05/11/2004 11:00PM

Meet begins with bright outlook


SHAKOPEE, Minn. - Canterbury Park opens its doors for its 18th season of live racing Friday and celebrates its 10th season under the management of the Sampson family, who re-opened the facility for live racing in 1995. The 68-day meet will continue through Labor Day.

The meet begins as it did last season, as the Minnesota Legislature continues to weigh several proposals for added gaming, including a measure that would allow slot machines to be installed at Canterbury Park. The measure passed through the Minnesota House last year, but was then set aside as part of a budget compromise between Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Minnesota Senate. That bill must pass the Senate during this session, or the proposed legislation will expire.

With or without the approval of slot machine legislation, Canterbury Park continues to thrive. The track's card club continues to post solid returns, which allowed track officials to announce a 10-percent purse increase this week, bringing Canterbury Park's average daily purse distribution to $138,000.

During the off-season, Canterbury Park also announced it had been selected as the permanent host of the Claiming Crown, which serves as the centerpiece of the track's stakes schedule. The six-race, $550,000 event will be held July 17. The $100,000 Lady Canterbury Breeders' Cup Stakes is the first major stakes of the meet and will be contested June 20. Statebreds compete in the $375,000 Minnesota Festival of Champions on Aug. 22.

The track has seen its live-racing attendance climb the last few seasons, and Canterbury Park demonstrated its commitment to its fan base with an extensive $1.5 million renovation to its third-floor clubhouse. The renovation included a complete tear-out of the mutuel and simulcast areas. Completed in time for the track's 10th anniversary party on Derby weekend, the clubhouse features a state-of-the-art simulcast area, which includes over 400 new television sets, upgraded self-serve teller machines, and a fan-friendly mutuel line.

Another three-way battle for the training title is expected to take shape this season with the return of Canterbury Park hall of fame trainers Bernell Rhone and Doug Oliver, who will each be trying to upset last year's leading trainer, David Van Winkle. Jockeys Scott Stevens, Seth Martinez, and Derek Bell, all leading riders at this meet in past seasons, will make Canterbury Park their summer base.

At a glance: Canterbury Park

RACING SCHEDULE: 68 days; May 14 through Sept. 6; dark Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, except Memorial Day, Labor Day, and July 5; No racing on Thursdays in May.

POST TIME: 7 p.m. Central weekdays; 1:30 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays;

ADMISSIONS: Adults, $4; Seniors 55+, $2; 17 & under, free; Thursdays, $1; opening weekend, free.

SEATING: Mezzanine, $2; clubhouse, $3; Park Restaurant, $3; apron and trackside deck, free.

PARKING: General, free; valet, $6

MEET HIGHLIGHTS: $100,000 Lady Canterbury, June 20; $550,000 Claiming Crown, July 17; $375,000 Minnesota Festival of Champions Day, Aug. 22.

LOCATION: 1100 Canterbury Road, Shakopee, Minn., 55379. Just north and west of Highway 169 - Canterbury Road intersection.

PHONE: (952) 445-7223 ; (952) 445-7224, tickets

INTERNET: www.canterburypark.com