Updated on 09/17/2011 10:58AM

All roads lead to Shakopee


Horses from both coasts of the United States have begun converging on Canterbury Park for the fifth annual Claiming Crown, the six-race series that will be run Saturday at the Shakopee, Minn., track.

A planeload of 16 horses from East Coast tracks arrived Tuesday in Minnesota, while four horses from California were scheduled to arrive Wednesday. Vans from Kentucky, Illinois, Iowa, and elsewhere also were scheduled to transport horses to Canterbury for the Claiming Crown, in which about 65 horses are expected to compete.

"We're looking at averaging between 10 and 11 horses per race," said Nat Wess, the Claiming Crown's coordinator, during a national phone conference Tuesday. "We think we're going to have an outstanding day."

Wess said the Claiming Crown, which offers an aggregate of $550,000 in purses, will be available in more simulcast outlets than ever and that Canterbury will offer a $50,000 minimum pick six pool on the races.

Among the scheduled participants in the event are jockeys Julie Krone and Ryan Fogelsonger, trainer Scott Lake, and owner Richard Englander. Lake has won a record six Claiming Crown races, including four for Englander, but unlike in prior years, the men do not have any horses together Saturday.

"That's unfortunate, because Scott is always a trainer to be reckoned with," said Englander, who still has a number of horses with Lake, including the standout sprinter My Cousin Matt.

Lake, who already is at Canterbury for what he calls "my annual working vacation," will saddle four horses Saturday. Englander, who is scheduled to arrive Thursday evening, will have two starters.

The Claiming Crown is a series of races contested under various starter-allowance conditions. The leadoff race, the $50,000 Iron Horse, is for horses who have run for a $5,000 claiming price within the last year.

The other races have similar conditions. They are the $50,000 Express (for horses who have run for $7,500), the $75,000 Glass Slipper ($12,500 starter), $100,000 Rapid Transit ($16,000 starter), $125,000 Emerald ($20,000 starter), and the ($25,000 starter).

As the richest race, the Jewel generally is considered the highlight of the series. Only nine horses are likely for the 1 1/8-mile Jewel, which is expected to include Daunting, Freeze Alert, Native Two Stepper, Northwest Hill, and Woostershear.

Englander said he is particularly optimistic about Mega Gift, a California-based gelding trained by Jeff Mullins. Mega Gift will be part of a big field in the one-mile Emerald, the only grass race in the series.

Lake said his best chance probably rests with Wise Talk, one of the probable favorites in the 1 1/16-mile Iron Horse. Wise Talk has spent most of his career sprinting but recently won a two-turn starter-allowance at Monmouth Park.

"It looks like he's going to stretch out pretty good," said Lake.

Entries for the Claiming Crown races were to be drawn Wednesday. All six races will be televised Saturday on Television Games Network.

Canterbury's entire Saturday card will be used in a that will yield four berths in the Daily Racing Form/ National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship in January. Details are available at www.ntra.com.

The Claiming Crown, which was first run in 1999, is a cooperative effort of several industry organizations, including the national Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, and the NTRA. As host track for the fourth time in five years, Canterbury also has played a major role in the evolution of the series.

The forecast for Saturday in the area calls for mostly clear conditions and a high temperature of 83.