Devil in details for Canterbury deal

Running Aces remains committed to supporting standardbred horses in Minnesota


John Derus
Guest Columnist

In a recent opinion piece published by ECM Publishers, guest author Jeff Hilger of the Equine Development Coalition of Minnesota said “if someone doesn’t tell the full story, you need to call them out.”

Mr. Hilger is right. And we’re calling him out.

Minnesota has two horse racing tracks — Canterbury Park, which races thoroughbreds, and Running Aces, which races standardbred horses on a harness track. These two tracks have long contended that additional revenue from expanded gaming opportunities was needed to support the horse industry.

However, that’s where the agreements end.

Every year Canterbury brought Racino legislation to the State Capitol that was stacked against Running Aces. Canterbury’s legislation forced the smaller Running Aces to subsidize purses for the larger Canterbury, even though its purses were already significantly larger than those for the standardbred horses at Running Aces.

Mr. Hilger says Running Aces was running a different race. That apparently was true, because we were under the impression that we were working together to bring Class III gaming options to the tracks to support the horse racing industry.

Meanwhile, Canterbury continued its solo agenda of looking out for its own interests.

Canterbury does care about the horse industry, but more accurately they care only about thoroughbred horses like those that run at their park.

Yet, the majority of Minnesota’s local horse industry involves standardbred horses, like those at Running Aces. If not for Running Aces, these horses would have no place to compete in our state, and the industry would suffer.

What’s more, when comparing the size of purses to the relative size of operations, Running Aces offers significantly more generous purses compared to Canterbury — further evidence that our goal is to support horse breeders.

As for the deal between Canterbury and the Mdewakanton Sioux, the speed of the deal and the relative secrecy of the negotiations is curious. I can think of no other circumstance in which such a highly regulated industry has put together a $75 million deal in one day with no transparency and minimal hearings, testimony or oversight.

The tactic was designed to do one thing — distract lawmakers with the promise of Racino going away while hoping the ink would dry before anyone asked about Running Aces.

If Canterbury was remotely concerned about the horse racing industry as a whole, they wouldn’t have quietly pursued a deal designed to lock the door behind them and keep our park from competing. But Canterbury’s deal isn’t just a raw deal for Running Aces. It directly impacts Minnesota horse breeders and agricultural operations by limiting their ability to compete and threatening their livelihood.

Mr. Hilger was right that the whole story wasn’t being told. Running Aces continues to do its best to support Minnesota’s local standardbred horse industry. The devil is in the details.

— John Derus is on the board of directors of Running Aces Harness Park, Columbus.