07/14/2004 11:00PM

Looking for another record handle


SHAKOPEE, Minn. - The name is now widely recognized within the racing industry, and its reputation is solid. The Claiming Crown, in its sixth year as concept-turned-reality, is capitalizing on its positive history by making deeper inroads into the world of simulcasting.

Last year, the Crown set a record with nearly $3.2 million in all-sources handle. This year, because of several contributing factors, that number figures to be easily surpassed. "I don't know about $4 million," said the Claiming Crown's coordinator, Nat Wess, "but I would certainly hope we'd get at least $3.5 million."

Wess cited at least four sources for new wagering revenue from this year: Kentucky, Las Vegas, Texas, and New York OTB's.

"We have a much stronger commitment from all of them this year," he said.

In addition, Television Games Network is promoting the event strongly. TVG will have a live broadcasting crew on hand and will air all six races live for its ever-growing audience of horseplayers.

"We're looking for a great day," said Wess.

Another race for females on wish list

Wess said horsemen frequently ask him why the Claiming Crown does not have an additional race for fillies and mares in the series. As it stands, the Glass Slipper is the only race restricted to female runners, although a grass race for fillies known as the Tiara was a seventh Claiming Crown race in 2000 and 2001.

"It's a matter of either getting more money from the Canterbury purse account to create a seventh race again, or diluting the program by taking money from the other races," said Wess. "Right now, we have $550,000 for the series and no more. Obviously it's an issue that keeps surfacing, so adding another race would be incumbent on the host track coming up with the money."

The Claiming Crown is a cooperative venture that also gets purse funds from the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

Temporary trainer switch

I Love Lisa, a top contender in the Glass Slipper, will compete Saturday in the name of Canterbury-based trainer Michelle Sinn after coming into peak form in Chicago for veteran Richard Hazelton. Such a token switch occurs occasionally at the Claiming Crown because of the relatively complex licensing procedures demanded of owners and trainers by the Minnesota Racing Commission. The commission is not a member of the National Racing Compact, which allows for reciprocal licensing agreements among 23 racing jurisdictions.

Hazelton actually will travel here Saturday, along with jockey Carlos Silva. I Love Lisa will return to Hazelton's stable after the Claiming Crown.

Two New Yorkers stay home

At least two New York-based jockeys who could have traveled here for the Claiming Crown took a pass instead. Scott Lake said he asked Aaron Gryder to ride Rize and Mike Luzzi to ride Polish Times in the Jewel, "but they said they needed to stay home," said Lake. "Apparently there are quite a few New York jockeys out of town Saturday and they had some other opportunities."

Lake got Rafael Bejarano for Rize and Seth Martinez for Polish Times.

Lake dominant so far

Lake has dominated the Claiming Crown by winning six races in the first five years, a statistic that makes all the more impressive what D. Wayne Lukas accomplished in the first five years of the Breeders' Cup: Lukas won nine races during the first five years of the Breeders' Cup (1984-88).

For the record, no trainer besides Lake has won more than one Claiming Crown event.

* If the 2004 Claiming Crown is anything like previous runnings, then fans can expect an occasional tote board explosion during the course of the day. From the five previous years, here are average $2 payoffs from some of the races: Iron Horse trifecta, $2,479.60; Glass Slipper exacta, $211.60; Rapid Transit superfecta, $12,050.40; Jewel trifecta, $2,728.60; and pick three ending on the Jewel, $1,858.40.

* This is the first Claiming Crown that Canterbury has hosted since a $1.5 million renovation was completed in the third-floor clubhouse. The makeover has made the area far more simulcast-friendly for regular customers, with separate carrels, better sight lines, more comfortable seating, and a host of other upgrades and improvements.

* Trainer Noel Hickey, who dominated Chicago racing in the early 1990's, is still active in the game, albeit on a far smaller level. Hickey has 16 horses stabled at Canterbury, where he still is very much into training. "When you're doing something seven days a week, you'd better love it," said Hickey. "And I still do."