Updated on 09/17/2011 10:59AM

A couple white collars among the blue

Julie Krone and Debonair Joe, who together won last year's Grade 1 Malibu, will team up again for the Rapid Transit, where they will face Pioneer Boy, a Grade 3 winner.

SHAKOPEE, Minn. - They might be labeled as everyday horses, but Saturday isn't just any day. Those underappreciated racehorses known as claimers will take a rare turn in the national racing spotlight Saturday when they compete in six races that have become the pride of Canterbury Park, the annual Claiming Crown series.

With $550,000 in purse money up for grabs, most of the 63 horses entered in the Claiming Crown will be shooting for easily the richest paydays of their careers. Yet the quality of the series is being underscored this year by the fact that two horses, Pioneer Boy and Debonair Joe, are graded stakes winners. Because both horses happen to be entered in the Rapid Transit, that is the one Claiming Crown event that has been most eagerly awaited this week.

Nine weeks ago, Pioneer Boy garnered national attention by leading all the way to win the Maryland Breeders' Cup, a Grade 3 race on the Preakness undercard at Pimlico. Owned by Michael Gill and trained by Jerry Robb, Pioneer Boy epitomizes the intended spirit of the Claiming Crown, having raced for a $12,500 claiming price less than eight months ago before making substantial improvement.

Debonair Joe is even more decorated than Pioneer Boy, having posted a major upset last December at Santa Anita in the Grade 1 Malibu, a victory that followed an even more unlikely triumph in the Grade 3 Vernon Underwood at Hollywood Park. Debonair Joe, a 4-year-old California-bred gelding, also once competed for $12,500 claiming conditions before being claimed by owner Lynne Ristad and trainer Juan P. Silva. Hall of Fame jockey Julie Krone will be in from California to ride Debonair Joe and three other horses in the Claiming Crown.

Adding to the Rapid Transit mix is the presence of Bensalem, a 6-year-old gelding named for the Pennsylvania suburb in which Philadelphia Park is located. Now in his second tour of duty with trainer Scott Lake, Bensalem is another prototype of a Claiming Crown runner, having recently hit peak form after a mere 57 career starts.

While the purse for the 6 1/2-furlong Rapid Transit is $100,000, there are two later races in the Claiming Crown's ascending sequence with larger purses: the $125,000 Emerald, followed by the nominal highlight and finale, the $150,000 Jewel. Neither race has a clear-cut favorite, but both are terrific betting events that should prove interesting to horseplayers. The Emerald, the only grass race of the series, appears to be a virtual toss-up among a field of 12, while the Jewel is similarly competitive, albeit with a field of just eight, smallest of the series.

The earlier races are the $50,000 Iron Horse, the $50,000 Express, and the $75,000 Glass Slipper.

Since the 1999 inception of the Claiming Crown, Canterbury has hosted the event each year except 2002, when it was held at Philadelphia Park. For this fifth running, Canterbury has guaranteed a $50,000 picksix jackpot for the six races in the series.

All six Claiming Crown races are contested under starter-allowance conditions. Depending on the race, horses must have competed at or below a specific claiming price within the last year. Those prices range from $25,000 for the Jewel to $5,000 for the Iron Horse.

All six races will be televised on Television Games Network. Scott Eberly, a producer for TVG, said officials are attempting to devise a post-time schedule to avoid overlaps with Belmont, Hollywood, and other tracks so that every Claiming Crown race can be shown live.

First post Saturday is 1:30 p.m. Central, with the Claiming Crown leadoff, the Iron Horse (race 4), set for about 3 p.m. With reasonably good weather in the forecast - a high temperature of 83 and only a slight chance of rain - track officials are hoping for the ontrack crowd to number from 12,000 to 15,000.

An is being offered on the entire 11-race Canterbury card, with the prizes being four berths in the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred racing Association National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas in January. Access to the contest is available at www.ntra.com.