There is an old adage in American society that says, “you can never go home again.” It's a saying that speaks of nostalgia, how the places and the memories we made in childhood are always cast in a rosier hue than reality remembers.
But sometimes, just sometimes, home is exactly how one remembers it and the places and the things we learned to love as children thrill us even more as adults.
Andrew Offerman is one of the lucky few in Thoroughbred racing whose career led him right back to the racetrack to the place he fell in love with racing.
“I didn't expect I would come back, and I was open to pretty much any opportunity,” said Offerman, who grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis and now works as the senior vice president of racing at Canterbury Park. “It just so happened that things transpiring around the time made it possible to come home, and those same changes helped me progress into the role I'm in today.”
It was at Canterbury Park where Offerman first discovered racing through his grandmother and aunt, who owned and ran horses out of the Minnesota track.
“I was at the races with them from a young age and I enjoyed everything that went into race days and the excitement that it brought,” said Offerman. “I have pictures of me in the winner's circle from when I was just a couple years old. My aunt still races horses, but my grandmother passed about 10 years ago.
“Those times were what spurred my interest in the track, but that was really my only true exposure to racing though through high school and even college. It was just what I knew as my home track. I started working at Canterbury as an intern in 2005 doing media and PR. I did that throughout undergrad while I was going to school at Gustavus Adolphus College.
“For whatever reason, I was captivated by horse racing in general. I did a lot of journalism work as an undergraduate and I was heavily involved in my college newspaper, so I always found the tack to be a fascinating microcosm of society. I loved the totality of the track and all the experiences you could have there. But not having much exposure to the industry outside of Canterbury, I didn't really have a broad perspective about what kinds of opportunities were out there.”
Upon graduating with his undergraduate degree, Offerman found himself — as so many young people do — not quite settled in terms of where his professional life would take him. While he tooled around with professional programs like law school and other continuing education opportunities, he found the University of Arizona's Race Track Industry Program and was hooked.
“Hearing about the RTIP, I knew I was interested because it was an opportunity to get that full picture of what the industry had to offer and it was the chance to get a master's degree while learning more about an industry that I was passionate about,” said Offerman. “It was the natural step to blend my skills and interests. Knowing how niche the industry can be within even the states it participates in, it seemed like the best place to get a broad perspective of how it all works.”
True to his hopes, the RTIP provided Offerman with a plethora of networking opportunities and a broad swath of skills. What he wanted from the program, he discovered, was the kind of opportunity — the kind of job — that would allow him to work behind the scenes creating the experience that so many racegoers crave. It was the kind of job in the industry that could be parlayed into a career at any track across the country, and could possibly require him to relocate once the program had ended.
“I knew I wanted to be on the operational side of the business,” said Offerman. “I'm fascinated by the business itself and especially how the facilities work.”
Offerman's internship took him to Belmont Park and Saratoga, where some of the grandest racing in the country takes place. But after four months in New York, with his internship complete and his degree in hand, the opportunity Offerman had been hoping to find was in the exact place he had left; home in Minnesota as the live racing coordinator for Canterbury Park.
“There was, I think, an understanding in the RTIP that opportunities can be few and far between based solely on the number of racetracks that are out there,” said Offerman. “It just happened to work out that I was able to come back. I'm one of the fortunate few that gets the chance to live and work where they grew up, but also where they first experienced horse racing which is really, really cool. Any time you have an opportunity to go home in this industry you have to be grateful.”
In the decade since he joined the Canterbury Park team, Offerman has climbed several rungs on the ladder to arrive where he is now as senior vice president of racing operations.
“The way the RTIP helps you is two-fold,” explained Offerman. “The broad experience of the different things you go to see and participate in is unique. You receive a wide breadth of knowledge in the industry which presents itself in terms of opportunities to show employers and coworkers that you could do a lot of different things and contribute to the overall organization.
“There is also an amazing network that you establish early on in your career. If you take advantage of that during the program you can leave with an amazing catalog of people who can be very helpful in getting information to you and that can connect you to people you don't know in short order. In a complicated industry with a lot of moving pieces, and where things can sometimes go wrong, that is invaluable.”
While he credits the RTIP for the connections he made in establishing a career at home, Offerman was additionally lucky during his time in Arizona to meet his partner, Jen Perkins, who works as the Veterinarian Services Director for the Stronach Group and is also a graduate of the program.
Back where it all started, Offerman counts himself lucky to spend his days at the track that started it all for him and works to create that same sense of excitement and anticipation for Canterbury Park patrons that helped him fall in love with the sport.
“When people visit a racetrack, they can connect the dots in terms of thinking, 'OK, there is the stable and those are the people who take care of the horses. Here I can also see the kind of day-to-day work that goes into getting a horse ready for the races.' That is maybe not completely intuitive, but people have a cursory understanding of that,” said Offerman. “But when you look at trying to understand what goes in to getting those horses to the races, coming up with how races are put together, how information gets to the public, how wagering transpires, what actually goes on to putting on the show each day including asking the question, how do we get people to come out and ensure they have a good time? … All of those facets of the industry are a unique blend of gambling.
“It's like a minor league sport operation and that's always been fun for me to think about. It's not just about horse care or gambling, it's about how the pieces come together to entertain and ensure horse people putting on the show are getting the most out of the experience, that the horses are being put in the best conditions to be safe and successful, and that we're doing all we can to create a fun environment and ensuring people come back. It's a way to help expose new customers to the sport, to the same kid that I was at one point, and to have the opportunity to create a life-long fan. Making sure that the whole model works is what really appeals to me.”