Canterbury deals Aces a blow with tribal deal

Shakopee park will now oppose racinos, which local track heavily favors

The fifth season of racing at Running Aces Harness Park gets underway tonight, June 6, at the Columbus facility. (Photo submitted)

Clint Riese
Staff Writer

Two days before Running Aces opened its fifth season of live harness racing, word broke of an agreement between Canterbury Park and the Mdewakanton Sioux Community that may kill any chance of racino legislation being passed for years to come.

It appears Canterbury, a large thoroughbred track in Shakopee, went all in with a full house and left Running Aces with two of a kind. Indeed, the local facility is not part of the agreement in which the tribe behind Mystic Lake Casino will pay Canterbury $75 million over 10 years in exchange for that race track dropping its campaign for the state to legalize racinos. The term racino refers to a horse track that also offers slot machines. Running Aces and Canterbury are limited to table games in their card rooms.

Officials at the harness park had little to say as the news broke. General manager Bob Farinella acknowledged that he was “certainly surprised” but wanted to look over the details before commenting at length.

“We are not involved in this in any way, shape or form,” he said.

Running Aces has long actively campaigned for racinos, which were one of the primary funding mechanisms proposed for the new Vikings stadium. While that talk was ongoing, Running Aces and Canterbury were at odds on how potential racino funds would be distributed. According to a fall 2011 report from Minnesota Harness Racing, Inc., the Shakopee park sought the revenue from both venues to be pooled, then split as needed. The report indicated that Running Aces initially opposed that idea but had come around on it and entered discussion with Canterbury about pooling.

No matter how the funds were split, racino would have been an economic boon to Running Aces. Track officials have even talked of an immediate physical expansion should slots be allowed.

Aces’ fifth season off and running

Heading into its fifth season of live racing, Running Aces Harness Park is looking for a return to normalcy. The 2011 season was suspended for 12 racing dates due to the Minnesota state government shutdown.

As the 2012 season kicks off this Wednesday, though, track officials are optimistic. There is no threat of such an interruption on this year’s race meet, and purses are projected to see a jump of about 16 percent to an average of $42,000 per date.

A continued increase in business got a big boost in the off-season thanks to new state legislation allowing Running Aces to operate more tables in its card room. The park has 63 tables, but previously could operate only 50 at a time. The Columbus facility could operate up to 80 under the new law, but does not have enough space.

“We’re certainly happy to have that opportunity,” said Farinella. “When we’re really busy, 50 tables are not enough to cater to all of our guests.”

Higher purses make for better racing, which in turn should draw more interest to Running Aces both from a simulcast and live attendance standpoint.

In turn, the track is ramping up its entertainment and promotional lineup. Running Aces will offer 10 giveaway days this race season, up from seven a year ago. Marketing director Aaron Bedessem expects the Summit fishing lure giveaway to be a hit on Father’s Day, June 17.

Weekly food and drink specials will again be offered on each race night: Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. New this season is live music on Wednesdays and an all-you-can-eat ribs and prime rib dinner on Friday.

Dollar Night on Tuesday is always popular, and the track is really pushing Sunday Family Night this year. The Sunday post time has been pushed up to 6 p.m. due to customer demand. (Post time remains 7 p.m. for the other nights.) Mark the calendar for Sunday, July 22, for a first-time event, Superhero Night, featuring a Marvel figurine giveaway.

“We’re working on some fun ways to incorporate the full family and have everyone entertained,” Bedessem said.

Attendance last year averaged around 1,000-1,500 and peaked around 2,500. Track officials are hoping for more in the fifth season, which was set to begin with a skydiver flying in the American flag this Wednesday.

“Our program has certainly developed,” Bedessem said. “Everyone knows what we’re doing and our promotions tend to be a bit bigger and better. The word has definitely gotten out about us, which helps immensely. The first couple years were tough, but it’s going to be a good year.”