Every time Canterbury Park hosts the Claiming Crown it loses an average of $50,000 to $100,000.
Yet, as the biggest day of the season approaches, Eric Halstrom, vice president of racing operations at Canterbury, refuses to downplay its importance.
"I don't want to say this weekend is do or die," Halstrom said.
"Well, I don't want to think it could be 'die,' but let's just say this is the weekend we need to 'do.' ''
The 10th running of the Claiming Crown--the eighth Canterbury has hosted--will take place Saturday. The Claiming Crown was envisioned to be the claiming horse owners' version of the Breeders' Cup, a day in which the "average owner" is treated like royalty during the racing of some of the most competitive horses in the country.
An eternal optimist, Halstrom said he believes this could be the track's most successful year, with a recently rained-upon turf track and the largest and most talent-filled card the track has ever seen.
The timing would be perfect.
While Canterbury's attendance is akin to last year's at this point in the season, the handle is down more than 10 percent.
"We're attributing it mainly, it's a tough economy right now," Canterbury CEO and President Randy Sampson said. "People are cutting down discretionary income. It seems to be consistent with other tracks and gaming companies -- people still looking for something to do and coming out, just not spending as much."
Last year's Claiming Crown, run at Ellis Park in Kentucky, drew the second-smallest crowd ever while earning the largest off-track handle.
Halstrom and Sampson hope to build off the momentum established by last year's event, particularly in simulcast earnings.
"The out-of-state handle has always been a mystery to me," Sampson said. "Why simulcast fans around the country haven't embraced [Claiming Crown] more, I don't know. We actually get into most all the sites."
Halstrom said around 700 simulcast locations throughout the United States and Canada will carry the card, comparable to the number of locations in 2006, when $1.78 million off-track money was earned. The largest handle totals generally come from the California market.
The most important handle the Claiming Crown has earned came in 2004, when the track made $2.7 million off-track (and $3.625 million total).
Banking around $750,000 in on-track earnings matches Halstrom and Sampson's expectations. Both believe, however, that off-track earnings should approach nearly $5 million every year.
Sampson, however, expects to once again lose money at this year's Claiming Crown -- though he admits the Crown was never meant to be solely a money-making endeavor.
"We have some stables here that probably wouldn't have come if it weren't for Claiming Crown," Sampson said. "In other cases, a guy who had 10 horses last year has more in the stable this year because he has more owners interested in having a Claiming Crown horse."
While both Sampson and Halstrom see the value in hosting the Claiming Crown because of intangibles such as exposure, they said economic realities might make it sensible to rotate the program every other year.
"I do think the optimal is for it to rotate to another track and then come back to Canterbury," Sampson said. "It's too early to say until we really see how this year works. We may be begging them to bring it back here."