08/26/2002 11:00PM

Claimers get their due

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They get very little fanfare the rest of year, but on Saturday claimers have their day in the sun in the fourth annual Claiming Crown at Philadelphia Park.

The Claiming Crown is a series of six races, worth a total of $550,000.

The race conditions are similar to those of a starter allowance. To be eligible, horses must have run at a specified level or below within the year prior to the event. Performance points earned in races determine which horses are selected to participate in the Claiming Crown.

On Tuesday, 53 horses entered the Claiming Crown races, down from 72 horses last year.

All races are for 3-year-olds and up. The Glass Slipper is for fillies and mares.

The richest Claiming Crown race, the $150,000 Jewel, drew nine horses, including Truly a Judge, a California shipper and the 2-1 morning-line favorite.

The one grass race - the $125,000 Emerald - drew 10 horses, including the New York-based Nowrass, a winner of two turf races at Belmont Park this summer.

The likely favorite in the $100,000 Rapid Transit, which drew nine sprinters, is Brown Eyed Major, a winner of his last four starts.

The $75,000 Glass Slipper drew nine fillies and mares, including the Scott Lake-trained Final Dispersal, who is 6 for 7 this year.

A pair of $50,000 races, the Iron Horse and Express, round out the Claiming Crown.

The Claiming Crown is sponsored by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

The first three Claiming Crowns were run at Canterbury Park in Minnesota. Canterbury is scheduled to host the event in 2003, 2005, and 2007, with other tracks hosting it in alternate years through 2008.

Prep for big day

Philadelphia Park management is hoping the Claiming Crown serves as the perfect lead-in for the biggest day of the year at the track, Pennsylvania Derby Day on Monday.

The $500,000 Pennsylvania Derby, a Grade 3 stakes, is expected to attract, among others, Blue Grass and Florida Derby winner Harlan's Holiday and Ohio Derby winner and Haskell runner-up Magic Weisner.

Hal Handel, the chief executive officer at Philadelphia Park, said the addition of the Claiming Crown during the holiday weekend could draw attention to the Pennsylvania Derby.

"It sets up the Labor Day weekend and sometimes that's hard for a small track to do," Handel said. "Labor Day is a funny time with the NFL and school starting. People's attention turn this weekend. The idea is to create a [weekend] event out of it."

Handel said another perk to hosting the Claiming Crown is that out-of-town horsemen will have the opportunity to view the massive renovations to Philly Park's grandstand, which was completed 18 months ago at the cost of approximately $8.5 million.

"It's a nice calling card for us," Handel said.

Home sweet home, kind of

You might think that trainer Scott Lake is ecstatic that the Claiming Crown is in his own back yard this year, but that's not entirely true. Lake, who brought horses to Canterbury for the first three runnings of the Claiming Crown, enjoyed his busman's holiday.

"It's nice to have it somewhere else," said Lake, who maintains a 44-string at Philadelphia Park and is the second-leading trainer in the country in number of wins. "I loved it there. The people at Canterbury treated everybody fantastic and it got me away for a week, without having to explain where I was going."

Lake, who has four horses entered on Saturday, has won five Claiming Crown races.

Still going strong

Sir Echo, the senior citizen in the Claiming Crown at age 11, also is the leading money earner among Claiming Crown entrants with $426,921. Sir Echo, based at Philadelphia Park, makes his 73rd start in the Emerald.

The gelding was claimed for $35,000 from his last race, which he won by 5 3/4 lengths at Monmouth Park on Aug. 14, by trainer John Zimmerman and Tradewinds Stable.