07/21/2010 3:04PM

Leading owner a major presence in Claiming Crown

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SHAKOPEE, Minn. – Even though most of the horses typically aren’t stakes-caliber, the Claiming Crown occasionally showcases some of the most successful personalities in racing.

That will be the case once again Saturday when Midwest Thoroughbreds sends out five of the 150 or so horses in its prodigious stable in the 12th annual Claiming Crown series at Canterbury Park. In quiet fashion – just the way they prefer it – the family-owned Midwest Thoroughbreds has become the winningest owners in North America in 2010. Into Wednesday, the stable had won 163 races this year, with their earnings of $2,355,907 trailing only WinStar Farm atop the standings.

Midwest is owned by Richard and Karen Papiese, whose Illinois-based family business has afforded them to substantially expand their Thoroughbred holdings in recent years. The Papieses shun publicity, their racing manager, Cheryl Magana, said Wednesday from Chicago, but they are like anyone in that “they enjoy winning.”

The five Midwest runners that will compete Saturday are For All Who Conga and My Friend Nev in the Jewel; Max Ahead and Sweeten With Gold in the Rapid Transit; and My Irish Girl in the Glass Slipper.

All five of the Midwest horses in the Claiming Crown will run in the name of Jamie Ness, who trains the majority of their horses. Three other trainers – Brad Cox, Roger Brueggeman, and Steve Manley – also have horses for Midwest.

◗ The most notable absentee from the Claiming Crown this year is Scott Lake, the all-time leading trainer in the series with 8 wins. From the 11 previous Claiming Crowns, Lake had participated in all but one.

Lake, like virtually all other East Coast-based trainers, has remained home for one simple reason: the lucrative purses being offered at Monmouth Park, not to mention at Philadelphia Park, Saratoga, and other Eastern tracks, have made it cost-prohibitive to ship horses this far across the country.

Claiming Crown coordinator Jeff Maday said he and other officials are well aware of the pinch that Monmouth in particular has put on the series. Maday noted that Claiming Crown purses have not been increased since the 1999 inaugural and that “it’s looking more and more like maybe we need to do something with the purses” to make the event more attractive to horsemen.

◗ Ron Geary will be here Saturday from Ellis Park, the western Kentucky track he owns, and not just to watch Grasmere Park carry his colors in the Claiming Crown Rapid Transit.

Geary will fly here on his private plane to partake in the Claiming Crown Ultimate Handicappers Open, a handicapping contest with three seats in the National Handicapping Championship next January at stake. Players must pay a $1,000 entry fee, plus use their own $1,000 bankroll to play.

Geary hosted the Claiming Crown three years ago at Ellis.

◗ Nat Wess, the retired Claiming Crown coordinator, regaled the media breakfast crowd Wednesday with some interesting background on the Claiming Crown origins. Wess recalled that it was Drew Couto who was the driving force behind the creation of the series in 1998. The first running was at Canterbury in 1999.

“Even before then, the concept was to hold something like this at the track in Birmingham [Ala.],” said Wess.

Wess has remained semi-active in assisting Maday this year and said he misses the day-to-day interaction with owners and trainers. “My favorite part of the day was 6 to 9 a.m., when I was working on the backside with the horsemen,” he said.

◗ The heaviest morning-line favorite in the Claiming Crown is Sea Gaze, listed at 7-5 in the opening event, the Iron Horse. Sea Gaze, a winner in 9 of his last 11 starts, is owned and trained by Steve Asmussen, who won’t be here in lieu of having a more pressing matter Saturday: Asmussen will be at Monmouth to saddle the reigning Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra, in the Lady’s Secret Stakes.

Sea Gaze will be ridden by Julien Leparoux, whose three other Saturday mounts also look solid: Inca King in the Emerald, Headache in the Jewel, and Danzon in the Lady Canterbury.

◗ The Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association is holding their national convention in downtown Minneapolis this weekend, meaning quite a few horsemen from around the country will be here Saturday. The national HBPA is one of the co-sponsors of the Claiming Crown, along with the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and the host track.

◗ The first 5,000 fans who buy a program here Saturday also will get a free T-shirt. Admission is free daily.