MINNEAPOLIS -- For many on the Minnesota Vikings roster, Canterbury Park has been a place for relaxation. The horse racing track is located in Shakopee, Minnesota, just 10 miles southwest of the team's practice facility in Eden Prairie. Vikings play-by-play man Paul Allen has called races at the track longer than he has called Vikings games; he has been a reliable source for a trip to the paddock or a tip on a trifecta bet as players head to Canterbury for an evening of leisure.
Friday night had a decidedly different feel, though, as quarterbacks coach Scott Turner, guard Brandon Fusco and athletic trainer Eric Sugarman watched the fourth race at Canterbury through clenched jaws, while Allen tried his best to call it straight from his booth above the track. From two time zones away, offensive coordinator Norv Turner watched a streaming broadcast of the race. Then, after the race, Allen's phone went silent. He wasn't just showing the group a good time at Canterbury on Friday. He was shepherding them through their first race as partners in an ownership group.
Allen, Sugarman, the Turners, Fusco and NHL goalie Alex Stalock share ownership of Tiger D, a 5-year-old horse the group bought for $16,000 this spring. After Norv Turner became the Vikings' offensive coordinator in 2014, he and Allen hit it off through their shared passion for horse racing. Both Turners talked with Allen about eventually buying into a horse together, and Fusco -- who grew up going to greyhound races in Pennsylvania -- also wanted in. Sugarman joined the partnership -- it's called The TD Group -- which claimed Tiger D on the advice of trainer Bernell Rhone. Allen has a 37.5 percent stake in the partnership, and the other five owners are in at 12.5 percent apiece.
"I just had a little baby girl, so we're not going to go on any vacations this summer," Scott Turner said. "It's something to do -- bring my son to the track, have him see the horses. We walked in the stable, fed the horse some carrots and stuff. That part of it was fun. ... If he races, we're going to be in town, so we'll come out and check it out."
Wearing purple and gold silks, Tiger D went off as an even-money favorite in the $30,000 allowance race at Canterbury. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski watched from the edge of the track; tackle Phil Loadholt stood near the owners, as did linebacker Chad Greenway and his wife, Jenni. The group was there either to celebrate Tiger D's first win in Minnesota or needle his new owners.
They made the most of the latter opportunity. The horse got pinned on the rail early and finished fourth after a late charge. Afterward, Spielman groused he had come out to watch Eeyore, the downbeat donkey from Winnie the Pooh.
A win would have effectively returned the group's money after just one race; the fourth-place finish left Allen sending a text to explain what he'd seen during the race. Norv Turner quickly responded, preaching optimism for the long haul.
"He saw the long stride that I saw late, and we know Tiger D eventually will run," Allen said. "So people here at the racetrack, those with my group, they can talk as much trash as they want and they can rip our horse. Don't for a second think he doesn't hear that, and he doesn't use it as bulletin board material within our stall."
For most in the group, horse ownership doesn't figure to evolve much beyond a hobby. That was still enough to bring a healthy dose of butterflies for the Vikings contingent on Friday night, and the butterflies figure to be there again in a couple weeks, when Tiger D races again. At stake for his owners will be a shot at redemption, a chance to turn a profit, an opportunity to celebrate in the winner's circle and the hopes of avoiding merciless teasing by the time training camp starts.
"It's a lot different," Fusco said. "It was a lot of nerves before the race. It's definitely a lot different feeling when you have a horse and you're more involved with it. I'm learning a lot more since I've been an owner, and I'm having a blast. It's definitely something fun to do."