Q and A with the man in charge of racing: Eric Halstrom

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There’s a new (well, sort of) sheriff in town.  Eric Halstrom has returned to Canterbury Park in the role of Vice President of Racing Operations after a successful run at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.  With the changes in place for the fast-approaching live racing season, I took a few minutes to pick the brain of the man at the helm for many of them:

Angela Hermann: What are the three most important things you’re focusing on improving this live racing season at Canterbury?

Eric Halstrom: First, the challenge of any racetrack is increasing quality and maintaining quantity with the horses on the backside.  We keep working at it and that persistence has paid off.  Canterbury has a reputation of being horse-friendly and horseman-friendly, and that along with the purses drew in over 2,000 stall applications for 1500 or so stalls.  The second thing we keep working at is handle and pool size, and a lot of that goes with increased field size and number of horses on the backside.  It’s a snowball effect with that side of live racing, and hopefully this year we see a corresponding increase in interest pari-mutuelly to go with the increased interest in racing here.  Third, of course, we want to find new ways to keep the live racing experience enjoyable for our patrons.  Changes like night racing, new tote machines and other improvements in the facility are meant to show our crowd that their support of us is put back into making their experience all the better when they return.

AH: Speaking of the new tote machines, what prompted the switch from Sportech to United Tote?

EH: Our contract was up with our old tote company, and United Tote presented an appealing change with newer machines and features.  It is an adjustment, but in the long run this equipment should prove an upgrade over aging equipment.

AH: One of the other changes forthcoming is an expansion of Canterbury’s reach to the northern part of the state, with the Northern Lights Casino in Walker working to simulcast horse racing in the near future.  What is the next step in this plan?

EH: We’re very excited that Northern Lights is working with us to make our racing program available to our fans throughout the state, and the hope is to reach out to 10-12 more locations in Minnesota in the future.  Horse racing is an exciting experience that many people in this state would like to be a part of but can’t necessarily make it to Shakopee to witness.  By bringing simulcast to them, we hope to cultivate its popularity among folks that may not have had a chance to see it on a consistent basis.  I’d really like to give credit to the group at Northern Lights for being a pioneer in this partnership, and hopefully it grows in the coming years.

AH: What in your time at the Fairgrounds will show in our program at Canterbury?

EH: I’d say the biggest thing is we’re not afraid to try anything to take racing at Canterbury to another level.  For example, we decided to roll the dice and place the Mystic Lake Derby on closing day not only as a grand finish to the meet, but also to fall in line with the timing of national three year old turf stakes.  It’s just coincidence that the Louisiana Derby falls on the closing weekend of the Fairgrounds’ meet, but it should work out nicely from a timing standpoint.  It could serve as a stepping stone for young horses looking for a spot in the fall in preparation for bigger races towards the end of the year, and eventually serve as a prep for graded stakes or even the Breeders’ Cup.

AH: Who are the new faces that fans should expect to see in the program at Canterbury this year?

EH: There are several new additions this year, both in the jockey colony and in the barns.  Shannon Ritter is here with horses from WinStar Farms, one of the leading owners in the country.  Eric Heitzmann is here for the first time.  The jockey colony is getting larger with riders from all regions of the country, and we’re happy to see them all here.

AH: What should fans expect from you this season in your return to Minnesota?

EH: I’ll tell you what, we’re going to have a heck of a meet.  I am very accessible and interested in what the crowd has to say, and I hope that I hear from many.  We are not content with where we’re at; we are always seeking to improve.  This is a great place to work and a great place to play, and I think it shows in the returning horses, horseman and fans.  I’m very happy to be back and to interact with the fans this season.  We are continually working to make this track one of the best in the country and I think we’re a bright spot on the racing calendar.  In a time where many tracks are struggling to stay afloat, we’re on the upturn.  I couldn’t be more excited.

Angela Hermann

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Comments

  1. Marian says:

    Eric – please fix the new tote machines so that they will accept all of the MVP cards. I tried 3 new cards and still had trouble during Derby weekend. Even with the teller machines. Hope they are working by the 16th.

    • Marian, thank you for your input and I am glad to hear you are using your MVP Rewards card when you wager. On occasion the machines do need a reset and our staff checks each machine daily so we catch most problems before the guests do. Overall we have had few problems with the new machines reading cards and are continually fine tuning them. If you do encounter a problem be sure to let our mutuels or information staff know.

