If Wishes Were Horses…

By Noah Joseph

It’s hard to believe that only two years ago, American Pharoah captured the heart of the racing world ending a 37 year drought to win the Triple Crown. It was a time of great joy for all involved, whether it was a person in the racing business or just a typical fan. However, Canterbury wanted to bring even more joy with an offer like none other.

Only a few days after American Pharoah won the Triple Crown, Canterbury came up with an idea to bring him to race here. The idea was to move the featured race of the meet, the Mystic Lake Derby, from the turf to the dirt, move it from Saturday to Sunday, and raise the purse from $200,000 to $2,000,000. An offer like that could have attracted any horse, but Canterbury wanted the Triple Crown winner.

Sadly, Team Pharoah turned down the offer about a month later, leaving Minnesota racing fans and Canterbury disappointed, but at the same time optimistic. It left them with the feeling that even though they didn’t get a superstar horse now, perhaps one day they would, and it will be worth the wait.

Noah Joseph is a longtime Canterbury Park and horse racing fan. He’s been attending races at Canterbury since 2000 when he was 3 years old and has enjoyed every minute of it. Noah provides a weekly piece on CanterburyLive.com.


Nextgen Racing Stable — Moving the Family Tradition Forward

By Katie Merritt

Nextgen Racing Stable, LLC is a brand new racing partnership formed in April of this year, and it is comprised of relatives of Canterbury Chairman of the Board Curt Sampson, including his son Russ Sampson, Russ’s daughter Sophie, and several other nieces, nephews, grandchildren and family friends. Because of their family’s involvement in Canterbury Park, the next generation of the Sampson family has grown up at the track. “I remember being five years old and sitting under the horseman bookkeeper’s desk because I was friends with her daughter, so we would hang out down there. Canterbury’s been my childhood,” said Sophie.

Since Canterbury opened, Curt Sampson has owned a steady string of thoroughbreds that run primarily here, and the whole family has always enjoyed the involvement in the industry and in horse ownership that they have been able to experience. Over time, Curt Sampson has down-sized the number of horses he has in training, so the next generation, aptly calling themselves “Nextgen” are picking up the reins. “We only have two horses right now,” Sophie explained, “But we’re trying to get a few more horses, probably for next season!” she added, already thinking about the future.

Horse racing has always been a part of the Sampson family. “This is what we know. So we really want to keep doing what we know. This is our summers!” Sophie said with a smile. “We love going in the paddock with our horses, and getting to watch them run from the winner’s circle. And I actually like the mornings, when I wake up early enough to go watch the training. Owning horses lets you feel so much more involved.” Nextgen has a good start on continuing that involvement and passing the love of horse racing on to the generations of the future.

Justine Klaiber A Winner At Canterbury Park

It did not take jockey Justine Klaiber long to find the winner’s circle at Canterbury. The 21-year-old, riding in Shakopee for the first time, was victorious in Saturday’s second race.

Learn more about Justine in this video.


Video by Michelle Blasko

Notes from the Weekend

Canterbury newcomers Cecily Evans and Justine Klaiber both rode their first winners at this track on Saturday. Klaiber got her first win in the 2nd race on the quarter horse Jess A Chance for trainer Randy Weidner. After dueling in the early parts of the Quarter Horse dash, Jess a Chance took charge late to win the race by ¾ of a length. Evans crossed the wire first later in the card, in the 8th race aboard Emily’s Entourage for last year’s leading trainer Mac Robertson. Emily’s Entourage drew clear from the rest of the field to win the race by a decisive 3 ½ lengths.

Jockey Betty Jo Williams made a return to the saddle last weekend after a 5 year hiatus. Williams has 109 wins, 131 seconds and 152 thirds from 1,070 starts. In 2011 she was a finalist for the Canadian Sovereign Award for leading apprentice rider. A couple of serious injuries and later becoming a mother have kept Williams from riding, but she has decided that she is ready to make her comeback here at Canterbury Park this summer.

Thursday night racing, more popularly known as Buck Night, returns this week with a 6:30 p.m. post.  Admission is just one dollar and there are several $1, $2 and $3 food and beverage specials throughout the facility.

