05/20/2001 11:00PM

Card cash has barns bursting

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SHAKOPEE, Minn. - Following its most profitable season since reopening for live racing in 1995, Canterbury Park commences its 2001 race meet with a dilemma many racetracks would like to have.

More applications (2,200) were filed than Canterbury has stalls (1,600), and for the first time in more than a decade the track has a backstretch filled beyond capacity.

With purses bolstered by over $1.3 million from its new card club, Canterbury officials estimate that another $1.75 million will be added during the season. The effect that money has on this 61-day race meet is reflected in a purse structure that averages nearly $120,000 a day and a 20 percent increase in stakes purses from last year.

The centerpiece of the meeting is the third running of the Claiming Crown, a six-race, $550,000 event sponsored in partnership with the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. The Crown, which will be held Aug. 4, is expected to feature runners from all over the nation. Several regional preview days are planned at tracks around the country, and new rules instituted this year will guarantee each regional winner a start on Claiming Crown Day. Starter eligibility for the Claiming Crown has been modified to allow runners who have started just once for a claiming price since July 2000, rather than twice as in past years.

Other highlights of the meet include the $100,000 Canterbury Park Breeders' Cup Derby, to be contested on the turf course at one mile June 2; and the Minnesota Festival of Champions, which features state-bred runners competing for $250,000 in purse money Aug. 18.

Handicappers will face a challenge in assessing the merits of runners shipping in from Texas, Illinois, Arizona, Florida, Ohio, and Louisiana, as more than 25 trainers who have never raced at Canterbury join more than 90 other trainers on the grounds. More runners are expected when the Hawthorne meet concludes in June.

Derek Bell returns from a successful meet at Tampa Bay Downs to defend his riding title. His competition will include Ken Shino, Perry Whetstone, and R.D. Williams.