  2. crystal says:

    How about adding a pick 5 and/or pick 6?

    • We are in the process of getting Minnesota Racing Commission approval for pick 5 wagering and are also considering a jackpot pool similar to what other tracks offer. The pick 6 was a popular wager here in the days before simulcast wagering. We dropped the wager from our menu as the pool dwindled and players either focused on huge pick 6 pools at other tracks or put money into pick 3 and pick 4 pools at Canterbury. Before we stopped offering the pick 6 it was not uncommon to see a total of less than $400 per day wagered on the pick 6 when there was no carryover so the decision was made to follow the lead of the players and offer the more popular pick 3s and pick 4s.

      • crystal says:

        I remember small pools unless there was a carryover for the pick 6, however i do remember the pool being over 100k with multiple carryovers. The pick 4 pool will never be that large at Canterbury. A pick 5 would be a welcome addition for us horseplayers chasing a bigger payout. The jackpot version could get interesting if it was like the Fairgrounds whose carryover was huge.

  3. Robert Gustafson says:

    A question for Eric about reaching out to other locations around the state for wagering purposes. Isn’t there some way that an equitable arrangement can be reached by all parties involved to return thoroughbred simulcasting to Running Aces?

    • In February Canterbury, the MN HBPA, and MQHRA signed a management agreement with Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe that would allow them to offer simulcast wagering at their casino in Walker, MN. That agreement is subject to approval by both the National Indian Gaming Commission and the Minnesota Racing Commission and both bodies have taken the agreement under consideration.
      Running Aces chose not to renew a contract that had been in place for several years that allowed them to simulcast thoroughbred and quarter horse racing and for Canterbury to simulcast harness races. An agreement signed by both parties must be in place in order for that to happen. Running Aces Management has made no effort to contact Canterbury Park to renew or negotiate an equitable agreement.

  4. Robert Gustafson says:

    A minor point, but I am just curious. Who determines the entry draw time at Canterbury? I was looking at Equibase today and of the 24 tracks located in the United States that are running on Friday, May 16th, 19 of them already have entries listed, The five that don’t including Cby are Ct, Ind, Penn, and La. Most have a 96 or 120 hour lead time as opposed to our 72. I guess I would like to see the entries up as soon as possible before race day.

    • Great question. Because this is opening week we will not be entering for Friday until Tuesday. People are still arriving and settling in, turning in horse papers, getting works in etc so entering any earlier would be a disservice to all. Once we get underway, normal entry schedule is:
      Wednesday for Saturday
      Thursday for Sunday
      Friday for holiday Mondays
      Saturday for Thursday
      Sunday for Friday

  5. Bob Gustafson says:

    Hello again Eric,
    Looking at the entries for May 31st, race 6 and the 13 and 14 are listed as also eligible. Why can’t you run 14 horses sprinting on the main track?

    • It’s a good question and we’re considering using 14 horse fields in the future. One of the main reasons that we have limited fields to 12 runners is simply a personnel issue whereby we don’t have a surplus of qualified staff to work on the gate crew. Obviously, if you go to 14 runners you’re in a position that, for safety’s sake, we’d need additional help that isn’t always easy to come by so we’re looking into cross-training others to assist in these instances.

      • Bob Gustafson says:

        I appreciate the honest answer. I’m sure you are aware that a 14 horse field would more than likely result in a larger handle on any and all wagers that would include that particular race. Tell Randy to open the wallet and get the necessary staff.

  6. Why did you increase the time in between races? Most successful tracks are trimming minutes in an effort to increase excitement.. I can tell you from years of experience that this 23 minutes in between races is a downer and doesn’t incite excitement, which means people don’t frequent.

    • In this day and age of simulcasting, post times have become something that we plan ahead of time to try and stagger our races around some of the bigger racetracks. It’s easy to see that if our races go off at nearly the same time as some of the major signals (NYRA, Churchill, etc.) that our handle will decrease. However, if we can avoid post time conflicts with the major signals it’s likely to lead to increased wagering on the Canterbury Park product and make it more attractive to all handicappers. At times it can be difficult to manage this process, as delays can alter post times without notice, but over time a well thought out plan for our post time’s is beneficial to our total handle.

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