05/18/2011 11:51AM

Canterbury Park: Fillies Race for Hope card fills void left by Claiming Crown


SHAKOPEE, Minn. – Although the Claiming Crown has moved from Canterbury Park for the third time in the event’s 13-year history and will be held this December at Fair Grounds, this suburban Minneapolis track will still offer a stakes schedule worth more than $1.4 million at its 62-day season that begins Friday evening.

Stepping into the Claiming Crown spot as the highlight of the meet will be the Fillies Race for Hope, a day of filly and mare races highlighted by the $75,000 Lady Canterbury Stakes, the $50,000 Princess Elaine Stakes, and the $35,000 Hoist Her Flag Stakes. Fillies Race for Hope is a fundraiser for the Hope Chest for Breast Cancer Foundation, a Minnesota organization that assists distressed families affected by breast cancer.

Another high point of the meet will come closing weekend, on Sept. 4, when the Minnesota Festival of Champions, a day of stakes races for statebreds, will be held.

Canterbury is facing its annual challenge to fill stalls, but was able to attract 71 horses for the opening night’s eight-race card. The annual racino bill to authorize gaming devices at the track, which would put Canterbury on a level playing field with neighboring Iowa when trying to recuit horses, is once again stagnating in the state legislature.

“We’re optimistic regarding this season,” track president Randy Sampson said. “The horse count heading into opening day is better than it was at this time last year and we’re attracting some new, and very competitive, faces to Minnesota.”

Canterbury has assembled a strong group of trainers, including 2010 leader Mac Robertson as well as perennial powers Bernell Rhone, Gary Scherer, and Mike Biehler. Making his Canterbury debut this season is Turf Paradise’s leading trainer, Mike Chambers, winner of 71 races at the recently concluded meet. The jockey colony is led by 2010 leading jockey Dean Butler and stalwarts Paul Nolan and Scott Stevens.

Quarter Horse racing will begin May 22 and will feature 11 stakes worth more than $150,000, including the Grade 3 Northlands Futurity on July 2. Leading Quarter Horse trainer Ed Ross Hardy will be back this season to defend his title as will dual-breed riding threat, Ry Eikelberry.

Post time on Friday will be 7 p.m. Central, with weekend and holidays cards starting at 1:30 p.m. Thursday night racing begins June 16.