12/01/2011 4:52PM

Fair Grounds: Maker a player again in Claiming Crown


NEW ORLEANS – Trainer Mike Maker is a man of few words – and many Claiming Crown wins.

Maker, who is kind of the anti-Bob Baffert when it comes to verbosity, has scored seven Claiming Crown victories, the second-highest training total in the 12-year history of the event. No surprise: Maker will be in steady action Saturday, when the Claiming Crown comes to Fair Grounds for the first time, with at least one horse in four of the five Claiming Crown races, including three in the featured $150,000 Jewel.

Maker was one of the few horsemen who responded enthusiastically to the 13th edition of the Claiming Crown, an event staged 10 times at Canterbury Park in Minnesota. Only 39 horses are entered in the five races – all run under various starter-allowance conditions – and one race, the $75,000 Rapid Transit, didn’t draw enough entries to make it onto Saturday’s 13-race program. Instead, Fair Grounds put up a $60,000 non-Claiming Crown starter-allowance, race 1, to accommodate the horse who already had shipped for the race.

[MORE: Full coverage of the Claiming Crown card from Fair Grounds]

Still, there are some nice horses racing here Saturday. Normally a high summer event, the Claiming Crown’s later date this year has led to something novel: Horses coming out of the Breeders’ Cup and into the “Breeders Cup for claimers.” Two such animals are in the $100,000 Emerald, Compliance Officer and Baryshnikov. The $75,000 Glass Slipper is graced by the presence of Wild About Marie, an open stakes winner last out at Keeneland.

As for the $150,000 Jewel, Maker has his mark all over that 1 1/8-mile dirt race, with half the field coming from his stable. Coupled in the wagering are Al Muhtasib and Isthmus, while Harmonizer starts as a separate betting interest, one of only five.

Isthmus looks iffy, with only three sprint wins over modest rivals on his resume, but he could serve another purpose – pushing front-running contender Rein King into intemperate splits while setting things up for Harmonizer and/or Al Muhtasib. With three wins in five starts here, it’s clear Harmonizer likes the Fair Grounds main track. What’s less clear is his liking for 1 1/8 miles, a distance at which he finished fifth in his only start. Al Muhtasib, however, won a 1 1/8-mile dirt race four starts ago, the day he was claimed for $50,000 in New York. Maker and owner William Butler took him for $35,000 out of his most recent start, a two-turn win at Hawthorne.

Rein King finished second in his lone nine-furlong race, but that came in mud, and he has more of a sprint profile, while front-runner Tutti Buona Gente’s only win this year came on an easy lead at Hoosier Park. That leaves It Happened Again, who would have a strong chance Saturday if he ran to the form that won him the Razorback Handicap late last winter. But It Happened Again, one of several Steve Asmussen-trained Claiming Crown starters, has not raced since June and is another Jewel runner who might find the race’s distance farther than ideal.

◗ Compliance Officer and Baryshnikov head the eight-horse Emerald, the only Claiming Crown grass race, but neither is certain to show his best over an unfamiliar turf course at the end of the year.

Baryshnikov, another from the Maker barn, was a $20,000 claimer when 2011 dawned, but got good in late winter and stayed good through late summer. He was second to Paddy O’Prado in the Dixie, second to Wise Dan in the Firecracker, and third to Turallure in the Bernard Baruch, all performances that would make Baryshnikov difficult to beat Saturday. But the question is whether Baryshnikov just needs to get back on turf, on which he hasn’t raced since the Aug. 26 Baruch, or if fifth- and seventh-place finishes in the Kentucky Cup and Breeders’ Cup Marathon show that a long year has taken a toll.

Compliance Officer was a brief pace factor from a wide draw in the BC Mile, but probably was simply overmatched. Claimed for $25,000 in May, he was subsequently guided to five straight New York-bred turf wins – the last three in six-figure stakes − by trainer Bruce Brown. Compliance Officer worked twice after shipping from Kentucky to Florida and may have a better chance to run to form than Baryshnikov.

If not the top two, then perhaps Live In Joy, a 3-year-old who, at his best, won the $100,000 Capital City last summer at Penn National.◗ If the $75,000 Glass Slipper for fillies and mares at six furlongs were on turf or synthetic, multiple stakes winner Wild About Marie would be solidly favored. But on dirt, Wild About Marie doesn’t appear to have a decided edge. Networking, part of a three-horse entry trained by Joe Woodard, might best suit the spot. Third last out in a turf sprint at Churchill, Networking has won her last four dirt starts by more than 21 lengths combined.

Rattlin Gypsy, the mount of leading Fair Grounds rider Rosie Napravnik, has a closing chance for Fairmount Park-based trainer John Wainright.◗ Sherlock, twice first and once second in three Fair Grounds starts, might be set up for a strong performance in the $50,000 Express at six furlongs. But Plasma Beam, Allworkandnoplay, Expect a Flyer, Gentlemensapproval, and Bombast all look like win players, as well.

◗ Pedrolino drops from a third-place finish in a $50,000 claimer at Keeneland and looks like a prime player in the $50,000 Iron Horse.


Claiming Crown Jewel Stakes, Post Time: 3:55 CT Saturday

Purse: $150,000; 1 1/8 miles





ML Odds



M. Maker

C. Lanerie



Al Muhtasib

M. Maker

J. Leparoux




M. Maker

R. Napravnik



Rein King

J. Terranova

J. Graham



Tutti Buona Gente

M. Lovell

S. Bridgemohan



It Happened Again

S. Asmussen

S. Sellers