New Owners Ready to Go at Canterbury : Race track: Corporation gets bargain rate after six years of losses in the millions. Attendance and handle are up on opening night at Minnesota track.

From Associated Press

They’re off and running. And this time, say the people who have opened up their wallets, they’ll be running in the black.

“The previous owners were so burdened,” said Bill Bork, vice president of Ladbroke Racing Corp. and acting general manager of Ladbroke at Canterbury Downs. “They were paying $5 million to $6 million every year in interest alone. No track can handle that.”

The original owners, which included the Santa Anita Realty Corp., lost more than $40 million in five years, carrying a debt of about $45 million.


“We paid cash,” Bork said. “There’s no debt. That’s a big factor. We can make a profit.”

If Friday night’s opener was any indication, Ladbroke could make a healthy profit before Canterbury’s sixth season ends Oct. 8 after 122 racing days.

Attendance Friday was 11,047 and handle was $1,081,731, compared to averages of 7,239 and $875,899 last year.

“I’m thrilled, particularly in this weather,” he said. “When I got up this morning and saw the rain and cold, I said I’d be lucky to get 8,000.

“If it was a nice, balmy night, we would have drawn 15,000.”

The 10-race card was run on a sloppy track as a steady and, at times, driving rain fell all night.

But that didn’t dampen the spirits of the Ladbroke people.

The debt-ridden original owners--Brooks Fields Jr., Brooks Hauser, Scottland Inc. and Santa Anita Realty Corp.--tried to sell the track for almost two years without success.

Michigan investors Herbert Tyner and Bernard Hartman bought all the debt for $12 million. And they finished the deal by forming a partnership with Ladbroke--which owns three U.S. tracks and controls more than 25% of the off-track betting market in the United Kingdom.


Including the debt, the partnership paid about $21 million cash for a track that cost the previous owners more than $80 million.

“I wish I had the $21 million; What a deal these guys got,” said trainer Clayton Gray, president of the Minnesota Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Assn. “Like I told Mr. Bork, ‘If I could sit on your board, I’d go steal some money.’ Nobody can convince me that this track can’t be one of the best in the country, a huge money-maker.”

Canterbury has been called many things, but money-maker hasn’t been one of them.

Ladbroke has already put its stamp on Canterbury. On all of its advertisements and official track products, LADBROKE is featured prominently; Canterbury Downs, when mentioned at all, is in lower case.

“We’re proud of our name,” Bork said. “We do that at every track we go to. We’re not stopping here. We’re going to get other tracks. We want people to know Ladbroke.”

Other than the name, the most significant early change was the 7:15 p.m. post time for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday races. Saturday, Sunday and holiday races will continue to start at 1:30 p.m.

“We begged them to try night racing in previous years but they wouldn’t do it,” Gray said. “Most people have to work during the week. You don’t take off in the afternoon to go to the track. You work in the day, you play at night and on weekends. Now, all of a sudden, 90% of the people in a 2-million metro population can come to the track.”


Said Donna Barton, Canterbury’s fifth-leading jockey winner last year and rider of two winners Friday: “I like it. I’m up late anyway. Most of us will just take a nap in the afternoon.”

Another Ladbroke change, trifecta betting on the fifth and final races each day, was an immediate hit. Friday’s fifth-race trifecta paid $2,881.80 for a $2 bet. The 10th race paid $6,754.80. To win a trifecta, a bettor must pick the first three horses in order of finish.