07/19/2009 11:00PM

Bread-and-butter time again

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The 11th annual Claiming Crown will be run on Saturday at Canterbury Park, its most frequent and most compatible home. While Canterbury does not have the panache of Saratoga or Del Mar, it is an attractive, modern facility in the Midwest that has a well-maintained dirt racing surface with a good cushion and a nicely banked turf course that ranks among the best in the country.

Entering its second decade, the Claiming Crown remains a unique concept that honors the bread-and-butter horses who comprise the majority of racing cards everywhere. The program consists of seven stakes races for claiming horses and ex-claimers who will run under starter allowance conditions for purses totaling $600,000. Beyond the benefits to horsemen who work with this brand of horse every day, the Claiming Crown always gives horseplayers something to get excited about.

It is in fact, a handicapping experience I personally look forward to, having participated in seven Claiming Crown handicapping seminars since 2000.

Because the seven races all have basic eligibility conditions that go back to Jan 1, 2008, it is possible to uncover horses who were specifically claimed or set up to run in one of these races. Fact is, few horses on the card will have run for, or will run for, the purses they can win on Claiming Crown Day. While locally based riders and horses have done quite well in recent Claiming Crown events, it also is true that some of the best horses from out of town will be ridden by top-notch riders who have given up assignments in New York, Chicago, California, and Kentucky. Among them are Julien Leparoux, Robby Albarado, Russell Baze, Inez Karlsson, Rosemary Homeister Jr., and Cliff Berry. Below are the race conditions, along with some contenders who seem particularly well meant.

$50,000 Claiming Crown Iron Horse, 1 1/16 miles, for 3-year-olds and up who started for a claiming price of $7,500 or less in 2008-2009.

After claiming Mr. Meso for $5,000 in April, trainer Cody Autrey has that 9-year-old gelding in good form for this race, having defeated comparable starter allowance foes on June 7 and June 22 in his two starts at Delaware Park since the claim. Otherwise, the one-two finishers in a tough starter race at Penn National on July 11 - Calm and Collected and Sumacha'hot - rate very close for trainers Anthony Adamo and Hubert Cave, respectively.

$50,000 Claiming Crown Express, six furlongs, for 3-year-olds and up who started for a claiming price of $7,500 or less in 2008-2009.

High-percentage Kentucky-based trainer Michael Maker has done well in previous Claiming Crowns and has Chasing the Prize nicely spotted after a 10-week freshening. A versatile son of Pure Prize, he ran for $7,500 claiming in June 2008 and won 3 of 4 this year after Maker claimed him for $20,000 in January. His recent workouts are strong, but this race is loaded with horses in top form. Among several worth a close look are: Norjac, a four-time winner for trainer Ben Feliciano, who also has done well in previous years; Ready's Rocket, who earned high Beyer Speed Figures winning his last two at Churchill Downs for Tim Glyshaw; and locally based stretch-runner Justa Streak, trained by McLean Robertson, who is no stranger to the Canterbury winner's circle.

$75,000 Claiming Crown Glass Slipper, six furlongs, for fillies and mares who started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less in 2008-2009.

Locally based trainer Bruce Riecken, who lost Thunder and Belle to Hugh Robertson for $25,000 in April at Oaklawn Park, reclaimed this horse from Robertson out of a swiftly run $25,000 claiming win here on May 15. Showing good workouts for this, she may be a useful longshot in a contentious race that includes the Ralph Nicks-trained Gatorize, a sharp winner in her last at Churchill, and the Robertson-trained Sky N Mighty, a two-time winner of $16,000 claiming races at Arlington. There are several with serious early zip, including a four-time winner this year, Met a Miner, and Miranda Diane.

$75,000 Claiming Crown Rapid Transit, six furlongs, for 3-year-olds and up who started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less in 2008.

Grand Traverse, trained by Glyshaw, has placed in open stakes on dirt and turf. He was much the best of a $16,000 starter group at Churchill in April and looms the one to beat. Max Ahead, claimed for $16,000 in February at Tampa, ships in with three straight wins for high-percentage trainer Jamie Ness and also commands respect.

$100,000 Claiming Crown Tiara, 1 1/16 miles on the turf, for fillies and mares who started for a claiming price of $25,000 or less in 2008-2009.

Love to Tell, a multiple stakes winner on grass in Louisiana, was slightly off form in Texas during the spring, but she seems poised now for a top try in this spot at good odds. The main danger may be multiple -stakes-winning Mizzcant'bewrong, who is seeking her third straight for Chicago-based trainer Richard Scherer. Earlier this year, Mizzcant'bewrong was second to Love to Tell in the $125,000 Bayou Handicap at the Fair Grounds.

$100,000 Claiming Crown Emerald, 1 1/16 miles on the turf, for 3-year-olds and up who started for a claiming price of $25,000 or less in 2008-2009.

This is a wide-open race with several experienced stakes horses, including the 7-year-old multiple Grade 1 winner Gun Salute, who slipped down the class ladder to be claimed for $16,000 earlier this year. Among the other stakes winners and graded stakes types who became eligible for this race when they descended the claiming ladder are Spider Power, Hey Slick, Hard Top, and Onotheregoestokyo, fourth in this race last year.

All those are contenders, of course, but the locally based Drivingmaxandmitzi and Pursue the Dream seem fully capable of running with this group, having finished one-two in the swiftly run Brooks Fields stakes over the course July 5.

$150,000 Claiming Crown Jewel, 1 1/8 miles, for 3-year-olds and up who have started for a claiming price of $35,000 or less in 2008-2009.

If there is any disappointment in this very good racing card it is the small field of six expected to contest the largest purse.

Repenting, a recent winner at Presque Isle Downs and a stakes winner in 2008, has the best overall credentials. Forest Warfare has the most overall speed. Furthest Land is 4 for 6 this year. Glamour Guy ships in from a win at Monmouth Park for trainer Ralph Nicks that suggests Nicks had his eye on this spot for several weeks.

As usual, the array of competitive races likely will lead to several juicy payoffs among the menu of exotic wagering options, and if the Claiming Crown is not enough for fans - who will get in for free - the track also has scheduled a Quarter Horse stakes and the $100,000 Lady Canterbury for 3-year-old fillies at one mile on the turf to complete a strong program.