05/14/2010 12:00AM

Admission free as Canterbury turns 25


SHAKOPEE, Minn. - Canterbury Park will begin a 62-day meet Friday evening with the hope of attracting more fans, more often.

On June 26, Canterbury will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its opening day in 1985. To mark the occasion, the track has decided to offer free general admission all season.

"With the change, we hope our loyal fans will get to enjoy our race cards more often," said marketing manager John Groen. "For those who haven't been to Canterbury Park in recent years, we hope free admission will encourage them to come out."

Canterbury's ongoing battle with the Minnesota legislature for approval of a state-operated racino looks to be running out of steam in 2010.

"With only a couple weeks left in the legislative session, chances of passing a racino this year are not very good," said Canterbury president and CEO Randy Sampson. "On the positive side, we made great strides this year in public awareness. If we don't get anything done this year, 2011 looks like the best opportunity we have ever had."

The 12th annual Claiming Crown will be held on July 24. The $100,000 Tiara has been cut from the docket this year, leaving six Claiming Crown events on the card. The $100,000 Lady Canterbury Breeders' Cup, the tracks only six-figure open stakes race, will follow the $150,000 Jewel and wrap up the day.

Local breeders will be center stage on closing day, Aug. 29, when the Minnesota Festival of Champions will be held. Trainer Mac Robertson won four of the seven Thoroughbred races in last year's festival.

Robertson has taken the last five training titles at Canterbury, and has won 39 percent of his 321 local main-track starts. He will race this summer here and at Delaware Park, which has a slots casino.

Despite having fewer horses locally, Robertson is heavily favored to keep his title streak alive due to the departure of his longtime rival Jamie Ness. Ness has opted to run for the casino-bolstered purses at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa.

The Canterbury Park Card Club has undergone a $2 million renovation and name change to the Canterbury Park Card Casino. After three months of a temporary move to the mezzanine level of the horse track, the card casino opened up on April 14 to a select group of players. The 18,000-square-foot facility has 50 tables which offer a variety of games. The poker style games include versions of Texas Hold'em, Omaha, and seven-card stud. The casino-style games include blackjack, pai-gow poker, three- and four-card poker, EZ baccarat, and more.

"We changed the layout of the card casino, bringing the excitement of table games to the front and adding glass walls that will make the new room very visible," Sampson said. "Having operated in the same room without any major changes for 10 years, an eternity in casino terms, we have added some very nice amenities."

w A sale of 2-year-olds and unraced Thoroughbreds sponsored by the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association will be held at Canterbury on Saturday evening following the races. The event is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. An under-tack show is scheduled for Friday at noon.

For more information visit the MTA website at www.mtassoc.com.