07/19/2007 11:00PM

Claiming Crown seems all the rage


Interest in the ninth annual Claiming Crown is building with each passing day, especially with horsemen in Kentucky, according to officials affiliated with the series.

The Claiming Crown will be run Aug. 4 at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., marking the first time the $600,000, seven-race series has been held in Kentucky and just the second time it has been run anywhere other than Canterbury Park in Minnesota. The 2002 running was held at Philadelphia Park.

Claiming Crown coordinator Nat Wess said that through last weekend horses likely to be pre-entered have had their final preps at 15 different tracks, including Belmont Park, Hollywood, and Woodbine. Pre-entries are scheduled to be taken Wednesday at Ellis.

Easily the deepest source for Claiming Crown runners is Ellis, where 58 of the 357 nominated horses have already run, said Wess.

"It looks like us bringing the event to them has really sparked great interest," said Wess, who is based at Canterbury but will be on hand at Ellis beginning Monday.

Ellis racing secretary Dan Bork said he expected at least three supplementary nominations to be received over the weekend and that two of the horses will run in the $150,000 Claiming Crown Jewel, the richest of the seven races.

One of the more interesting Claiming Crown prospects is Golden Hare, an 8-year-old gelding who has won 11 of 12 starts since being claimed by Scott Blasi, the longtime assistant to Steve Asmussen. Golden Hare, who worked five furlongs Tuesday over the Polytrack at Keeneland in 1:02.80, is being pointed to the $75,000 Rapid Transit at six furlongs.

The Claiming Crown is restricted to horses that have run for claiming prices within the last year. Entries for all Claiming Crown races will be taken

Aug. 1.

Pick four's popularity soars

Horseplayers throughout the Ellis simulcast network are really beginning to take notice of the late pick four and its mere 4 percent takeout. After a slow first week (July 4-8), when all-sources handle on the pick four averaged only about $20,000, wagering activity has steadily increased. Last Saturday, handle was $65,384, and Ellis officials are hoping that's only the beginning.

"If you try to compare the mutuel payoffs on our 4-percent take, and something like a 22-percent take, it's crazy," said Bork.

The late pick four is held on the last four races each day.

Romans collects frequent flyer miles

Trainer Dale Romans figures to log quite a few miles this summer. Romans was at Churchill Downs during the middle of last week before planning to head to the Richmond, Va., area, where he was to saddle Duveen for Saturday's Virginia Derby. Then it was off to Saratoga, where Romans is consolidating a 30-horse stable from horses previously stabled at Churchill and Belmont Park.

Romans also will be making cross-country trips to Del Mar, where he has set up a 15-horse stable, while also checking in on what remains of strings at Churchill and Belmont. His Kentucky stable will be somewhat active at Ellis; in fact, on Sunday, he has two live runners: Justice for Auston in the fifth, and Please Include Me in the sixth.

* A severe thunderstorm wiped out the last five races of a scheduled 11-race program last Sunday at Ellis. Bork said officials hope to make up the lost races "here and there" through the end of the meet, Sept. 3.

* Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. probably hated to see the storm hit Sunday - he won four of the six races that were run beforehand.