02/23/2002 1:00AM

Claiming Crown joins Derby Festival action

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Philadelphia Park has clustered most of its top races in one big holiday weekend package.

A three-day Pennsylvania Derby Festival will feature the finals of the Claiming Crown, plus three more stakes on Labor Day, capped by the Grade 3, $500,000 Pennsylvania Derby for 3-year-olds.

The first three runnings of the Claiming Crown, a joint venture between the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, were held at Canterbury Park.

Philadelphia will serve as this year's host on Saturday, Aug. 31, with six races offering purses between $50,000 and $150,000 for horses who have started for claiming prices between $5,000 and $25,000.

In addition to the Pennsylvania Derby, the $75,000 Pennsylvania Oaks for 3-year-old fillies and the $75,000 Steve Van Buren Handicap for filly and mare sprinters will be held on Labor Day.

Since last year, Philly Park has reduced its stakes schedule from 37 to 13 races by eliminating most of its $50,000 stakes and all stakes for statebreds. One new stakes, the $100,000 Turf Monster Handicap for turf sprinters, was added.

Besides the Pennsylvania Derby, the track has two graded stakes, the Grade 2 Philadelphia Park Breeders' Cup Handicap on July 6 and the Grade 2 Cotillion Handicap on Sept. 24.