08/01/2007 11:00PM

Claiming Crown offers potential value


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Claiming Crown is sometimes called the Breeders' Cup for claiming horses. With its lucrative purses and structure of races at differing distances, it does mirror the Breeders' Cup on a smaller scale.

It presents Breeders' Cup-like challenges for horseplayers, too. Because claiming horses converge on the Claiming Crown as stakes horses do on the Breeders' Cup, it draws horses from all over the country. Bettors must weigh, for example, the strength of a horse that has been dominating in allowances and stakes at Canterbury, relative to one that might have been running in mid-level claimers in California or Kentucky.

It is no easy task, which is what horseplayers should want. Because of this somewhat cloudy handicapping picture, most of the races have mild favorites and playable contenders at potentially rewarding prices.

Here is a look at four Claiming Crown races on the Saturday card at Ellis Park and horses I view as likely overlays.

Race four, The Iron Horse

A mile race for horses that have raced for a claiming price of $7,500 or less since Aug. 1 of last year, this race kicks off the first of the seven Claiming Crown races and may provide an opportunity for a nice-priced winner.

Although Top of the Heap and Kenai River appear solid, my choice is Bargainwiththdevil because of how he performed at Ellis Park last year. Racing twice there in 2006, he scored two victories, including a 10 1/2-length romp going a mile for a $7,500 tag last September.

Out of action until May 20, he immediately won for a $12,500 tag at Churchill, closing from just off the pace. Claimed out of the race by his former trainer, Dale Romans, he would later come back with a pair of decent fourth-place finishes to end the Churchill meet.

Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey and current trainer Mike Maker claimed him back for $12,500 on June 23 - two races after losing him at the claims box. No doubt, they had their eyes on this race.

Beating Top of the Heap - who is 9 for 16 on traditional dirt tracks - will be a demanding test, but the price should be fair on Bargainwiththdevil.

Race six, The Class Slipper

Sole of the City, a recent winner of a $50,000 optional claimer at Arlington on June 27, looms the likely favorite in this race for fillies and mares that have raced for $16,000 or less since last August.

My play at a price is Sumneytown, who ran sixth behind Sole of the City in that June 27 race. Although beaten by 5 1/2 lengths, it came under different circumstances than she will encounter Saturday in the six-furlong Glass Slipper.

That optional claimer was at a mile, a distance beyond Sumneytown's best, and over Polytrack. She is better on dirt, having won four straight on such surfaces.

Sole of the City also is an accomplished dirt sprinter, but her price figures to be shorter than Sumneytown. The latter is likely to be the better value play.

Race seven, The Tiara

This 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies that have started for a tag of $25,000 or less over the past year offers one of the best bets of the day: Westward Miss. Ineffective throughout much of 2006 and into early 2007, she has blossomed in recent months for trainer Jim Corrigan, winning a $40,000 claimer at Churchill Downs on May 9 and placing second in a $50,000 claiming race May 24.

Unraced since, she should fire fresh. She won off a similar two-month layoff in early May and shows a steady series of works at The Thoroughbred Center in Lexington.

If she catches a quick pace - which seems likely with several front-runners in the lineup - look for her to run down the competition.

Race 10, The Jewel

The Claiming Crown concludes with this $150,000 contest, the richest on the card, for horses that have raced for $35,000 or less since last August. A 1 1/8-mile dirt race, it is a scramble.

With several of the favorites moving off turf and Polytrack, I prefer a couple of price horses that are proven on dirt, Jamian and Miami Sunrise, preferring the former slightly over the latter. Both horses have been in top form since being claimed by their current connections.

The versatile Jamian gets a narrow edge over Miami Sunrise due to how well he ran at Ellis Park previously. Two years ago in the better of his two efforts over the Ellis Park main track, he finished second in a starter handicap at 1 1/8 miles on dirt, losing by three-quarters of a length to multiple stakes winner Ask the Lord.