07/16/2004 11:00PM

Stage Player all the way in Emerald


SHAKOPEE, Minn. - Stage Player, the heaviest favorite in the six Claiming Crown races held Saturday at Canterbury Park, asserted his class when he speeded clear under Tyler Baze to post a three-length triumph in the $125,000 .

Stage Player, the lone winner from five southern California invaders to compete in the sixth annual Claiming Crown, returned $3.20 as the lone odds-on favorite in the series. Owned by Robert Bone and trained by Jeff Mullins, Stage Player finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.20 over a firm turf course.

Local runner Bristolville, a 31-1 shot, rallied to finish second, a half-length before the second choice, He Flies. The $2 exacta paid $64.80, and the $2 trifecta paid $317.20.

"Jeff said the horse had been training well, and he expected him to run big," said John Martin, who also trains for Bone and saddled Stage Player for Mullins, who had to leave Canterbury early for Delaware Park.

"We wanted to get the lead and hope nobody pushed us on the front end," added Martin.

And that's just how things worked out for Stage Player. After breaking cleanly from post 2, Baze eased the gelding into the lead entering the first turn, and they quickly opened daylight on their 13 rivals. Down the backstretch, Stage Player responded to rating and maintained a lead of about a length over Trinity River and Tio Lupe.

Into the far turn, Stage Player again edge clear, with He Flies charging into second. With a quarter-mile left, He Flies had a chance, but Stage Player sealed the issue with another quick spurt. Bristolville got second with a steady inside run.

Stage Player, a 5-year-old California-bred, has won 9 of 27 starts, including 6 of 10 since Bone claimed him for $25,000 in November. He was coming off a victory in a second-level turf allowance at Hollywood Park in late May.