Entries will be taken Wednesday for the Saturday program that will include three $50,000 stakes races. Two are new, the Minnesota Turf and the Minnesota Turf Distaff, and one, the Dark Star Cup, honors a Canterbury Hall of Famer, the late Dark Star.

Dark Star was a fixture at Canterbury beginning in the mid-eighties. He never missed an opportunity to promote Minnesota horse racing on his long running WCCO AM radio program as well as on KFAN where he worked until passing away five years ago.  He hosted the replay show, The Canterbury Report, which was the longest running sports show in the Twin Cities, for two decades.

Many friends will gather Saturday to remember Dark Star, including former Minnesota Twins manager Tom Kelly, who will present the trophy to the winning connections of the Dark Star Cup.

Post time Saturday is 1:45 p.m.

Saturday is also Belmont Stakes day. Advance wagering is available as follows for both the Friday and Saturday Belmont programs.

Available Thursday, 6/8/17:

Advance wagers for Friday’s Belmont card (race 11 is the Belmont Gold Cup)

Advance wagers for Saturday’s Belmont card (race 11 is the Belmont Stakes)

Thursday’s Belmont card

Belmont Gold Cup/Belmont Stakes Double Wager (race 11 on Friday and race 11 on Saturday)

New York Stakes/Metropolitan Handicap Double Wager (race 9 on Friday and race 9 on Saturday)


Available Friday, 6/9/17:

Advance wagers for Saturday’s Belmont card (race 11 is the Belmont Stakes)

Friday’s Belmont card (race 11 is the Belmont Gold Cup)

Belmont Gold Cup/Belmont Stakes Double Wager (race 11 on Friday and race 11 on Saturday)

New York Stakes/Metropolitan Handicap Double Wager (race 9 on Friday and race 9 on Saturday)


Available Saturday, 6/10/17:

Saturday’s Belmont card (race 11 is the Belmont Stakes)

Advance wagering on Canterbury races is always available one day in advance.

Edwin Cornier Gives Canterbury A Try

By Katie Merritt

Trainer Edwin Cornier is a young, up-and-coming trainer and this meet is his first at Canterbury Park. Over the winter he trained at Portland Meadows in Oregon and Emerald Downs in Washington before deciding to move his operation to Minnesota for the summer.

Since he started training last October, his percentages have been impressive. He has started 11 horses; five won, two finished second and two finished third. When it comes to deciding where to run his horses, Cornier leaves it up to them. “I ride them myself and take care of them myself, so I can really get a feel for how they’re doing and where to run them. But my horses decide for me, really. They tell me what class they are.” Cornier is clearly a good listener.

Though he is somewhat new to the training game Edwin is no stranger to the horse racing industry. “My mom was a groom at Aqueduct Racetrack in New York. She used to bring me to the track on weekends and summers to help her,” he remembered with a smile. “I knew I was going to be a lifer.” After graduating high school, Cornier went to Florida to learn how to gallop and to embark on the path that would eventually lead him here to Canterbury.

In between Florida and Canterbury, Cornier has worked at tracks all over the country for different trainers, most recently serving for seven years as assistant trainer for prominent California trainer John Shirreffs. “He was really influential. He taught me so much, especially patience. A lot of patience, especially with the nervous fillies.” Cornier worked for Shirreffs in California as well as in New York where he ran the trainer’s east-coast string for several summers.

Now, as a trainer himself, Cornier has many aspirations, but for him the most important thing is to be honest and to be known for being a good care-taker of the animals. “That’s my main priority,” he said, adding, “I do want to win big races but I think all that will come by just taking it day by day and taking good care of my horses.”

Experience Racehorse Ownership for a Day

The backside of a horse racing track is like its own little corner of the universe, hustling and bustling before the sun even thinks about rising. Hundreds of grooms, hot-walkers, exercise riders, jockeys, trainers and other backside personnel arrive at the barns before dawn to begin preparations for the horses’ morning routines, to get ready for that next big race.

