Updated: Sep 4, 2019
“Horse Racing is a better place when people are involved”. Surely, that sentence is one that veteran racing industry executive Joe Scurto would agree with. He is the head of the Minnesota Racehorse Engagement Project, which was recently started by Canterbury Park and the Minnesota Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association. The Minnesota Racehorse Engagement Project is exactly what it sounds like - a project aimed at getting new people involved in racehorse ownership. The project will also work to expand on aftercare in the state. It’s an initiative that could be used in almost every state.
“I believe every racetrack and horsepersons’ group sees the lack of available thoroughbred racehorses and reduction in field size and foal crops as a threat to the industry,” explained Scurto. “Without the horses what do we have? The key to increasing field size and breeding is to have more people involved as owners and breeders.” He is correct. Field sizes have been shrinking across the country. Races go off with such a low number of horses that show betting cannot even be allowed. Scurto’s thought is an obvious solution - more owners generates more horses to fill up the starting gates.
With someone as experienced as Joe Scurto at the head of the Minnesota Racehorse Engagement Project, the group should have no problem recruiting more owners to the sport.
Scurto decided twenty-five years ago to follow his dreams and work in the horse racing industry. He first worked at Arlington Park and then spent a decade working in the marketing and sales network of Illinois OTBs, eventually working his way up to director positions. He then established Horseshoe Marketing in 2008, working with clients like Woodbine Entertainment, Walsh Harness, Remington Park, and the United States Trotting Association. Finally, Scurto was offered a position as Deputy Director of the Minnesota Horse Racing Commission in 2014. He would be helping to develop pro-horse racing legislation, work with industry stakeholders, and see what integrity issues actually existed. He remained in that position until the opportunity to head the Minnesota Racehorse Engagement Project came about.
“Reflecting back now, it was apparent to me that 95% of people that participate in this industry are some of the best people on the planet,” Scurto reminisced. “They work hard, care for their horses, compete fairly, and play by the rules. We have to continue to work to rid our industry of the other 5%, but we need to do a better job telling the stories of the other 95%.”
“My time at the MRC enabled me to get to know a number of trainers, breeders, owners and executives in Minnesota. Their optimism, sense of community, and dedication to the horse itself was inspiring. I knew that would be my next venture. When the Minnesota Racehorse Engagement Project was being discussed, I wanted to be a big part of it. I couldn’t be more appreciative and excited about the Opportunity.” Scurto believes that the project will be extremely beneficial to Minnesota’s horse racing industry. He hopes to share the excitement that owning a racehorse in Minnesota brings.
Canterbury Park has an average live attendance of 6,500. On weekend events, that number boosts to over 10,000. “Winning a race at Canterbury Park, with 10,000 Minnesotans cheering, is electric,” said Scurto. “Additionally, you can race on a level that is competitive, with solid purses and equitable training costs,” explained Scurto. “You don’t have to be the Wests or Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid AlMaktoum to own a quality thoroughbred racehorse, and you will still experience the same exuberant joy of being a winner when you step into Canterbury’s winner’s circle.”
Many people are unaware of the affordability of racehorse ownership. But, Scurto has a solution - “The answer is partnerships and there are plenty of people opening up their offerings to the masses which is a definite positive. Whether you want to invest $250 or $25,000 you can now get involved.”
To get more people involved in horse racing in Minnesota, the Minnesota Racehorse Engagement Project aims to get more people engaged with the Thoroughbred racehorse itself. How? By connecting people with both active and retired racehorses. “The thoroughbred is captivating, and in today’s world of cell phones and video games, we have something unique, desirable, and different,” Scurto explained.
“There are plenty of people who may not want to participate in the racing game, but they have the desire to work with these horses, to train them for their next career, or simply take care of them,” Scurto said. “This may lead them into wanting to race thoroughbreds and visa-versa.”
Engagement with racehorses often increases one’s desire to become a part of the sport. If the Minnesota Racehorse Engagement Project can get people interested in the racehorse, they can get them interested in owning one. As Scurto explained it - “When you play/engage in a sport you are more than a fan. When you get involved with any activity more directly, you go from being a consumer to an active participant. Being a participant leads to the development of new ideas, extended reach, and better understanding.”
The Minnesota Racehorse Engagement Project is on the right path to increasing the state’s number of owners. It is a project that horse racing fans and industry folk should be celebrating across the country. The increase in popularity and engagement with horse racing in one state improves the industry as a whole. The sport of horse racing needs a boost in popularity. It needs more people to get involved, to want to invest into a racehorse, and to see the fun that this sport has to offer on all levels.
“I recently was able to introduce three new local racing fans to ownership, and the day they
got to meet their new horses at Canterbury was one I won’t soon forget. Their faces, their level of excitement, the feeling of what the future could bring was intoxicating. I just sat back and took it all in.” - Joe Scurto, Executive Director of the Minnesota Racehorse Engagement Project