Updated on 09/17/2011 10:59AM

Hottest rivalry? Track vs. casino

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SHAKOPEE, Minn. - Just in time for the Claiming Crown: Canterbury Park is ready to go toe to toe again with its longtime nemesis and neighbor, Mystic Lake Casino.

Mystic Lake, located about four miles from the racetrack, recently announced it would begin offering the same variations of poker games that have helped resuscitate a once-downtrodden Canterbury. The casino's decision not only is an obvious ploy to regain some of the customer base it has lost to Canterbury in the three-plus years since the track began offering poker, but also violates the tenuous cease-fire between the two entities.

Canterbury President Randy Sampson said Wednesday that in exchange for Mystic Lake not offering poker, Canterbury had agreed not to seek other forms of gaming. But this latest development "strengthens our resolve

to return to the Minnesota Legislature in 2004 for authorization to offer slot and video gaming at our proposed Canterbury Park Racino," Sampson said.

Canterbury's history of troubles with Mystic Lake is a long one. Soon after the casino opened in the early 1990's, Canterbury closed its doors for two years and nearly went out of business. After years of scraping by, the track won approval for its card club in 2000, an addition that has greatly helped its bottom line.

Meanwhile, racing business at Canterbury has been good at the 63-day meet, which began May 16. More than halfway through, ontrack attendance is up 7.5 percent and all-sources handle is up 3.6 percent over corresponding figures from 2002.

Vikings coach a 'horse person'

Speaking at a press breakfast Wednesday, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Tice articulated the positive aspects of the Claiming Crown while saying he knows that "all the recognition we can get will help the sport - and I mean 'we,' because I am a horse person."

Tice said he never was able to attend the Kentucky Derby because he always was at a National Football League mini-camp. "When I became head coach, I said, 'Go on and make your plans for that week,' because we're never having mini-camp that week again," said Tice. "Now, I've been to the last two Kentucky Derbies."

Tice frequently makes informal appearances at Canterbury but also has used his position with the Vikings to show a more tangible support for racing. Friday evening, some 110 people with the Vikings organization were scheduled to attend Canterbury for the team's annual staff party.

Trainer takes in the grounds

Like most trainers working at Canterbury for the first time, John Zimmerman is duly impressed. Zimmerman, whose horses race primarily in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, arrived here Tuesday and sent his three Claiming Crown starters to the track the next morning.

"The track has a great cushion to it," said Zimmerman, 43. "It's very kind to horses. No wonder so many of the other guys say good things about it."

It's Lake, then ... everyone

Perhaps the most amazing statistic to have accumulated through the first four runnings of the Claiming Crown is this: Scott Lake leads all trainers with six wins, but the second-leading trainer is . . . a 19-way tie.

Indeed, from the 25 previous Claiming Crown races - there were seven races in 2000 and six in other years - no trainer besides Lake has won more than once.

Pick six should have healthy pot

Although Canterbury has guaranteed a $50,000 pick-six jackpot on the Claiming Crown, that may be a moot point. The pick-six carryover into the Thursday card was more than $33,000, and if the bet is not won Thursday or Friday, the jackpot will swell to far greater than $50,000 after all pick-six bets are made Saturday.

For horseplayers who miss either of the first two legs of the pick six Saturday, they can always get back into the consolation chase with the pick four, which begins with the Glass Slipper (race 6), the third race in the Claiming Crown.

Loan me a pun

Not that current owner-trainer Donald Jones had anything to do with it, but probably the most cleverly named horse in the Claiming Crown is Loan Me a Fen. The name is a play on words for what racetrackers occasionally ask for, which is to have somebody lend them a "fin," or $5. Loan Me a Fen is by the Arkansas sire Fenter and was named by his breeder and former owner-trainer, Leon Cline.

Loan Me a Fen probably isn't worth backing with a fin in the Emerald. Track oddsmaker Mark Stancato has listed the 4-year-old gelding at 50-1, the highest odds of any horse in the six Claiming Crown races.