07/13/2005 11:00PM

Several live plays in deep Emerald

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SHAKOPEE, Minn. - Horseplayers are constantly clamoring for big fields of quality horses. The , the annual series to be run Saturday at Canterbury Park, has been known to satisfy those demands, and although several races on the Claiming Crown undercard drew short fields, that certainly wasn't the case with the second-richest race of the day, the $125,000 Emerald.

Twelve horses are entered in the Emerald, and there exists neither a standout nor many throwouts, creating precisely the type of betting situation that fans crave. The 4-1 favorite on the Canterbury morning line is , a romping winner of an entry-level allowance at Arlington Park in his last start, but there is nothing written in stone to say he has to be in the mix.

One of many plausible contenders in the Emerald, a 1 1/16-mile turf race, is , a 9-year-old gelding owned by Richard Englander, the leading owner in Claiming Crown history in starts (14), wins (3), and earnings ($189,500). In his last start, a tough third-level allowance at Monmouth Park, Devine Wind was compromised by an awkward start.

Gerald Brooks, who accompanied trainer John Zimmerman to Minnesota as a temporary assistant for the Claiming Crown, said he likes the chances of Devine Wind, a two-time winner on the Saratoga turf last summer.

"He's doing a whole lot better than his last race would suggest," said Brooks.

Other threats include , a Southern California shipper from the always dangerous stable of Doug O'Neill; Rockhurst, a steady and versatile gelding in peak form; and Scottago, another reliable sort who was an easy winner of a local prep here four weeks ago.

The Emerald, carded as the eighth of 11 races, is run under starter-allowance conditions that limit eligibility to horses that have run for a $20,000 claiming price within the last year.

In the preceding Claiming Crown races:

* $100,000 Rapid Transit (race 7, $16,000 starter conditions): The lineup for this 6 1/2-furlong race is short but sweet. , who drew the rail, may be a slight favorite off back-to-back wins at Lone Star Park and Louisiana Downs, but Scott Lake likes his chances with The Student.

"I wasn't real crazy about him after I first claimed him, for a couple of reasons," said Lake. "But he ran huge in his only race for me, and that was enough to convince me to bring him here."

Other main players are Whiskey Sez and Crafty Player, both proven entities in high-end claiming company in Canada and New York, respectively.

* $100,000 Tiara (race 6, $20,000 starter): This is just the third time the Tiara will be part of the Claiming Crown program, having been run in 1999 and 2000 before being discontinued. The revival of what amounts to a niche race - it is for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on turf - drew a field of seven, with Canadian invader likely to be a tepid favorite.

Indeed, a swift pace might favor the off-the-pace chances of Out of Pride. She is likely to get just that, considering the running styles of Inhonorofjohnnie, Sippin' Devil, and probably the most dangerous of the early runners, O.K. Corral, a winner in five of her last six starts in northern California.

* $75,000 Glass Slipper (race 5, $12,500 starter): Matching 10 fillies and mares at 6 1/2 furlongs on dirt, the Glass Slipper is the sister race to the Rapid Transit and Express. , trained by Maria Pascual, brings a six-race win streak in from Delaware Park when facing an interesting group, including a pair of capable Chicago invaders, Peekaboo Cat and I Will Survive.

Wayne Catalano, trainer of Peekaboo Cat, is no stranger to defying the odds to succeed in the Claiming Crown, having won the Jewel last year with Intelligent Male, an 18-1 shot.

* $50,000 Express (race 4, $7,500 starter): The Kentucky contingent seems to stand its best chance in the series with , a 6-year-old gelding who is based at Churchill Downs and won his last two starts at Mountaineer Park. Trained by Merrill Scherer, whose son, Richie, has a string at Canterbury, Onlynurimagination figures as an off-the-pace threat from behind several speedier types.

Landler, who won the six-furlong Express two years ago when trained by Dale Capuano, makes his third start for Clovis Crane after being claimed from Capuano in April.

* $50,000 Iron Horse (race 3, $5,000 starter): With 13 runners, the Claiming Crown opener drew the largest field in the series. Like the Emerald, it's another deep one, with , a gutsy recent winner at Arlington, pegged as a lukewarm 7-2 choice on the Canterbury line.

Other key possibilities in the 1 1/16-mile Iron Horse include Sacsahuaman, trained by Lake, and Mean Kisser, whose connections, owner Billy Hays and Joe Woodard, enjoyed a phenomenal recent meet at Churchill Downs.