07/17/2005 11:00PM

Business decline may prompt move

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SHAKOPEE, Minn. - Canterbury Park president Randy Sampson has left open the possibility that the track could give up the Claiming Crown, at least for next year, in the wake of disappointing business results for the seventh running of the series Saturday.

Sampson said Monday that he was "frustrated" by a sharp drop in wagering handle and that "the floor is open" for discussing whether Canterbury should host the Claiming Crown next year.

All-sources handle on the 11-race Canterbury card was just $2,321,941, the lowest in the six years that Canterbury has hosted the series, which began in 1999.

Total handle on the Claiming Crown exceeded $3.5 million in 2003 and $3.6 million in 2004. Sampson said he had come up with several reasons for the drop in handle, but none could fully explain how the 2005 handle was less than two-thirds of the handle the last two years.

Sampson said the sharp downturn in overall handle may have been attributable to short fields in several of the Claiming Crown races; strong competition in the simulcast market from Colonial Downs and Delaware Park; and loss of exposure by switching event coverage from TVG to HRTV, a move that subsequently led to substantial declines in TVG and Youbet.com account wagering.

Only once has another track hosted the series, which is sponsored primarily by the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. That track was Philadelphia Park in 2002.

"We have an 'every-other-year' contract to host the Claiming Crown," said Sampson. "At some point, there will have to be a determination as to whether the series is better off rotating to another track to give it more of a national flavor. Maybe exposure elsewhere would help the series, so is the answer to move it around? That is something we will all have to address."

John Roark, president of the national HBPA, has discussed the possibility of the Dallas-area track Lone Star Park hosting the Claiming Crown next year, although any such discussion has been preliminary. Roark, who is from Texas, was in attendance Saturday at the Claiming Crown.

Sampson said it was his understanding that no other track besides Lone Star has expressed interest in hosting the Claiming Crown.

Ontrack figures from the Claiming Crown were down from last year but were close to the overall series averages. Despite 96-degree heat, a crowd of 10,515 turned out Saturday; the average from the previous six years was 10,431. The ontrack handle was $743,146, about 10 percent off the average of $829,221.