05/13/2003 11:00PM

Solid purses, full stalls

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SHAKOPEE, Minn. - Canterbury Park opens for its 17th season of live racing in what promises to be one of its strongest renewals since the track resumed live racing in 1995.

The ongoing success of the Canterbury Park Card Club - featuring poker and casino games - has solidified a $120,000 daily purse structure, and the added possibility of slot-machine revenue has filled the 1,550-stall backstretch to capacity.

A bill that would allow the installation of slot machines at Canterbury recently passed in the Minnesota House and now awaits approval as part of the budget bill in the State Senate. Randy Sampson, the track's president and general manager, said he expected a close vote.

Canterbury officials estimate that the daily purse structure would double if the slots bill becomes law. The current legislative session is scheduled to end Monday.

Canterbury's stakes schedule has seen some major changes this season. The $100,000 Lady Canterbury for fillies and mares on the turf has been renewed after a five-year hiatus and will be run June 15, replacing the Canterbury Derby. The Claiming Crown returns to Canterbury Park on July 19 after being held at Philadelphia Park last season. The six-race Claiming Crown starter handicap series features $525,000 in purses for runners who have raced for a claiming tag in the past year. Minnesota-breds are the focus of the $309,000 Minnesota Festival of Champions Day on Aug. 17.

Track officials have hired consultant Steve Wood in an effort to fine-tune the racing surface in preparation for this season. While no major changes have been made, some organic material was added to the surface, and a second maintenance break has been scheduled during morning training hours.

A number of new faces will be seen in the jockeys' quarters this season, as former leading rider Scott Stevens returns to join last year's leading rider, Seth Martinez. Bobby Walker, Robbie Lester and Jason Eads have also relocated their tack to ride daily at Canterbury Park.

At a glance: Canterbury Park

* RACING SCHEDULE: 63 days; May 16 through September 1; Dark Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays except Memorial and Labor Day; 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

* 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 15; $525,000 Claiming Crown, July 19; $300,000 Minnesota Festival of Champions Day, August 17.

* SIMULCASTING: Daily

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

* PHONE: (952) 445-7223; tickets (952) 445-7224.

* INTERNET: www.canterburypark.com