Rebuttal to ECM Editorial on Canterbury agreement

Rick and Joyce Osborne
Guest Commentary

Last week’s ECM editorial criticism that the recent Canterbury Park – Mystic Lake marketing agreement was approved without detailed study or regulatory review is misleading and flat out wrong. “Canterbury agreement deserved stronger vetting.”  Isanti County News, August 8, 2012.

Until the agreement was implemented in June, horse racing had been on economic life support in Minnesota for many years. We know. We are second generation horse farm owners and breeders in Isanti County. We stand four Thoroughbred stallions, own and board broodmares and foals, and raise racing prospects at our farm near Cambridge.

We’ve been hurting in recent years, just like breeders and racehorse owners throughout Minnesota. According to statistics compiled by the Minnesota Racing Commission, there were 42 Thoroughbred stallions and 24 Quarter Horse stallions registered in the Minnesota breeders’ fund in 2005 and 2006. By 2011 those numbers had declined by 24 percent and 58 percent, respectively. Similarly, the number of Thoroughbred mares declined by 55 percent and Quarter Horse mares by 49 percent during the same period, while the number of Thoroughbred foals declined by 61 percent and Quarter Horse foals by 55 percent. Double digit declines across the board. Figures for 2011-2012 are not yet available, but industry officials estimate that the number of registered stallions, mares and foals will hit record lows in the current year.

Declines of that magnitude are simply not sustainable in any business, certainly not in a capital intensive business like horse breeding and racing. By last spring knowledgeable horsemen feared the worst – economic collapse. But in June the Canterbury – Mystic Lake agreement changed all of that overnight.  As a direct result of that agreement, purses for the current 62-day Canterbury race meeting that ends on Labor Day will be supplemented by $2.7 million, retroactive to May 18 when the 2012 meet started. Through mid-August purses already had been enhanced by nearly $1.5 million, or 28.5 percent more than the track’s original 2012 purse agreement with horsemen had projected.

Canterbury purse enhancements were a focused, lazer-like infusion of badly needed money directly into horsemen’s wallets. The multiplier effect throughout communities that support horse farms, breeders, and training centers will be apparent in coming months and years.

Purse enhancements already have generated a buzz of excitement and spirit of optimism that haven’t been present at Minnesota tracks or farms for a decade or more. And we think the best is yet to come. Annual purse enhancements will grow from $2.7 million this year to $5.3 million in 2013, to $5.8 million 2014, and level off at $8.0 million by 2018. Higher purses will drive increased capital investment in farms, boarding stables, training facilities, and, most importantly, racehorses and breeding stock. There are encouraging signs that it’s already happening. Last weekend’s Minnesota Thoroughbred Association annual yearling sale produced a 61.4 percent increase in gross proceeds and average sale price and 83 percent increase in median price from a year ago when the industry was so deep in the economic doldrums. We were among this year’s yearling sale beneficiaries, having consigned 7 and sold 7, including 2 of our own and 5 for others.

Future discussion of horse racing and economic opportunity in rural Minnesota should be elevated above the sour grapes level reflected in last week’s editorial suggestion that the agreement wasn’t considered carefully enough. To the contrary, the 9-member Minnesota Racing Commission had ample opportunity to consider the agreement against the backdrop of an economically ailing horse industry that the commission is responsible for regulating. The commission concluded that the opportunity to enhance racing purses immediately was a far better prospect for the state and for horsemen than the dubious prospect of casino gaming at the state’s two licensed racetracks. Your editorial failed to acknowledge that the tracks’ Racino bills had failed to garner sufficient legislative support to even pass out of committee for 15 long and frustrating years, despite reportedly wide support in the public at large.

Horsemen and racing commissioners recognize winners when they see them, and fortunately for Minnesota horsemen, the prospect of purse enhancements made possible by the new marketing agreement with Canterbury Park was a no brainer.  Failure to pick up that offer would have been a tragedy for racing and racing infrastructure throughout Minnesota. Take another look at the bigger picture and decide for yourselves.

Rick and Joyce Osborne are the owners of Osborne Farm, Cambridge.