Jay Lietzau is in his third season as the Star Tribune's horse racing handicapper. Look for his picks — and Canterbury Park results — here and in the print edition of the newspaper.
Canterbury Park kicks off its 18th season Saturday and if you enjoy a beautiful Minnesota outdoor event, along with the opportunity to make some serious coin, then the oval in Shakopee is the place for you. While there are many different systems available for picking winners (Grandma's birthday, favorite color, niece's first name), doing a little homework before heading to the track is always preferable.
To help in that quest, here are five things to keep in mind as you handicap the Canterbury card this summer.
Trainers to follow
Mac Robertson and Joel Berndt tied for the training title last summer and were 35 wins clear of the third-place finisher. Robertson and Berndt are always toward the top of the training leaderboard, and this year should be no different. Most handicappers know this, and their horses are usually overbet. In fact, a $2 win bet on all of their horses in 2022 only produced a Return On Investment (ROI) of $1.34 (Robertson) and $1.94 (Berndt). Last year, only two trainers produced positive ROI: David Van Winkle ($2.56) and Karl Broberg ($2.18). Canterbury veteran Tony Rengstorf also had a good 2022, finishing third in the training standings, and Tim Padilla did very well last summer.
Jockeys to watch
Last summer was the first Harry Hernandez ($1.56 ROI) spent in Shakopee, and he made a great initial impression. He dominated the jockey standings with 28 more wins than his nearest competition. Lindey Wade ($1.38 ROI) and Alonso Quinonez ($1.56 ROI) also return in 2023 after finishing in the top five of the jockey standings last season. Of the returning jockeys, Ezequiel Lara had the highest ROI with $2.18, so keep an eye on Lara on live longshots.
The inside dirt
Historically, the dirt course has favored horses with early speed — and most likely 2023 won't be any different. When handicapping for the dirt, focus on horses that are either in the lead or within a couple of lengths of the lead. Also, favor the jockeys that are aggressive out of the gate and are able to gain favorable position early in the race.
Tips for the turf
Turf races typically have the largest fields. Big fields are good for the gambler as they usually provide more value. No running style is preferable in turf races around two-turns, so don't be afraid to take a big closer if the price is right. Turf sprint races tend to favor speed due to the short distance (5 furlongs). Watch replays closely when handicapping for grass races. Horses who run into trouble during a race could go off at a good price in their next starts.
When playing horizontal wagers (Pick 3, Pick 4, or Pick 5), don't be afraid to play favorites. Favorites have won at a 41% clip the past two summers at Canterbury, slightly higher than the national average. Therefore, if you're having trouble deciding on a winner in a race, the fallback is to bet the favorite — and you have a 4-in-10 chance of moving on. Here's a chart of all the different wagers offered at Canterbury.
And a few more things to know
The season: 54 days, through Sept. 16. Racing on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, with Thursdays added to the schedule from July 13-Aug. 17. Special Monday cards will be held Memorial Day, July 3 and Labor Day. Here's the calendar.
Post times: 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday; 1 p.m. on Sunday, Memorial Day and Labor Day. Special 4 p.m. post time on July 3 and Sept. 9, 13 and 16.
Admission: Saturdays and Sundays, $10 adults/$7 youth ages 6-17; Wednesdays, $5. Children 5 and under are admitted free. There is a $2 discount for tickets purchased online. Reserved tables in the clubhouse and seating in trackside cabanas are available for an additional charge. See all the seating options and purchase tickets here.
Watch the races on the web: The Canterbury Park livestream is here.