For each horse that runs at Canterbury Park, there are countless people that have worked together to get that horse to the starting gate. The horse’s groom has cleaned his stall a couple times a day, given him food and water, put protective bandages on his legs. An exercise rider has taken him to the track almost daily, has guided him through his training routine of walking, trotting, galloping – following the trainer’s instructions exactly – or as best he can. The trainer watches every move his horse makes, gaging where he is in his training, and what he needs to do to get him to the finish line first. Sometimes a trainer decides to send the horse to the swimming pool, to change up the routine, the scenery. There, still more people that assist, guiding the horse through the motions of taking laps around the pool. Back at the barn, a hot-walker cools the horse out after his exercise, makes sure he is comfortable in his stall. These are the people that are there day in and day out, seeing to the daily tasks, but there are also vets who keep the horses healthy, blacksmiths who trim their feet and replace their horseshoes every four to six weeks, even chiropractors to make sure all is aligned and well. There are outriders on the track during training, policing the track, keeping horses and riders safe. There are men on the starting gate, helping the horses get accustomed to the big metal contraption. Everyone on the backside has a role, and every role is important.

A visit to the backside is a unique experience, unlike any other, and is now being offered at Canterbury Park. Generally, racetrack barn areas are restricted to employees, but now Minnesota racing fans have the amazing opportunity to observe and better understand the intricacy of training and preparing racehorses to run.

There are two exciting options to experience the racetrack in a more intimate way. The first is the Sunrise Tour. This early morning tour takes place from 7:00 AM to 8:30 AM and includes a trip through the stable area, a visit to the horse swimming pool and the opportunity to watch workouts from the trainer’s overlook. Tour guests will also get the chance to meet and ask questions of a trainer and/or jockey, a luxury that is often not afforded to fans on the front-side during busy race days.

The second option is the Ownership Experience and the first one takes place June 10! This unique experience is designed to let guests feel what it is like to own a racehorse. Guests start the day with a pre-race stable area tour and meet a horse that is entered to run that afternoon. They then return trackside for live racing which includes a visit to the paddock and the chance to watch a live race from the winner’s circle! Tour tickets are limited and must be purchased in advance. Each tour, which includes admission to the races that day, is $18 for adults and $10 for children. Please visit the Canterbury Park website for available tour dates and to make your reservation. 


Rocket Wrench Racing

By Katie Merritt

Rocket Wrench Racing, LLC, headed by Justin Revak, has been running horses at Canterbury Park since 2012. Revak is no stranger to Canterbury, having grown up just down the road in Prior Lake. When the track opened for the first time, his family was one of the first to buy tickets. “We bought tickets for the first week, and we came, and that first day I just remember thinking, ‘Oh this is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen!’” Revak remembered, grinning. He’s been coming back ever since.

As a teenager Revak worked at Canterbury Park doing all kinds of different jobs and later went on to work at Three Chimney’s Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. He always had a strong desire to be involved in the industry. Around 2010, he stumbled across racehorse ownership. “Some guy in North Dakota put an ad on Craigslist,” he explained, “I bought 1 percent of a Minnesota-bred named Rocket Wrench. He ran for a couple years, and didn’t do very well, so the majority owner ended up giving him to me. I took him home to my farm for the winter, brought him back the next year, he ran six times and had a win, two seconds and a third!” Revak was able to find several partners to go in on Rocket Wrench, and that was the beginning of Rocket Wrench Racing, LLC.

Rocket Wrench Racing currently has three horses running at Canterbury Park. While winning is ideal, it’s not everything to Revak. “Canterbury’s just a great track,” said Revak. “It’s a great family event and a lot of fun!”

Frankie Johnson the Bug Boy

Frankie Johnson is an apprentice jockey who is quickly learning the trade. Learn more about him in this video.


Cecily Evans – A Fresh Face In The Jockey Colony

Cecily Evans is riding at Canterbury Park for the first time.  The young jockey has traveled from coast to coast, riding 798 races in her career.

Learn more here:



video by Michelle Blasko from Canterbury’s Digital Media Department.



