05/01/2008 12:00AM

Track facing new competition

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SHAKOPEE, Minn. - Canterbury Park opens for its 22nd year of live racing Saturday, and this year's 67-day stand will pose some unique challenges for the track, which has featured Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing under the management of the Curtis Sampson family since 1995.

Perhaps the biggest challenge will be presented by competition from the Running Aces Harness facility in Columbus, Minn., located on the north side of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. The facility opened last month. Plans call for the harness track to open its own card club in July after it completes its 53-day meeting. The impact of the Minnesota Racing Commission's decision to grant Running Aces a license and allow it to compete head-to-head with Canterbury Park for live racing fans on Sunday afternoons has yet to be fully measured.

The Claiming Crown returns to Canterbury Park this season for its 10th running. Scheduled for Aug. 2, the seven-race event will offer aggregate purses of $600,000. That day's card also will feature the $100,000 Lady Canterbury Breeders' Cup Stakes, the richest open stakes of the Canterbury meet.

The Minnesota Festival of Champions, which features seven stakes for statebred runners, will be contested Aug. 17. Canterbury Park also will host an Extreme Day on July 20. The Extreme Day event, which features several unusual contests, including a race where runners compete on turf and dirt simultaneously, debuted in Shakopee last season and proved successful, attracting more than 16,000 fans.

Canterbury's live racing schedule returns to its previous format, with weekday post times at 7 p.m. and weekend post times at 1:30 p.m. As it did last season, Canterbury will host a holiday race card on July 3 that will feature a 4 p.m. post time and fireworks after the races.

Trainer Mac Robertson returns to Canterbury Park to defend his training title, having led the local standings for the last four seasons. He should face another stiff test this season from Jamie Ness, who ships to Shakopee after winning the trainer title at Tampa Bay Downs.

Derek Bell, who spent the winter galloping horses in Ocala, Fla., returns to defend his leading rider title, having earned that distinction in five seasons at Canterbury Park, a record matched only by Canterbury Park Hall of Famer Luis Quinonez. Bell will face challenges from Paul Nolan, who won the title here in 2006, and Jason Lumpkins, who rides at Canterbury for the first time this season.