07/14/2005 12:00AM

Working class has its day


SHAKOPEE, Minn. - There is more than $650,000 at stake Saturday in the seventh annual .

For the men and women who have converged on Canterbury Park in suburban Minneapolis, there is the opportunity to prove to the racing public that there are capable horsemen out there besides guys named Frankel, Pletcher, or Dutrow.

There also is the matter of regional pride, as horses have come from a wide range of racing circuits for the seven-race series.

"Let me tell you about northern California," said an adamant Art Sherman, who will run Desert Boom as a prime contender in the program anchor, the $150,000 Claiming Crown Jewel. "Horses can go anywhere from there and win."

Sherman, who grew up working for Rex Ellsworth in Southern California in the 1950's, cited the unbeaten Lost in the Fog as the latest example of a top-flight northern California runner.

"Back home, even for $4,000, you'd better come with your running shoes on," said Sherman.

Glowing references to hard-knocking, low-level claiming horses is quite apt in the run-up to the Claiming Crown, the unofficial championships for so-called blue-collar horses. The series provides a rare chance for claimers to compete for stakes-caliber purses, and horsemen are exceedingly appreciative of the opportunity.

"I've said from the start that this is a great concept," said Scott Lake, whose six Claiming Crown victories lead all trainers. "The bread-and-butter horses, they are more than deserving of a day like this."

The likely favorite in the 1 1/8-mile Jewel is Lord of the Game, with Desert Boom the second choice. Lord of the Game, claimed for a mere $10,000 by the 2 Blondes Stable of Chicago car dealer Bill Slevin, has won 7 of 8 overall starts, with his last two victories coming in the Grade 3 Hanshin Handicap at Arlington Park and the Grade 2 Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows.

Desert Boom, owned by Bob Bone, enters off a gate-to-wire score in the Grade 3 Berkeley Handicap at Golden Gate Fields.

"My horse isn't one-dimensional," said Sherman. "He has really impressed me so much. The best thing is I really think he's never been better than he is now."

Other contenders in the Jewel are Habaneros, winner of the Grade 3 Carlton F. Burke Handicap, and Morine's Victory, a winner of his last six starts. Superman Can and Extra Fit round out the lineup.

The Claiming Crown races are run under starter-allowance conditions, with eligibility open to horses who have started for claiming prices ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 within the last year.

The series starts with the third of 11 races. First post is 1:35 p.m. Central, with the $50,000 Claiming Crown Iron Horse set for 2:35. In order, the other six Claiming Crown races will directly follow: the $50,000 Express, $75,000 Glass Slipper, $100,000 Rapid Transit, $100,000 Tiara, $125,000 Emerald, and the $150,000 Jewel. Scheduled post for the Jewel is 5:48 p.m.

An online handicapping contest is being held on the entire 11-race card, with the top three finishers earning berths in the National Handicapping Finals at Bally's in Las Vegas in January. Further information is available at www.ntra.com.

Live television coverage of the Claiming Crown will appear on HRTV.