09/12/2006 12:00AM

One-year move to Ellis Park


For just the second time in nine runnings, the Claiming Crown will be held somewhere other than Canterbury Park. Officials at Ellis Park and the Claiming Crown have announced that the Henderson, Ky., track will play host to the event on either the third or fourth weekend of July 2007.

Canterbury in Shakopee, Minn., has hosted all but one of the previous eight Claiming Crowns, beginning in 1999. The lone exception was 2002, when the event was held at Philadelphia Park. Canterbury has been contracted by the Claiming Crown's sponsoring partners, the National Horsemen's Benevolent Protective Association and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, to host the event again in 2008.

Ellis general manager Brian Elmore said Tuesday that he and the track's soon-to-be owner, Louisville businessman Ron Geary, are "very pleased and honored" that Ellis has been named a first-time host of the Claiming Crown. Geary has an agreement to purchase Ellis from Churchill Downs Inc. within the next few weeks.

One primary goal in moving to Ellis will be to improve the all-sources handle on the Claiming Crown. The entire 11-race card at Canterbury attracted slightly more than $2.3 million in 2005, while total handle on the 2006 program, which was held July 15, was just short of $2.1 million. Elmore said the fact that Ellis, through the Churchill Downs Simulcast Network, has made broader inroads than Canterbury into the national simulcast market should allow Ellis to improve on those modest figures.

In its infancy, the Claiming Crown was designed to move around to different venues, but as it evolved, Canterbury adopted it as its annual signature event. Canterbury president Randy Sampson said in a release that while his track is "always excited at hosting the Claiming Crown, I'm very happy for Kentucky's racing fans," noting that the new venue should lure new fans to the event.

"We recognize the tremendous effort that Randy and his staff at Canterbury have made with the Claiming Crown, and we certainly hope to build on the momentum they've created," said Elmore. "We believe it will be something good for the track and the horsemen, and we plan on raising the visibility and stature of the event. We think it's a win-win situation for everyone involved."