07/27/2008 11:00PM

Crowning opportunity

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Apart from the high-class Del Mar and Saratoga race meets and Arlington Million Day on Aug. 9, one of the most intriguing days on the summer racing calendar is the annual Claiming Crown.

This year, it returns to Canterbury Park, where it has been run every year since its inception in 1999 except for 2002 at Philadelphia Park and last year when Ellis Park played host.

Developed by the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, Claiming Crown pays homage to the bread-and-butter claiming horses that populate the majority of races at every track in America.

With a total of $600,000 up for grabs, Claiming Crown includes a well-balanced lineup of seven starter allowance races for horses that were entered to be claimed from $7,500 to $35,000 since Jan. 1, 2007. Purses are scaled from $50,000 to $150,000 based on the respective qualifying claiming tags.

The event always attracts several highly rated jockeys from other circuits and a long list of nationally prominent horse trainers.

This year, there will be horses trained by Steve Asmussen, Tom Amoss, Ken McPeek, John Sadler, Mike Mitchell, Scott Lake, Kirk Ziadie, Ralph Nicks, Merrill Scherer, and Michael Maker. Maker, based in Kentucky, won three Claiming Crown races at Ellis Park last year.

Several lesser-known horsemen who are clicking at an exceptional 30 percent and higher this year also will be on hand. These include Justin Evans (30 percent at Turf Paradise and Canterbury), Chris Richard (31 percent at Prairie Meadows), Patrick Huffman (30 percent at Turf Paradise and Churchill Downs), Jamie Ness (36 percent at Tampa Bay Downs and Canterbury), and Chris Hartman (31 percent in New Mexico and Texas), plus other high-percentage trainers Dave Kueffner, Ralph Martinez, Benjie Larue and James Cook.

With a deep roster of contenders in each Claiming Crown race, the day has the feel of a mini-Breeders’ Cup, with the promise of generous payoffs in the various exotic pools.

From a handicapping standpoint, it pays to take note of when each horse became eligible for its Claiming Crown race and at what level and distance each horse excels. Be assured, the ace horsemen who make the trip from more than a dozen states have put in considerable preparation for this special day, when purses are scaled much higher than usual. Here are some likely starters to consider in each of the seven Claiming Crown races, along with the respective conditions of eligibility.

* $50,000 Iron Horse, 3-year-olds and up, 1 1/16 miles, for those who have run for $7,500 or lower in 2007-2008.

In a very wide-open race, two horses with good tries against higher-priced rivals deserve extra attention: Global Trader and Antrim County.

Global Trader was claimed by Justin Evans for $30,000 at Turf Paradise in March with a strong turf profile that would suggest he could compete in the $100,000 Emerald. But Global Trader was equally effective on dirt last fall when competing against $6,250 types and is a better fit here. Moreover, he’s been working well on Canterbury’s main track.

Antrim County, claimed for $7,500 in May at Churchill Downs by the solid, low-profile trainer Cliff Williams, looks well meant after finishing third for $50,000 claiming at Arlington Park last month. He earned solid Beyer Speed Figures while winning his prior two outings against this caliber.

* $50,000 Express, 3-year-olds and up, six furlongs, for those who have run for $7,500 or lower in 2007-2008.

Laudable has good punch for this and is 5 for 7 this year. Yet, he will have to deal with the Ziadie trainee Fireonthewire and a pair of win machines, Raving Rocket and Chickster, in one of the toughest races on the card.

Raving Rocket, trained by Martinez, has won an astonishing 13 races from 17 starts during the past two seasons. Chickster, trained by Evans, has won 9 of 11 this year, including five straight at Canterbury

* $75,000 Glass Slipper, fillies and mares, six furlongs, for those who have run for $16,000 or lower in 2007-2008.

Quick Sale, claimed by Scott Lake for $8,000 at Philadelphia Park in December, has won 4 of 6 dirt sprints at Eastern tracks this year and may get the jump on the Amoss-trained Morghyn, a stretch-running winner at one mile for a $40,000 tag at Churchill Downs in her latest.

* $75,000 Rapid Transit, 3-year-olds and up, six furlongs, for those who have run for $16,000 or lower in 2007-2008.

Eagle Storm, a fast winner of four straight at Canterbury for Evans, will deserve a long look against a trio of strong contenders: Ziadie-trained Ruby Red Sox, a strong winner of a $20,000 claiming sprint two races back at Delaware Park; Richard-trained Private Wager, who easily defeated allowance rivals at Prairie Meadows July 11; and Forest Attack, who has finished first or second in seven straight sprints since being claimed for $40,000 at Arlington last summer.

* $100,000 Turf Tiara, fillies and mares, 1 1/16 miles on turf, for those who have run for $25,000 or lower in 2007-2008.

The John Sadler-trained Simply Run will be an intriguing contender if she does ship in from California to stretch out from a pair of winning turf sprints at Hollywood Park in May and June. But, she will have to handle the William Connelly-trained Promise Me a Prize and the Huffman-trained Natural Tendency, who exchanged one-two finishes in Churchill Downs turf races at one mile.

* $100,000 Emerald, 3-year-olds and up, 1 1/16 miles on turf, for those who have run for $25,000 or lower in 2007-2008.

Self Made Man, a $7,500 maiden claiming horse at Turfway Park in March 2007, has developed into a solid eight-time winner against much better on synthetic tracks and more recently on grass. The Maker trainee won his last two turf races against good competition at Churchill Downs, including Por Favor, who is in this race, and Stratostar, the one to beat in the Jewel.

* $150,000 Jewel, 3-year-olds and up, 1 1/8 miles, for those who have run for $35,000 or lower in 2007-2008.

Stratostar is a hard-hitting 8-year-old son of Pulpit who is trained by McPeek and who lost two Churchill Downs turf races to Self Made Man at one mile. But, Stratostar is a bit stronger on dirt and definitely prefers longer, so he would seem to be the one to beat in the richest and longest Claiming Crown race. Yet, if the Mike Mitchell-trained Sensational Score actually ships in from California and Steve Asmussen also sends New York based R Clear Victory, there will be grounds to look for price value on race day.

Sensational Score won his last two at Hollywood Park and Del Mar, while R Clear Victory has a win, two seconds and a third in five route stakes for New York-breds this season.

Canterbury Park also complements the seven Claiming Crown races with five other races, including one of its most important stakes – the $100,000 Lady Canterbury at one mile on the turf for fillies and mares. Post time is 1:30 Central and there will be national television coverage via TVG.

The betting menu will include win, place, show, exactas, trifectas, rolling daily doubles, rolling pick threes, a pair of pick fours, a pick six (beginning with the Glass Slipper and through the Jewel), plus 10 cent superfectas on every race.

Having been to seven of these events at Canterbury, I look forward to attacking the card as much as any Triple Crown racing day, the Breeders’ Cup, and a handful of other premier racing days. Sometimes the opportunities rival the best of the year.

* Steve Davidowitz will conduct a free Claiming Crown Day seminar and book signing at Canterbury Park on Saturday from 10:30-11:30 a.m.