07/31/2007 11:00PM

Lake conspicuous by his absence


HENDERSON, Ky. - Can it possibly be? A Claiming Crown without Scott Lake?

Indeed, several defections left Lake, easily the all-time leading trainer in the eight-year history of the Claiming Crown, without a starter for the seven-race series, which will be run Saturday at Ellis Park. Several weeks out, Lake had hoped to run as many as three or four horses in the Claiming Crown, which, when it was run at Canterbury Park in Minnesota, Lake often called a working vacation and a welcome respite from his usual grind of running a huge East Coast stable.

"I'm absolutely sick that I'm not there this year," Lake said from Saratoga.

Lake has run horses in all eight previous Claiming Crowns, including the only year when it was not held at Canterbury, which was in 2002 at one of Lake's home tracks, Philadelphia Park.

Lake said he was pointing some horses for the Claiming Crown early in the year, but they either got hurt or their form tailed off.

Lake did pre-enter Wire Whip in the Express, but he said, "That wasn't the right move because he's just not where he should be right now."

Lake has eight Claiming Crown victories, while only three other trainers have as many as two: Steve Asmussen, Ben Feliciano Jr., and Lake's good friend and Claiming Crown running mate, the late John Zimmerman.

Even with Lake missing, the Claiming Crown isn't lacking for big-name trainers. Among the trainers with horses entered are Asmussen, Jeff Mullins, Tom Amoss, Gary Contessa, and John Sadler. Only Mullins is expected to be on hand Saturday. He was scheduled to arrive here Thursday afternoon along with longtime client Jim Robinson and several other friends from Del Mar on a Lear jet owned by Desperado Stable owner Scott Gunther.

Ellis hoping for crowd of 8,000

Unlike in Minnesota, when the breakfast draw for the Claiming Crown was attended each year by 60 to 80 people, including notable trainers and a smattering of media, the post-position draw here Wednesday was a more subdued affair.

Perhaps that's a function of the tiny media market in which Ellis exists, or maybe it's just a lack of familiarity among the locals. Canterbury, on the outskirts of Minneapolis, had the advantage of the Claiming Crown serving as an annual focal point of a lengthy meet, and many people affiliated with the track treated the series and its various functions as special events.

Ellis officials are predicting an ontrack crowd of about 8,000 for Saturday, which would be in line with what Canterbury has attracted in recent runnings.

Unplugged fit after long van ride

Kevin Cremins made a 13-hour ride here Sunday from Delaware Park, riding in a horse van alongside Unplugged, the 3-1 morning-line favorite for the $100,000 Tiara. Cremins, a former assistant to Howard Wolfendale, recently began working for trainer Paul McClelland, who has a 24-horse stable at Delaware.

Unplugged, a 5-year-old Florida-bred mare, "shipped real well," said Cremins, who serves as the mare's exercise rider. "She's good and sound, and she eats everything you give her."

Unplugged is speedy and versatile and figures on or near the early pace in the Tiara, a 1 1/16-mile turf race that drew a field of 10 fillies and mares.

"She sure acts like she wants to run," said Cremins.

Two jockeys headed to Presque Isle

The allure of oversized purses at the upcoming inaugural meet at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., has enticed at least two top jockeys at Ellis to make plans to leave before the meet ends here Sept. 3. Miguel Mena and apprentice Dylan Williams both will be at Presque Isle when the meet starts Sept. 1.

"Miguel will stay at least through Gardenia Day [Aug. 18], and Dylan will stay even longer," said Steve Elzey, the agent for both riders. "The money's just too good in Pennsylvania for us to stay here. I understand jocks from all over are headed that way."

Presque Isle will run a 24-day meet offering roughly $13 million in purses, virtually all of it fueled by new slots revenues. Other jockeys who are based primarily in Kentucky who intend to ride at Presque Isle are Corey Lanerie and Jesus Castanon, both currently riding at Arlington Park.