07/29/2008 11:00PM

Top barns join Claiming Crown mix


SHAKOPEE, Minn. – The Claiming Crown apparently has become so entrenched in the collective conscience of American horseplayers that Roman numerals are now attached. Claiming Crown X, or the 10th running, is set for Saturday at Canterbury Park, where 64 horses were entered Wednesday for the seven-race series.

With the exception of the Glass Slipper, which drew a field of just five, every race in the $600,000 series appears to have come up deep and competitive. The anchor race, the $150,000 Claiming Crown Jewel, got nine older horses, with a 7-2 morning-line favorite, Coyoteshighestcall, illustrating the balance of the field.

The Claiming Crown serves to showcase and reward the claiming horses who frequently are overshadowed by their stakes brethren. Run under starter-allowance conditions, the races carry far bigger purses than what might otherwise be expected, from $50,000 for the Iron Horse and Express to $150,000 for the Jewel. The races are carded consecutively, as the third through ninth, with first post for a 12-race program set for 1:30 p.m. Central.

The Saturday card also will include the richest open stakes of the Canterbury meet, the $100,000 Lady Canterbury (race 10).

The Claiming Crown is returning to Canterbury after a one-year absence. Since its 1999 inception, Canterbury has hosted every running except for the 2002 series, when it was held at Philadelphia Park, and last year, when Ellis Park had it.

Many top trainers are represented in the Claiming Crown, including Steve Asmussen, Scott Lake, Mike Mitchell, John Sadler, Tom Amoss, and Ken McPeek. Horses have converged from all over America, from both coasts and the Midwest, making for the kind of melting-pot handicapping that many horseplayers appreciate.

The series starts with the Iron Horse, a 1 1/16-mile race for horses who raced for a $5,000 claiming price or less in 2007-08. The other races, in order, are the $75,000 Glass Slipper, the Express, the $100,000 Tiara, the $75,000 Rapid Transit, the $100,000 Emerald, and the Jewel.

Mike Maker, the Kentucky-based trainer who won three Claiming Crown races last year, is back with four starters this year. Maker has one of the heavier favorites on the card in Self Made Man in the Emerald, which Maker won last year with One Eyed Joker, owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey.

Ken Ramsey, who also owns Self Made Man, said he is hoping for similar success this year. “We’re like a lot of these horsemen who’ve pointed to this event,” said Ramsey. “It’s a fun kind of thing, this Claiming Crown.”

Maker also won the Jewel last year, with Miami Sunrise, and this year will be represented by the uncoupled entry of Canela and Sterling Heat. Canela, like so many other horses in the series, knows how to win, with 37 starts resulting in 14 victories.

Coyoteshighestcall, trained by Lake, is the most seasoned horse in the series, having raced 64 times, and also the highest career earner, with $422,682. Fearless Anthony, in the Rapid Transit, has the most wins, 19, while Chickster, in the Express, has nine wins this year alone, the most in North America.

TVG will provide exclusive live coverage of the Claiming Crown. All major account-wagering networks are scheduled to offer the races. Three pick fours are being offered on the card, and a $10,000 guaranteed pool is being offered on the pick six (races 4-9).

Some previous Claiming Crowns have been run amid extremely hot weather, and it looks like Saturday might not be much different, with the forecast calling for a high temperature of 93.