07/13/2004 11:00PM

Lake dangerous as always


SHAKOPEE, Minn. - A rich convergence of horses from throughout the U.S. was set in motion Wednesday, when entries were taken at Canterbury Park for the $550,000 Claiming Crown, the six-race series that will have its sixth running Saturday.

The richest of the races, the $150,000 Jewel, could once again land the spotlight on trainer Scott Lake, whose stable has thrived in the brief history of the Claiming Crown. Lake, whose six Claiming Crown victories are easily most among trainers, will have three uncoupled starters - Polish Times, Rize, and Spooky Mulder - among the 11 horses entered in the 1 1/8-mile , and all are legitimate contenders.

"I don't believe they have conflicting styles, which is one reason we brought all three of them," said Lake.

The Jewel helps to embody the melting-pot effect that has become so typical of the Claiming Crown. Besides the three Lake horses, who most recently raced in New York, the 1 1/8-mile Jewel also drew a major threat from Southern California in Musique Toujours, and the balance of the field comes from a handful of other circuits.

In all, 62 horses were entered in the Claiming Crown, a number whittled from the record 88 pre-entries taken last week. The draw for only one of the races, the $125,000 Emerald, actually forced any horses out of the event; that race drew 17 entries, and only as many as 14 can start.

The Emerald, a 1 1/16-mile turf race, will probably have a California horse as its favorite: Stage Player, a Jeff Mullins-trained gelding who drew favorably in post 2. Other logical challengers include Distorted Power and Luckymate from Chicago, and He Flies from Kentucky.

In the other Claiming Crown events: Lake has Satan's Code entered off a sharp win as one of the top contenders in the $100,000 Rapid Transit, a 6 1/2-furlong race that drew perhaps the most well-matched field of the program; Banished Lover, a terror at Mountaineer Park earlier in the year, could be the horse to beat for John Zimmerman in the lone race restricted to fillies and

mares, the $75,000 Glass Slipper; Zimmerman appears to have a powerful pair for the $50,000 Express, with Devil's Con and Longonot; and Kentucky invader Rough Draft, a winner in six of his last seven starts for veteran trainer Merrill Scherer, looks like a deserving favorite in the leadoff race in the series, the $50,000 Iron Horse.

Among the jockeys named to ride here Saturday are Tyler Baze, Rafael Bejarano, Eddie Martin Jr., and Canterbury's leading rider, Derek Bell.

The Claiming Crown events are carded consecutively as races 4 through 9 on a Saturday program that will begin at 1:30 p.m. Central. A pick six wager will coincide with the Claiming Crown, but unlike last year, there will not be a guaranteed pool. A pick four also will be offered on races 6 through 9.

Races in the Claiming Crown, which is jointly sponsored by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, essentially are run under starter-allowance conditions, wherein eligibility is determined from among horses who have started for a specific claiming price within a certain time frame.

The entire 11-race card Saturday will be used for the Claiming Crown Day Handicapping Contest, a free online contest in which players compete to earn three berths in the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas in January. More details are available at ntra.com.

Occasional rain was forecast for this area through Friday, but clear skies and a high temperature in the mid-80's was forecast for Saturday.

Television Games Network will have a production crew on hand to provide live coverage of all six Claiming Crown events.