07/29/2008 11:00PM

Young trainer has six for Crown card


SHAKOPEE, Minn. - Justin Evans couldn't wait to start training racehorses, but about a week after getting his trainer's license at age 18, he was ready to head home to Chino Valley, Ariz.

"Conditions were pretty tough for a kid just starting out," Evans said.

Evans eventually persevered through his struggling start at Turf Paradise - and today he is very glad he did. At age 27, he is contending for leading trainer at Canterbury Park, where on Saturday he will have six runners in the 10th Claiming Crown.

"Business picked up after a while," said Evans, whose father, Bob, trained horses before leaving the business. "At first I just wanted to go home to Chino Valley, where getting a McDonald's was big news in town. Now everything's going great."

Into Thursday action, Evans was tied with Mac Robertson atop the Canterbury standings with 46 wins. This is the third year that Evans ventured away from Arizona to stable at Canterbury. His biggest client by far is the S E J Stables of Curt and Sharon Johnson, who live about four hours away in Detroit Lakes, Minn.

"We came here with a lot of fresh horses, and overall we came with better stock this year," Evans said.

Evans has more entrants than any other trainer in the Claiming Crown this year. He will run Global Trader in the Iron Horse; Chickster and Dinner Magic in the Express; and Eagle Storm, John Hennessy, and Sneakin By in the Rapid Transit. Mike Maker has the second-most entrants in the series with five.

Kutz Memorial Chapel dedicated

After years of planning, the Dean Kutz Memorial Chapel was dedicated Monday night on the Canterbury backstretch during a two-hour service. The 3,000-square-foot facility, located just inside the stable gate, houses a chapel and other rooms that will be used for worship services, group meetings, and other functions.

Built largely with donations and volunteer labor, the chapel honors the memory of Dean Kutz, the first jockey inducted into the Canterbury Hall of Fame. Kutz, who won more than 2,800 races, died in September 2004.

Former Twins skipper speaks at draw

Tom Kelly, who won the World Series in 1987 and 1991 as manager of the Minnesota Twins, was the guest speaker at the Claiming Crown breakfast draw Wednesday. Kelly, who retired from baseball after the 2001 season, said he was invited by Canterbury president Randy Sampson.

"I obliged," said Kelly, who owns a small stable of Standardbred horses, "because I know Mr. Sampson is one of the guys who wants to make something good happen."

Jockey colony will swell for Crown

As always, there will be an influx of out-of-town jockeys coming to Canterbury for the Claiming Crown. Among the more notable riders named for Saturday are Tim Doocy, Channing Hill, Corey Lanerie, Miguel Mena, and Eddie Razo.

The roster of jockeys who have won a Claiming Crown event includes some of the all-time greats, including Hall of Famers Laffit Pincay Jr., who won the 1999 Rapid Transit, and Julie Krone, who won the 2003 Emerald and Jewel.

Californians have Jewel's number

If history means anything, Fight On and Sensational Score bear close scrutiny in the Claiming Crown Jewel - if for no other reason than both are shipping in from California.

Five of the nine winners of the Jewel have come from California: Sing Because (2001), Truly a Judge (2002), Daunting (2003), Desert Boom (2005), and Me My Mine (2006).

Change in race conditions

There was a subtle change in the race conditions for the Claiming Crown this year. Instead of the starter-allowance conditions reaching back to one year before the races are run - under the former conditions, the races would have been restricted to horses that had competed for a certain claiming price or less since Aug. 2, 2007 - the races were opened to horses that fit the criteria back to Jan. 1, 2007.

"It was done to widen the pool of horses we could draw from," said Claiming Crown coordinator Nat Wess. "It worked as far as getting us more nominations [279] than ever at Canterbury, but pre-entries and entries are about the same as in past years. Hopefully it will be the right strategy in the long run."

* There are several entry stages to getting a horse eligible for the Claiming Crown, with the last-ditch opportunity coming by way of supplementary nomination. Six of the 64 entrants were supplemented for 5 percent of the purse by the July 18 deadline, including Fight On in the Jewel and Chippewa Court, one of the top contenders in the Glass Slipper.

* Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse that killed 13 people in downtown Minneapolis, about a half-hour from Canterbury. Repairs on the bridge are ahead of schedule, with reopening expected sometime this fall.

* Matt Carothers and Ken Rudulph will head the broadcast team for TVG, which will be on hand throughout the Saturday card.