06/26/2010 12:00AM

Canterbury Park celebrates a milestone


SHAKOPEE, Minn. - On June 26, 1985, Canterbury Downs became Minnesota's first parimutuel racetrack and opened its doors to a festive crowd of more than 15,000, many of whom had never been to the races before. On Saturday, Canterbury has another party planned, this time to mark its 25th birthday.

The first season at Canterbury went well both on the track - Mike Smith and Jack Van Berg won the jockey and trainer titles - and from a business perspective - attendance for the 83-day meet averaged more than 13,000. But enthusiasm steadily waned and in 1990 the track was sold by its original owners, Minnesotans Brooks Fields Jr. and Brooks Hauser, to the Ladbroke Racing Corporation. Following the 1992 season, Canterbury was forced to close.

The track was purchased by local businessmen and horse owners Curtis and Randy Sampson and Dale Schenian the following year, taken public with a stock offering in 1994, and reopened in 1995 as Canterbury Park.

"Our goal was to give racing another chance in Minnesota," Canterbury president Randy Sampson said. "We knew that after a track closure and the previous financial struggles it wouldn't be easy. If you asked me 15 years ago if I would be pleased making it to the 25th anniversary, it would have exceeded my expectations and probably our group's as a whole.

"We have invited a lot of the people who helped start the business in 1985 out on Saturday. It's definitely an accomplishment."

Canterbury now operates an 18,000-square-foot card club with 50 tables. From a racing standpoint, the track is best known as the home of the Claiming Crown, which Canterbury will host for the 10th time on July 24.

To celebrate its anniversary, Canterbury will be turning back the clock in the announcer's booth Saturday. Paul Allen, the track's voice since 1995, will step aside for a couple races and hand over the microphone to Tony Bentley, who called races at Canterbury for the track's first six years. Richard Grunder, the announcer at Tampa Bay Downs, will call his first Canterbury race since 1992.

Sodas and programs will be available for the 1985 price of 25 cents Saturday. A free commemorative poster by the racing artist PEB will highlight some of the notable owners, trainers, jockeys, and horses who have competed at Canterbury. In honor of its anniversary, general admission is free all summer.