Canterbury Park dreams of luring American Pharoah with $2M race

Canterbury Park dreams of luring American Pharoah with $2M race

Published Jun. 11, 2015 8:09 p.m. ET

Only a couple months ago, a Triple Crown seemed like an impossible dream. Now, thanks to American Pharoah, racetracks better known for claimers and ostriches are dreaming of hosting a Triple Crown winner.

As trainer Bob Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat ponder their next move with American Pharoah, the 12th Triple Crown winner, Canterbury Park on Thursday announced it would stage a $2 million race if American Pharoah came to run.

Just what is Canterbury Park?

It's a second-tier racetrack in Shakopee, Minnesota, about a 25-minute drive from the heart of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Within the horse racing industry, it's probably best known for being the most frequent home of the Claiming Crown, a once-yearly event that enables the bread-and-butter horses of daily racing to run for stakes-sized purses. To the layman, it might be best known for its gimmick Extreme Racing Day featuring ostrich, camel and zebra races.


In fact, Canterbury Park's other headline on Thursday was the cancellation of this year's ostrich race because of a bird flu scare.

Sounds like the pursuit of American Pharoah might be a clever marketing ploy to get Canterbury Park's name out there, but track executives are playing it straight. They say they're dead serious about luring the sport's top current star away from such tracks as Saratoga and Monmouth.

The pitch is this: The track would convert the Mystic Lake Derby from a $200,000, 1-mile turf race on Aug. 29 to a $2 million dirt race of 1 1/8 miles the following day, if American Pharoah shows.

"Our intent is to make the Mystic Lake Derby a major race," said track president Randy Sampson, according to the Blood-horse. "Attracting American Pharoah to Canterbury would certainly do that. We and our horsemen owe it to our loyal race fans to at least extend this offer to the connections of the Triple Crown winner."

Canterbury would be increasing its highest purse of its racing season tenfold, but that still seems unlikely to get American Pharoah to Minnesota. Baffert has won the Haskell at Monmouth Park seven times, and Zayat lives in New Jersey. That $1 million race is Aug. 2. Then there's the history and prestige of running at Saratoga, which offers two options for American Pharoah's next appearance: the $600,000 Jim Dandy on Aug. 1 and the $1.25 million Travers on Aug. 29.

Baffert on Wednesday told reporters that the Haskell and Jim Dandy are the current front-runners but there are no solid plans in place yet.

''I wait for the horse to tip me off, and I'll put him on a plane,'' the trainer said. ''Let's say he was training and I was pointing to somewhere and I didn't like his last work; I'll wait. We don't know how much this has taken out of him. We won't know for a couple weeks.''

American Pharoah won the Belmont Stakes on Saturday by 5 1/2 lengths to end a 37-year Triple Crown drought, going the demanding 1 1/2 miles for his third win in five weeks. The last Triple Crown champion, Affirmed in 1978, returned with a win in the Jim Dandy after an eight-week break.