07/23/2009 12:00AM

Wide-open Emerald tops Crown undercard


SHAKOPEE, Minn. - The Claiming Crown series always ends with the $150,000 Jewel, a fitting conclusion to an action-packed day of racing. Short, long, dirt, turf, the various dimensions of the Claiming Crown are integral parts of its charm and popularity - not to mention a treasure trove for handicappers to dive into.

Here is a quick rundown of those supporting Claiming Crown events Saturday at Canterbury Park, in reverse order:

$100,000 Emerald (race 8): By far the best betting race of the day, with a field of 14, this 1 1/16-mile turf race could get its winner from almost anywhere. Chicago shipper Gran Estreno is about as tepid a favorite (4-1) as you can get, and although he rates a solid chance for a fifth straight win, there are many other possibilities, including - but not necessarily limited to - Drivingmaxandmitzi, Divine Master, Hard Top, Stormy Surge, and Ludmig.

Drivingmaxandmitzi, like so many Claiming Crown runners, is a perennially overshadowed overachiever. A winner of a remarkable 20 of 41 career starts, the 7-year-old gelding has undergone 10 trainer changes while plugging along resolutely, all the while facing rugged opposition in high-end claiming or starter-allowance company.

$75,000 Glass Slipper (race 7): There is a ton of speed and many interesting storylines in this six-furlong filly-mare race. Miranda Diane is represented in both categories, seeing how the speedy 4-year-old already has earned not one, but two triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures at Will Rogers Downs in Oklahoma this year.

The most ridiculous pace scenario of the afternoon might well unfold in the Glass Slipper, considering how Miranda Diane goes gunning, and so, too, do Met a Miner, Margie Marie, and Frisco Fox. In the end, a killing tempo could wind up favoring the likes of Gatorize, a back-class mare who has Robby Albarado named, or Sky n Mighty, trained by Canterbury kingpin Mac Robertson.

$50,000 Express (race 6): Trainer Tim Glyshaw has proclaimed morning-line favorite Ready's Rocket "as good as can be" for the six-furlong Express, which follows a career-high 97 Beyer for the 12-time winner. Norjac, Chasing the Prize, and Stormin' Sox lend this a very competitive look.

The most cleverly named horse on the card is in the Express: Who Let the Cat In, a Cat Thief gelding who surely got his moniker as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the immensely popular 2000 hit, "Who Let the Dogs Out?"

$75,000 Rapid Transit (race 5): Forgive his last race at Mountaineer, when he bled, and the race beforehand, when his more preferred off-the-pace style was compromised in a graded race on the Preakness undercard, and Grand Traverse should take tons of beating for Glyshaw as the 2-1 program favorite in this six-furlong race. His prior races include a triple-digit Beyer win at Churchill Downs and solid efforts in back-to-back stakes at Fair Grounds.

Otherwise, the Rapid Transit could be a cause for celebration for Jamie Ness, who started his training career in relative obscurity at Canterbury in 1999. Ness, whose far-flung stable won 153 races in 2008 and already has won 124 this year, will send out Max Ahead, the morning-line second choice.

$100,000 Tiara (race 4): East Coast shipper R Vicarious Girl has won a series-high seven races this year, including her last six in a row, but she's not even the morning-line favorite in this 1 1/16-mile turf race. That role has fallen to Love to Tell, a Louisiana invader with tons of experience in legitimate stakes company.

$50,000 Iron Horse (race 3): Mr. Meso, a one-time triple-digit Beyer earner, has gone undefeated since being claimed by Cody Autrey and is a tepid morning-line choice in this 1 1/16-mile series opener over Calm and Collected, Bright Hall, and Roboponi.