07/23/2009 12:00AM

Competition lures Baze to Minnesota

Benoit & Associates
All-time winningest jockey Russell Baze will ride six races Saturday.

SHAKOPEE, Minn. - There certainly is precedent for Hall of Fame jockeys to find their way to Canterbury Park in the northern reaches of the American heartland. Bill Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay Jr., Pat Day, and Julie Krone all made appearances here at one time or another, while Sandy Hawley and Mike Smith were regulars during the track's infancy in the mid-to-late 1980s.

Russell Baze has been here before, but never to the fanfare that will greet him Saturday when he rides in six races, including five in the 11th annual Claiming Crown series. Baze has ridden at Canterbury on four prior occasions, the last being in 1996. Since then, however, Baze has achieved a sort of racing immortality, rewriting history with every trip to the winner's circle. Through Wednesday, Baze had won 10,598 races, more than any jockey in history.

Baze said he has ridden at close to 40 tracks, but "that doesn't count some of the smaller places, like Walla Walla." In truth, the number is 56. His affinity for competition, regardless of the level, has earned him the admiration of horsemen great and small, and it is in that spirit that he will return Saturday to Minnesota.

"Probably the biggest portion of the wins I've had have been on claiming horses," said Baze, 50. "Some of my best memories have been on claiming horses. They still go out there and just run their eyeballs out, trying to win. The horses that try that hard are the ones that really endear themselves to me. Claiming horses, I think, are the backbone of the industry."

Baze will be available for a one-hour autograph session starting at 1op.m. at track level. He heads an impressive roster or jockeys who will be flown in from various parts of the country for the Claiming Crown. Among the others named on the day are Robby Albarado, Julien Leparoux, Jeremy Rose, E.T. Baird, Jamie Theriot, Rosemary Homeister Jr., and Cliff Berry.

Event faces no Saratoga competition

In most years, the Claiming Crown has coincided with racing at Saratoga, the 500-pound gorilla of simulcast signals. But with this being the final Saturday of the Belmont Park meet, Canterbury officials are hoping that a bit more attention can be diverted to their races in the simulcast market.

Moreover, aside from dodging Saratoga, all seven Claiming Crown races (3-9), plus the Lady Canterbury (race 10), will be part of the ever-critical import simulcast menu in California on Saturday.

"We're hoping for a big day, both ontrack and in the simulcast market," Canterbury president Randy Sampson said.

Bigger purses keep trainers home

Nat Wess, the longtime Claiming Crown coordinator, noted this week the increasing difficulty in recruiting horses to Minnesota from tracks with slots-fueled purses. Purses for claiming races at tracks such as Delaware, Philadelphia, Prairie Meadows, and others are creeping closer to the levels offered by the Claiming Crown, and after shipping and other travel-related expenses are taken into account, some horsemen are staying put.

"Sadly for us, the race they are running for at home, the purse is close enough to what the Claiming Crown is that trainers are electing to stay home," Wess said.

Glyshaw brings pair of favorites

Tim Glyshaw has shipped north from Kentucky with optimism. Glyshaw has two morning-line favorites in the Claiming Crown: Grand Traverse in the Rapid Transit and Ready's Rocket in the Express.

Grand Traverse "bled in his last race at Mountaineer, so he had a real excuse," Glyshaw said. "And Ready's Rocket couldn't be coming into his race any better."

Glyshaw, 40, is a native of Evansville, Ind., who began his solo training career in 2004. These are his first starters at Canterbury.

Stormin' Sox tests perfect streak

Even with barely more than half of 2009 complete, the 62 Claiming Crown runners already have combined to win a remarkable 150 races. But nobody's perfect - except Stormin' Sox, who will put his 2009 record of 5 for 5 on the line in the $50,000 Express.

Trained by Cody Autrey, Stormin' Sox will be running at his fifth different track this year, having already won at Fair Grounds (twice), Delta Downs, Penn National, and Philadelphia Park. He is listed as a 6-1 shot, with Albarado to ride Saturday.

Butler seeking first jockey title

Dean Butler is closing in on his first riding title in quite some time. Butler, 38, was a leading rider at Philadelphia Park and Atlantic City early in his 16-year career, and after bouncing around various circuits, he now has settled on Tampa in the winter, Canterbury in the spring and summer, and Remington Park in the fall.

Butler, who is named to ride in five Claiming Crown events, led the Canterbury standings into Thursday night's action by a 42-33 margin over Derek Bell and Jose Ferrer.

"I'm very happy with how things are working out for me," Butler said.

* This time around, Paul McGee is hoping for a more productive trip to Minnesota. In 1989, the Kentucky-based trainer saddled his only Canterbury starter when Bet the Pot was well beaten as the even-money favorite in a $75,000 sprint stakes that long has gone defunct. McGee will be here to run Forest Warfare in the Jewel.

* Although the original idea behind the Claiming Crown was to rotate it among Canterbury and other tracks, the event has moved elsewhere only twice, to Philadelphia Park in 2002 and Ellis Park in 2007. As has become customary, the host site for the following year will not be decided until the annual racing symposium is held in December in Tucson, Ariz.

* Scott Lake, the leading trainer in Claiming Crown history, will accompany his wife, jockey Jenny Stisted, to Korea early next month for a female jockeys' challenge. Lake said they will travel to Korea on Aug. 4, with the riding competition set for Aug. 10.