Updated on 09/17/2011 11:58AM

Rapid Transit comes up tough


SHAKOPEE, Minn. - Graded stakes winners Pioneer Boy and Debonair Joe were among the 63 horses entered Wednesday at Canterbury Park for the Claiming Crown, the $550,000 series that will be run for the fifth time Saturday.

As the winner of the Grade 3 Maryland Breeders' Cup on the May 17 Preakness undercard at Pimlico, Pioneer Boy is one of the more recognizable names in an event that celebrates the underrated virtues of claiming horses. Owned by Michael Gill and based at Laurel Park with trainer Jerry Robb, Pioneer Boy is one of several horses that make the $100,000 Rapid Transit easily the toughest of the six Claiming Crown races.

Debonair Joe, the California-bred who upset the Vernon Underwood and Malibu last winter, also is entered in the Rapid Transit, as is Bensalem, a Scott Lake-trained gelding who comes into the 6 1/2-furlong race in peak form and will be one of the betting favorites.

The richest race in the series, the 1 1/8-mile , drew the smallest field, and although the eight entrants appear to be evenly matched, none bring forth the credentials of the stars in the Rapid Transit. Nonetheless, considering the $150,000 in guaranteed purse money, the Jewel winner will race to his richest payday and become the latest symbol of how everyday horses can sometimes rise above the veil of obscurity.

"The Claiming Crown is a means of rewarding horses that rarely have an opportunity to run for big-time purses," said Canterbury president Randy Sampson. "Since we first hosted the Claiming Crown in 1999, we have found that it has been a terrific way for the so-called 'little guy' to win a nice purse and the kind of public recognition that goes with it."

Despite having raced just a few days ago when fourth in last Saturday's Cornhusker Breeders' Cup at Prairie Meadows, Patton's Victory has been established a lukewarm favorite in the Jewel by Canterbury linemaker Mark Stancato. Daunting, one of four mounts on the card for Hall of Fame jockey Julie Krone, and Native Two Stepper, another Gill-owned horse, are among the other program choices.

The lone grass race, the $125,000 Emerald, drew a field of 12 and probably is the best betting race of the series. Mega Gift, another California shipper, is the program favorite at 4-1, an inordinately high number that points out the Emerald's depth.

The $75,000 Glass Slipper is the lone race of the day for fillies and mares. Margarita's Garden, a Maryland shipper trained by Dale Capuano, enters the 6 1/2-furlong race on a five-race win streak and surely will be one of the wagering choices in a field of nine.

The $50,000 Express most likely will have the heaviest favorite of the day in Pelican Beach, who became eligible for the race by running for a $7,500 claiming tag last August. Since then, the horse has climbed the ladder with such resounding success that Lake claimed him for $50,000 in February.

The $50,000 Iron Horse drew the only field with the 14-horse maximum and is another race with a wide-open look. Lake has one of the logical choices in Wise Talk, a winner of his last three starts.

The Claiming Crown races are contested under starter-allowance conditions. Horses must have run for prescribed claiming prices within the last year; the larger the minimum claiming price, the larger the purse. For instance, the Jewel is for horses that have run for $25,000 or less, while the Iron Horse is for horses that have run for $5,000 or less.

The Claiming Crown is carded as races 4 through 9, with the first of those, the Iron Horse, set for about 3 p.m. Central. Television Games Network will have an on-site crew for the event and will use spot-features on the Claiming Crown throughout the day.

* A on the entire 11-race Saturday card at Canterbury will yield four berths in the National Handicapping Finals in January. For more information, log onto ntra.com.

* A high temperature of 82 and a slight chance for thundershowers have been forecast for Saturday.