07/19/2004 12:00AM

Canterbury handle tops $4 million

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SHAKOPEE, Minn. - It was obvious by early Saturday afternoon that Minnesota racing fans were turning out at Canterbury Park for more than just the hot Pronto Pups and cold Labatt's. Traffic was heavy, both getting into the track and in concession and betting lines, and by day's end, most everyone left the sixth annual Claiming Crown believing they had been part of a special event.

The main draw, of course, was the brand of racing provided by the Claiming Crown. Typically the only big-time racing that Canterbury fans get to see is by simulcast, so when horses with proven class and sharp recent form show up in the entries here, the local clientele is eager to show its approval.

In fact, other horseplayers in the United States also seem to enjoy the Claiming Crown concept - a Canterbury record was handled from all sources on the 11-race Saturday card. Bolstered by the addition of New York OTB and other new offtrack outlets, the handle was $4,025,716, nearly $3 million of that on the six Claiming Crown races. Last year, the record for Claiming Crown Day at Canterbury was set with just more than $3.56 million wagered. (Totals for both years include imported simulcasts at Canterbury.)

Ontrack attendance in ideal weather was 12,788, short of the event record of 13,922, set in 2000, but considerably better than each of the last three years.

"We are very pleased with the numbers all around," said Canterbury president Randy Sampson. "It makes us want to keep building on this in future years. We believe we had great races, and we definitely had great feedback from the horsemen in town for the event."

Kentucky trainer Lynn Whiting, who saddled Quote Me Later for a third-place finish in the Rapid Transit, was one to concur.

"I think all the horsemen felt like they were treated extremely well," said Whiting, who won the 1992 Kentucky Derby with Lil E. Tee.

The biggest winners on the day were the connections of Intelligent Male, a gray 4-year-old who upset the richest race of the day, the $145,500 Claiming Crown Jewel. Trainer Wayne Catalano said Monday that Intelligent Male ($39.80) had returned to his Chicago training base in good shape.

"We've got a lot of options with him, maybe an overnight handicap or an allowance," said Catalano. "It was a good time Saturday. It felt good to see the horse run like he did."

Victories in the Claiming Crown series were spread among local horses (two) and out-of-towners (four), as well as speed horses and closers (three apiece). It was the locals who seemed to get the biggest charge out of winning. Scott Stevens energetically waved his whip after crossing the wire first aboard longshot Superman Can ($35.40) in the Iron Horse, and longtime Minnesota owner Tom Metzen called his win with Chisholm ($20.20) in the Express his greatest thrill in racing.

The other winners were Banished Lover ($9.80) in the Glass Slipper, Heroic Sight ($9.60) in the Rapid Transit, and Stage Player ($3.20) in the Emerald.

There were three winning tickets sold in a $1 pick six that comprised the six Claiming Crown races, with each ticket worth $18,756.60.

The many fans who backed horses ridden by Rafael Bejarano or trained by Scott Lake had to be disappointed, since neither man won a Claiming Crown event. Bejarano did escape a total shutout by winning the 11th and last race on favored Worland. Bejarano originally was supposed to take off Worland to make a hurried charter flight to Collinsville, Ill., but his scheduled mount at Fairmount Park there, Beau Watch, was scratched, permitting him to stay for the duration of the Canterbury card.

The NTRA held free online handicapping contest centered on the 11-race Canterbury card. A total of 4,349 players entered, each trying to earn one of three available berths in the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas in January.

The Claiming Crown will be run in 2005 at Canterbury, and a seventh race, one for fillies and mares, could be added, Sampson said.

"We don't have the Claiming Crown for 2006 yet, but we're on record saying we want to make it a permanent event here," he said.