07/13/2005 12:00AM

Canterbury relishes opportunity to show off recent resurgence

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SHAKOPEE, Minn. - One of the traits the shares with the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup is that horses and their connections travel from all over North America to participate.

Officials at Canterbury Park would never dare to put the Claiming Crown on a par with racing's glamour events, but they still take great pride in having molded the Claiming Crown into a destination event for horses and horsemen. The 62 horses scheduled to run Saturday in the seven-race series made their respective last starts at 15 different racetracks.

"We're real proud of our place and how we've brought racing back from the ashes in Minnesota," said Canterbury president Randy Sampson. "As the highlight of our live meet, the Claiming Crown has become a great focal point for us. We very much enjoy showing people from all over the country what we've been able to accomplish here."

Canterbury opened to great fanfare in 1985 before business plummeted, forcing its closure in 1992. Sampson and his father, Curtis, along with Dale Schenian, bought the track in 1993 and reopened it in 1995, and with the opening of the track's Card Club in 2000, Canterbury has undergone a steady resurgence in recent years.

Among the trainers who have traveled lengthy distances for the Claiming Crown, which has been hosted by Canterbury for five of its six previous runnings, are Chantal Paquette and Barbara Baird, both based at Woodbine in Toronto. Paquette will saddle Out of Pride, the morning-line favorite for the $100,000 Tiara, and Baird will run Whiskey Sez, a prime contender in the $100,000 Rapid Transit.

Although Canada previously has been represented in the Claiming Crown by horses from Assiniboia Downs, these are the first two from Woodbine.

"We are very happy to be here," said Baird.

Blues Away keeps chugging along

Blues Away won't be one of the favorites in the $50,000 Express, but no other horse in the Claiming Crown can boast a record of longevity quite like his.

Blues Away, 11, will be making his 108th career start Saturday, and his 10th at Canterbury. His two wins over this track came in July 2001 and July 2003. Blues Away, a Florida-bred by Gold Alert, began his career on July 19, 1997, when he finished fourth in a maiden special weight race for Ralph Ziadie, the first of his six trainers.

Blues Away has been trained by Judi Hicklin since being claimed on Feb. 25, 2000, at Tampa Bay Downs, a span of 74 races. He has 19 career wins.

Disappointing number of entries

Although 93 horses were pre-entered for the Claiming Crown, only two-thirds of that total were entered. Claiming Crown coordinator Nat Wess said the prospect of solid favorites such as Lord of the Game in the Jewel scared off some horses, "but there were some races that I just can't explain why we didn't get bigger fields. There were some transportation problems involving four horses from the Delaware area, but otherwise, quite frankly, I'm personally disappointed."

Pick six has mandatory payout

Effective this meet, Canterbury has changed its pick six format, limiting the bet to ontrack patrons, except for Saturday. Mandatory payouts, regardless of whether any perfect tickets are sold, are made every Friday night and Saturday, the only days when offtrack bets are allowed. That means Saturday's pick six, which consists of the last six Claiming Crown races - all except the opener, the Iron Horse - will have a mandatory payout.