01/31/2012 1:07AM

Portland Meadows Route Claiming Series draws 27 runners for first round

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Portland Meadows, in a concerted effort to reward its grittiest competitors and their connections, have created the inaugural 2012 Route Claiming Series, a three-race event culminating March 14 in the final, a $25,000 race over 1 1/4 miles. Following on the heels of the track's successful McFadden Memorial Sprint Claiming Series, which crowned the hard-knocking 12-year-old Colonel Courtney as its champ last Dec. 7, the Route Claiming Series has attracted 27 entrants for Wednesday's first leg, a three-division split of mile-and-70-yard races.

In order to qualify for the final, all participants must run in both previous legs, the second set to be held on Feb. 20 at 1 1/8 miles, and must accrue enough points -- 1st place is worth 5 points; 2nd, 4 points; 3rd, 3 points; 4th, 2 points; and 5th, 1 point. Clearly, the point system is weighted to merit consistency, and the final, after its qualifiers have run three races in six weeks, rewards durability.

Notably, all 27 entrants in Wednesday's races run for a claiming price of $2,500, which could generate substantial interest at the claim box with the added incentive of a lucrative $25,000 purse just six weeks down the road. Compared to the final, the total purses for Wednesday's three qualifying races are $4,300 each.

According to Portland Meadows track announcer Jason Beem, "The 27 entrants for this series, compared to 19 in last autumn's Sprint Claiming Series, indicates the rising popularity of the concept. It's something owners and trainers are excited about and so is track management."

In turn, fans and handicappers can look forward to a rise in handle due to the series's competitive and deep races.

Wednesday's three series races, each with nine scheduled runners, go as the 7th, 8th, and 9th races on the 10-race card. The 7th race, scheduled for 2:46 p.m. Pacific, starts another of the track's popular 14 percent takeout pick fours and is headed by the well-known 13-year-old West Seattle Boy, who has recorded 5 of his 26 lifetime wins at Portland.

The 8th race marks the return of the 9-year-old Castle Pines, who has visited the Portland winner's circle a remarkable 15 times. Favoritism in Wednesday's series finale will likely go to Meshuguna, one of the event's five 4-year-olds.