07/22/2010 1:12PM

Ness has pair for Claiming Crown Jewel at Centerbury

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SHAKOPEE, Minn. – Jamie Ness was a press box intern when the first Claiming Crown was run in 1999 at Canterbury Park. Suffice it to say that a lot has changed since then, as Ness, a top-five trainer in North America with 150 wins so far this year, will be back at his old stomping grounds Saturday to saddle two of the six starters in what has become the annual Canterbury showcase, the $150,000 Claiming Crown Jewel.

Ness, who currently has about 100 active runners, will run For All Who Conga and My Friend Nev in the Jewel, the anchor of the six-race, $500,000 Claiming Crown.

“They’re both coming into this in great shape,” Ness, 35, said this week while having nine different condition books spread on a table at his temporary Canterbury headquarters. “The distance is a question for both of them since neither has ever gone this far, but they both fit the company.”

The 2-1 morning-line favorite in the 1 1/8-mile Jewel is Racing Bran, a Chicago-based gelding whose outstanding 2010 form includes a romping victory in the Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park and a runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows. Three Kentucky horses comprise the rest of the field: Smarten Destiny, Strike Impact, and Headache.

The Jewel culminates the 12th annual Claiming Crown series as the ninth of 11 races on a Saturday card that starts at 1:30 p.m. Central. The first Claiming Crown race, the $50,000 Iron Horse, will go at 3:06 as the fourth race, and will be followed by the $50,000 Express, the $75,000 Glass Slipper, the $75,000 Rapid Transit, and the $100,000 Emerald. The $100,000 Lady Canterbury directly follows the series as the 10th race.

All Claiming Crown races are run under starter-allowance conditions dating to Jan. 1, 2009. The event originated as a mini-Breeders’ Cup to honor and reward the unsung horses who fill North American racing cards on an everyday basis.

Among those named to ride here Saturday is Julien Leparoux, the 2009 Eclipse Award winner for top jockey.

All six Claiming Crown races will be televised on TVG.

The local weather is supposed to be ideal Saturday, with sunny skies and a high temperature in the low 80s. An ontrack crowd approaching 12,000 is expected.