08/04/2008 12:00AM

Claiming Crown has Kentucky accent

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SHAKOPEE, Minn. - It's always more fun when you win, but few people among the 10,188 spectators at Canterbury Park for the 10th annual Claiming Crown were having a better time Saturday than a group from Louisville, Ky.

Antrim County won the first of the seven Claiming Crown races, the Iron Horse, and the men from Louisville had the rest of a picturesque afternoon to savor the victory. Antrim County races for the Boys Haven Equine, an ownership entity that includes a group of orphaned juveniles who assist in the care of a small stable of Thoroughbreds at the Trackside training center near Churchill Downs.

"We just made a long weekend of it," said Mike Tronzo, who helps manage the syndicate. "We played golf Thursday and Friday, then came out here to enjoy this. It's been a lot of fun."

Antrim County was one of five Kentucky horses to win in the Claiming Crown, which was staged in sunny, breezy, and relatively mild weather. The series anchor, the Jewel, was won by a Delaware shipper, Won Awesome Dude, while the Rapid Transit went to the locally based Eagle Storm.

Otherwise, the afternoon clearly belonged to horses from Kentucky, where last year the Claiming Crown made one of its rare sojourns outside of Minnesota when hosted by Ellis Park.

"I think having it in Kentucky last year really helped increase awareness among their horsemen," said Claiming Crown coordinator Nat Wess.

Besides Antrim County, the other Kentucky winners were Chippewa Court in the Glass Slipper, Extra Exclusive in the Express, Cat Hop in the Tiara, and Self Made Man in the Emerald.

Only one favorite, Self Made Man, won - although five other winners were second choices. Only Cat Hop, a 16-1 shot, rated as a big surprise.

Among trainers, Merrill Scherer had the best day by winning with both of his starters, Chippewa Court and Cat Hop, while Justin Evans, who had a series-high seven starters, won with Eagle Storm, and Mike Maker, who won a Claiming Crown-record three races last year at Ellis, had Self Made Man as his lone winner from five starters.

Scott Lake, the all-time Claiming Crown leader with eight wins, was shut out on the day.

While the ontrack attendance was down from 11,644 in 2006 - the last time the series was run at Canterbury - the all-sources handle on the seven Claiming Crown races was $2,175,818, up nearly 5 percent from the 2006 handle. For the entire 12-race card, total handle was $2,771,947, up nearly 3 percent from 2006.

At Ellis last year, ontrack attendance was only 6,611, but all-sources handle, assisted greatly by a wider simulcast distribution network, exceeded $4.9 million, easily a Claiming Crown record.

Canterbury president Randy Sampson, while saying the Claiming Crown generally has been a break-even proposition at best for the host track, said the national exposure and other benefits that come with hosting the event are worth the relatively minor price.

"It was a terrific day of racing before a very enthusiastic crowd," he said. "What was also very gratifying to me was the number of horsemen that told me what a great place Canterbury Park is and how much fun they had coming here."

The Claiming Crown is a partnership of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and the national Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. First run in 1999, the event has been held annually at Canterbury except for when it was run at Philadelphia Park in 2002 and last year at Ellis.

Officials with the owners and breeders and the horsemen's association have not yet announced where the Claiming Crown will be held in 2009, although Canterbury again is the most likely candidate. "We would like to have it again," said Sampson.