In the latest Preakness Stakes poll conducted by Canterbury Park/CNN/Fox News/ABC/MSNBC  Always Dreaming has a slight edge over Classic Empire and is the projected winner of  Saturday’s race.

There is a margin of error in this poll that will not be announced until shortly before post time, so as not to alter the usual course of wagering by people without a clue and those who think they have several.

The poll includes a sampling of both conservative and liberal bettors in equal numbers.

Fifty-one percent of those polled said that the Todd Pletcher entry in this race is a dream horse. It is considered merely coincidental that the horse’s name is Always Dreaming. The same fifty-one percent said that they picked this horse for no other reason than he won the Kentucky Derby and looked “just fine and dandy” during the past week training

Forty-nine percent of those polled say they will bet on Classic Empire to win but want Always Dreaming to win because it’s good for the sport. In contrast, the Fifty-one percent who are betting on Always Dreaming to win say they want Always Dreaming to win.

Thirty percent of those polled said that Always Dreaming has not let his sudden fame affect the way he has worked for the second leg of the Triple Crown. Asked if he might be looking past this race to the Belmont Stakes and a possible sweep of these races, Always Dreaming responded, “What’s a Triple Crown?  I just run my races one at a time.’’

Trainer Todd Pletcher was unavailable for comment. Something about his mouth being full of crab cake.

Many people think this race is wide open, not much different than the Derby, that several entries in the 10-horse field have a shot.

For those putting their money on Juvenile champion Classic  Empire, there are several issues to consider.  Is it possible that as a two-year-old champion he was simply too young, too immature to handle all that success. Were his injuries and reduced training this spring simply used as an excuse? Did success go to his head?

“I’ve always been a team player,’’ he responded. “What I do is for the barn, not myself. Everything I do is for the team.’’  Trainer Mark Caase said “we’ll see, we’ll see.’’

For an inside clue, a handicapping tip the rest of America is without, consider this behind-the scenes connection from Canterbury pressbox assistant Katie Merrit. Although she, like so many others in the business, thinks that an Always Dreaming win is good for the sport, consider this:

Katie once galloped for the Carl Nafzger barn. Nafzger is an Eclipse-Award winning, Kentucky Derby winning former trainer. He is also a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame and the former trainer of Frances Genter’s Unbridled, the 1990 Kentucky Derby and Breeders  Cup Classic winner.

And guess what.

Unbridled is the grandsire of Empire Maker.

Then again, and this is what muddies the waters a bit, Unbridled also sired Unbridled Ridge, the mother of Gunnevera. There is Unbridled blood as well in Always Dreaming and a gene or two in Cloud Computing.

“He’s all over this race,’’ said pedigree specialist and Canterbury chart man Dave Miller.

Sort of like having a boxing gym full of sons, grandsons and great grandsons of, say, Muhammad Ali.

Miller, by the way, agrees with those who say that you won’t make more than a dime on Always Dreaming today, and the best way to attack this race is to back up a bob or two on the favorite with a nice trifecta on the side.

Polling on this race also depends on a person’s politics. Take Canterbury Park track announcer Paul Allen for instance. Allen was once quoted as saying that he never bets. Then there was a pressbox leak that contradicted that statement.  But we can find any number of, let’s say, politicians who say they never bet and put fifty through the window on the no. 2 horse while making the statement. Saying one thing and doing another is part of politics and horse racing.

The Big O is the righthand man in the Shawn Coady photography studio at Canterbury and had this to say about today’s Classic race:

“It’s hard to go against the (Derby) winner. I think he’ll win this one and lose the Belmont. That last one is just too far,’’ he said.

Pressbox custodian Jeff Maday has several thoughts on the race.  His company loyalty wish, like Allen’s, is for the Derby winner to win this race, too. That way the Belmont Stakes three weeks hence becomes a really big deal, in New York and in Shakopee, instead of a race marginal fans couldn’t give a hoot about.

So, there you have it. All of the inside dope available for the second leg of the Triple Crown.

And for the political elite who think that politics should never be compared to something as lowly as running animals on a race track, let’s consider this:

Before the year is out, a politician somewhere will say that this election or that is really going to be a horse race.

And you can bet on that, too.