Chairman Emeritus of Canterbury Park Holding Corporation Curtis Sampson, died last Thursday, July 16 at the age of 87.
Sampson and St. Paul businessman Dale Schenian bought the closed horse track and surrounding proprieties in Shakopee in 1994 and live racing returned to Minnesota in 1995 and has grown into one of the most-attended tracks in the country. The track averaged 6,500 fans daily in 2019.
“It was a labor of love for Curt. Through a lot of steady guidance from Curt and Dale we were able to make it work,” Canterbury Park’s Lead Director and former President and CEO of Offerman and Company Carin Offerman said. “If Curt didn’t step out on that limb I don’t think we would have horse racing in Minnesota right now. His role can’t be minimized.”
Curt and his son Randy Sampson got involved in horse racing in the 1980s and raced horses at Canterbury Downs starting in 1985 when the track first opened.
Canterbury Downs had a successful first couple years but soon fell on hard times and went through several different owners before losing $10 million in 1992, forcing the track to be shutdown.
For two years, Offerman and the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association searched for new owners but couldn’t find any takers until Curt Sampson stepped up to the plate in 1994.
Sampson and Schenian purchased the track for $10 million with Sampson paying $2 million in cash and taking out a $5 million loan for the majority of the purchase.
“He stepped up and made that investment and was willing to take that risk,” Offerman said. “It was about saving horse racing in Minnesota at the time and probably not a sound business decision.”
Saving horse racing in Minnesota they did as a year later, the owners took the newly named Canterbury Park public with Curt as Chairman of the Board, Schenian as vice chair and Randy Sampson as company president.
Building the track into the success it is today wasn’t easy but behind Sampson’s leadership they were able to do it.
“There wasn’t any luck in it, it was pure risk and a lot of work,” Offerman said. “Curt was the steady hand and it paid off.”
In 2000, Canterbury Park expanded with launch of the Canterbury Card Casino.
In 2012, his leadership was instrumental in a partnership created with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, owners and operators of Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, just three miles from Canterbury. A cooperative marketing and racing purse enhancement solidified the future of racing and breeding in the state.
Sampson was born in Hector in 1933 and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1955 with a business administration degree.
After working three months as an accountant in Minneapolis, he returned to Hector and remained there until his death, first helping build Minnesota Central Telephone, then Midwest Telephone Company, and in 1970 forming Communications Systems Inc. Later in his career came North American Communications Corporation in 1986 and in 1990, CSI formed Hector Communications Corporation which was eventually sold in 2006.
Sampson was inducted into the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame in 2012.
“Great guy with a great personality that cared for people,” Offerman said. “It’s a big loss for the family and the sport. People will miss seeing him around the track.”