07/30/2008 11:00PM

Track property now valuable

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SHAKOPEE, Minn. - When Canterbury Park opened in 1985 as Canterbury Downs, the track was not unlike an oasis in the desert, surrounded by very little development in an otherwise barren tract of land.

More than two decades later, however, the tentacles of suburban Minneapolis have reached well into Shakopee, where strip malls, corporate offices, and housing subdivisions dot the landscape. Accordingly, land values have appreciated to a great degree, which has led to the following question: Wouldn't the land on which Canterbury Park conducts horseracing be more valuable in other uses?

Part of the answer came in early June when track officials announced it had signed a letter of intent with a development company to build a high-end retail and commercial center on an unspecified part of the approximately 380 acres owned by Canterbury.

"We signed the letter with a company called Red Development to explore the feasibility of maximizing the uses of our property," said Canterbury president Randy Sampson.

Canterbury is not the first track to make such a move. Gulfstream Park, situated on prime real estate in south Florida, is several years into the process of converting much of its acreage in a similar manner.

"It's certainly our intention to continue racing," said Sampson. "All we're doing is to utilize our excess property, like Gulfstream and other racetracks do. Hopefully what we'll ultimately have are properties that are highly complemetary to each other."P

Training in Uriza's blood

Trainer Manuel Uriza, whose maternal grandfather was the late, great Laz Barrera, is stabled at Canterbury for the first time this year and will have two runners in the Claiming Crown: Hopetown Hero, listed at 12-1 in the Iron Horse, and Mr Playwright, 12-1 in the Emerald.

"A lot of my childhood memories are from Saratoga, when I was hot-walking and grooming ponies for my grandfather," recalled Uriza, 33.

Uriza's mother, Blanca, was the first of Laz Barrera's three children. Barrera's two sons, Albert and Larry, both followed in his footsteps by becoming trainers, although neither is still licensed. Uriza's only sibling, his younger brother Laz, was named for their grandfather.

Uriza, who had been based primarily at Turf Paradise since opening a stable in 2005, said he plans to eventually move to Florida. He currently has 10 horses in his stable at Canterbury, where on Saturday he hopes to register his biggest career win. "I like both my horses' chances," he said. "I really do."

Maker has five Crown runners

Mike Maker experienced a lot of great things in 10 years as a stablehand and assistant to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas before going out on his own in 2003. Foremost among the Lukas feats during Maker's tenure was the 1999 Kentucky Derby upset by Charismatic, after which Maker gave a clever retort to a fan who had loudly complained afterward that "that bum will never win another race."

"He doesn't have to," said the normally reserved Maker.

On his own, Maker has won two graded stakes: the 2004 Hawthorne Gold Cup with Freefourinternet, and the 2006 Lane's End at Turfway with With a City. Otherwise, the highlight of his solo career came last year when he won three of the seven Claiming Crown races at Ellis Park.

"Anytime you win three stakes in a day, that's pretty special," said Maker, 38. "It's a tough feat any way you look at it. I know it's a weekly occurrence for some of the bigger stables, but for me it was something I'll always remember. Working for Wayne was great, but having my name attached to winning three stakes on one card, that was a great feeling."

This year, Maker has five starters in the Claiming Crown. "The chances of duplicating what happened last year aren't very good," he said. "But we're going to try."

A monster of a name

Even if he doesn't win or run well, Onotheregostokyo usually gives racing fans their money's worth. Named for the well-worn lyrics, "Oh no, there goes Tokyo!" in the 1970s-era Blue Oyster Cult song "Godzilla," the 5-year-old gelding is a favorite among race-callers, including Richard Grunder at Tampa Bay Downs and Paul Allen at Canterbury.

"We claimed the horse awhile back, so we really don't know exactly how he got his name," said co-owner Bill Lethert. "But people sure have a lot of fun with it."

Onotheregostokyo will break from the inside post in the Claiming Crown Emerald.

Nafzger already enshrined here

Canterbury is among the many racetracks to claim Carl Nafzger as their own. Nafzger was prominent in the infancy of Canterbury while he was training primarily for the late Frances Genter.

Nafzger is one of just four trainers enshrined in the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame. As most everyone knows, a more prestigious honor awaits him in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where Nafzger will be inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame on Monday.