Kentucky will host its first Claiming Crown in 2007 when the event moves to Ellis Park, the western Kentucky racetrack whose sale to businessman Ron Geary is expected to close in late September.
Claiming Crown officials also announced that Canterbury Park, host of seven of the first eight Claiming Crowns, will serve as host site again in 2008. The event, which consists of seven races worth $600,000, has been held each year since 1999 and has become the highlight on the racing calendar for horses which have started for claiming prices of $7,500-$35,000.
Claiming Crown is owned by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. Canterbury and the Minnesota HBPA have become partners by virtue of their contribution of most of the purse money for the Claiming Crown races.
"The original idea behind the Claiming Crown was to rotate the event around the country, and we are looking forward to hosting the races at Ellis Park in 2007," Dan Metzger, TOBA president and Claiming Crown chairman, said in a statement. "The new management at Ellis Park, coupled with the enthusiastic support from the Kentucky HBPA, should make the 2007 event a tremendous opportunity for the track and the community, as well as the Claiming Crown.
"At the same time, we are looking forward to returning to Minnesota in 2008, as the event has grown in stature under the management and promotion from Canterbury Park."
Just before Ellis Park opened in mid-July, Churchill Downs Inc. said it had agreement to sell the facility to Ron Geary, a Louisville businessman. The Evansville, Ind.-area track did quite well this summer, with gains in on-track attendance and handle. Geary has said he wants to upgrade the Ellis Park meet.
Geary said pursuit of the Claiming Crown was an objective when he bought the track. Kentucky HBPA officials worked with Geary on the endeavor.
"(President) Randy Sampson and his staff at Canterbury Park have done an outstanding job hosting the event in the past, and we at Ellis Park want to continue and build upon that success," Geary said in a statement. "We, along with our industry partners, will work hard and put forth maximum effort to insure success and exceed expectations of all those who participate. We are also excited for our race fans that have supported our historic track for so many years that they can witness such an event firsthand."
Sampson in July said Canterbury would be more than happy to host the event in 2007, but that he believes in the original plan to move the event around the country to gain exposure. Canterbury was to get at least six of the first 10 Claiming Crowns; before this year, only Philadelphia Park has hosted the event.
Kentucky HBPA executive director Marty Maline said the horsemen's group and Geary would work together to provide purse money for the Claiming Crown. Maline said some money is available in a marketing fund.
Officials expect the Claiming Crown to do well at Ellis Park, which would remain part of the Churchill Downs Simulcast Network after the sale to Geary. On a Sunday afternoon during its recent meet, Ellis Park reported attendance of more than 8,000; the Claiming Crown at Canterbury traditionally draws 10,000-14,000.