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St. James Plaindealer - St. James, MN
  • Canterbury Tales

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  • Shakopee--This week's column is more of a travelogue, as I made my first journey to Shakopee last weekend to play the ponies at Canterbury Park, scope out the casino, and otherwise explore a city I’d never before visited.
    I arrived at my hotel Friday afternoon still slightly concerned about what I might find at the track later that night. After all, racing at Canterbury was canceled the day before due to the horrendous weather conditions. But, the Friday twilight card--first post at 6:30 p.m.--went on as scheduled, and the weather was perfect. Saturday was more of the same--hot, humid, and sunny, with clouds being scarcely more than a figment of your imagination.
    The track itself--the seventh I’ve visited, in addition to Churchill Downs (Louisville, Ky.), Arlington Park (Arlington Heights, Ill.), Hoosier Park (Anderson, Ind.), Indiana Downs (Shelbyville, Ind.), and my absolute favorite, Keeneland (Lexington, Ky.)--is new compared to most of its horse racing brethren, having opened in 1985. After a troubled start that resulted in the track shutting down in the early 90s, live racing returned in 1994 under new ownership, and the erstwhile Canterbury Downs was renamed Canterbury Park in 1995.
    That recency is evident, too; it looks modern, and it’s filled with multiple restaurants and bars. It’s roomy, with three levels. The top level is the simulcast room--where I went to chase my losses from the live Canterbury runners after that card ended Saturday evening--and it was as expansive as one could hope for; in addition, there was a well-appointed bar and the Home Stretch restaurant, where I ate a delicious Napa Valley chicken salad with balsamic vinegarette dressing, chicken, grapes, feta cheese, and toasted almonds.
    The second floor was where my group and I spent the preponderance of our time, and we felt it provided the best view of the racecourse. Yes, on the first floor, you’re closer, but it was also nearly impossible to see anything other than the homestretch of the course. The second floor also had Longshots, a bar/restaurant with an outdoor balcony--although the first floor had the Wild Horse Saloon, which likewise boasted outdoor seating. Like the third floor, the second had a special section with about a dozen televisions showing the action from other tracks, and the second had multiple concession stands and a Famous Dave’s--plus a quaint exhibit replete with photos detailing the track’s history, special participants, and hall-of-famers. The first floor had a gift shop--yes, I emerged with both a Canterbury Downs polo shirt and, of course, a logo shot glass--plus more concession stands, bars/restaurants, and a poker room.
    The track wasn’t the only thing that was visually appealing, however; some of the two-legged fillies in sundresses were as entertaining to watch as anything that happened on the track. I was actually quite impressed with the attendance for both days; the crowds were large enough to make the place look at least relatively full. In addition, a fair amount of them were young people. I understand the demographics of horse racing are ancient, but you wouldn’t have known it from this crowd; there was more than enough youth sprinkled amongst the attendees to keep the mean age under AARP level.
    Page 2 of 2 - Anyway, if you turned your attention to the other side of the facility opposite the racecourse, you could help yourself to a nice view of the horses being saddled prior to running. Sometimes, it can behoove you to watch how they behave back there for clues to how effectively they’ll run in the race.
    Anyway, nothing beats being at the races live, seeing folks leaning toward the wire with their horses--like palm trees bending in the wind--then jumping up and down as if on hot coals. Sadly, I was about as mirthful as an IRS agent, as for most of Friday and Saturday I was incapable of picking a winner. After each race ended with a loss for me, I felt like Wile E. Coyote against the Roadrunner, flattened on the pavement wondering what just hit me.
    Finally, as the card advanced deeper Saturday afternoon, and with my sails tattered and torn, I drilled two in a row, which seemed to shift momentum at least slightly. Then, later, in the simulcast center on the third floor, I hit a pretty juicy race at Santa Anita, which returned me to about level for Saturday. I was thankful and relieved and quit while I was ahead. (Well, I was even, not ahead, and that only accounted for Saturday, rather than Friday’s carnage, but, still, I felt ahead. Plus, after drinking clear-liquids-stronger-than-water all day and night Friday, and again Saturday, I was beginning to feel about as unsteady as the Barbadian ski team on snowy slopes, so leaving while I could still amble back to my hotel seemed judicious.)
    Eventually, I did make it to Mystic Lake Casino to join the rest of my party, but, since the casino offered only slot machines and blackjack, I’m proud to say they didn’t get a nickel of my money. (I never touch slots, subscribing to the theory of the legendary gambler Daddy Warbucks, who said, “My daddy, he always told me, ‘Anything that stands...back up against the wall and challenges the world, well, son, you just leave it be.’” I love craps, but that wasn’t on the menu.)
    Good thing I kept my money in my pocket, too, because I was told by the rest of my group that the machines at the casino were tighter than a face after a fresh Botox injection. If there was blood on the carpet for every sawbuck someone in my group lost on those machines, all the mops from “Fantasia” would’ve been required to clean up the mess. Not playing may have been my best call all weekend!
    Ryan Anderson can be reached at randerson@stjamesnews.com and followed on Twitter @randerson_ryan

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