding. We are also pleased that Joe Scurto agreed to leave his post as Deputy Director of the Minnesota Racing Commission to head the MREP. Joe has a passion for the sport to compliment his marketing expertise. One of the unique aspects of this ownership program led by Joe is directed at post-race career ownership. i.e. The Project actively seeks to repurpose retired Thoroughbreds in order to attract new owners for their post-racing lives. From this initiative sprung the inaugural Paddock Sale on September 9th, which was able to place, among others, three retired racehorses from the farm of Doc Bowman’s, who is pretty much the patron saint of retired racehorses in Minnesota.
The Minnesota HBPA, in 2017, reopened its dental clinic. Since this reopening, the clinic has added digital x-ray equipment, as it has served literally hundreds of backstretch workers. The dental clinic places an exclamation point on the “Benevolent” in the HBPA. However, there are other benevolence services provided as well.
For the kids of the backstretch workers, Esperanza Summer Camp is provided. It allows our kids to get to know other kids in the area at, among other places, the local YMCA and right here at Canterbury. Their activities range from arts and crafts to playing soccer, to say nothing of eating a free breakfast and lunch.
There is a large Hispanic population in the stable area at Canterbury, some of whom are first generation Americans with varying degrees of fluency in English. So every year we provide “English as a second language” (ESL) classes. These classes can provide a ladder to the next tier in their work.
Meanwhile, other benevolence services are provided at the MNHBPA office seven days a week during the meet. Sometimes these services are simply helping folks filling out forms, notarizing documents or emailing/faxing stall applications. But consistently throughout the meet, there is need for assistance in health issues. As some funding can be provided to help defray various costs, likely the greatest benefit provided is connecting workers with appropriate health centers. Just this year, we were able to send a number of individuals to an excellent health clinic in south Minneapolis, which provides an expansive array of services on a fee based on income level.
Going forward, there is a “To-Do” list of some practical matters. For example, Canterbury Park management and the MNHBPA continue to try and find a new and improved way to operate the track kitchen. On the surface, it has seemed like this should be a relatively easy issue to address. But the opposite has been the case over the past few years.
Another challenging issue has been the ice machines in the stable area. At a certain point, these complex and expensive machines need ever-increasing servicing. So Canterbury Park and the MNHBPA have met to determine both a new location for machine placement that is more conducive for efficient operation and a new type of machine, one that will provide trainer-requested crushed ice. We’re confident this solution will offer a plentiful and consistent ice supply for years to come.
Because there will always be an ongoing “To-Do” list, we negotiated a unique pact with Canterbury Park for a greater percentage of the card room revenue. Some of this additional funding will be used in joint projects with our two parties that will be mutually beneficial. This pact is a good example of creative ways racing stakeholders can work together for a common purpose.
Creativity is also a key in producing an attractive racing program that racing fans want to bet on. We feel deeply that the racing program has to be adapted to the reality of what our purse money can attract in a hyper-competitive industry in which non-racing revenue streams in other jurisdictions are increasingly abundant. To that end, during the upcoming contract negotiations with Canterbury Park, we are going to push for a market-friendly racing program. One example would be to brand and market what has become the strongest two consecutive days at Canterbury…the final two days of the meet. These days feature an abundance of competitive and exciting racing. They were initially offered simply to give our horsemen an extra chance to run at Canterbury before the meet ended. But sometimes it’s better to be lucky than smart. Though obviously good for our horsemen, racing fans from coast to coast have found these days attractive and bet them in big numbers.
We all know what a challenging year it has been for all of Thoroughbred racing. As an association, we have felt early on that it is a necessity to be both proactive and transparent with the positive story we have to tell. We’re proud of the racing environment our association has been able to create and nurture in conjunction with the Minnesota Racing Commission and Canterbury Park. Likewise, we endeavor to be transparent via personal contact with the media and via our social media platforms. The good in our industry needs to be consistently communicated and promoted. Likewise, when there are serious issues needing to be addressed, we must do so. We can’t shoot the messenger or avoid issues that are challenging.
Lastly and most importantly, we want to genuinely thank you for your involvement in Minnesota Thoroughbred racing.
Scott Rake Mike Cronin
MNHBPA President MNHBPA Executive Director