by Richard E. Glover, Jr.

A crowd of 11,473 fans turned out at Canterbury Park on July 24, 2010 for the twelfth running of the prestigious Claiming Crown. Those fans were treated to a beautiful, sunny Minnesota afternoon full of great racing at the Shakopee track that has hosted the Claiming Crown ten of the 12 times it has been run. The track is also celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Patterned after the Breeders’ Cup, the Claiming Crown is a partnership between the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (NHBPA) and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA) and was designed to reward Thoroughbred racing’s “blue-collar” horses. The six-race event boasted guaranteed purses of $500,000 to qualifying horses from around the country that had started at least once since January 1, 2009 for a claiming price ranging from $7,500 (or less) to $35,000 (or less).

Trainer Mike Maker stormed onto the Claiming Crown scene in 2007, winning three races from five starters the year the event was held at Ellis Park in Kentucky. In 2008, he notched his fourth Claiming Crown win with Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Self Made Man in the Claiming Crown Emerald at Canterbury Park. Maker returned again from Kentucky with two of the Ramseys’ horses to contest Claiming Crown XII, and those two horses – Headache and Inca King – proved too much for their competitors to handle, taking the $150,000 TVG Claiming Crown Jewel and the $100,000 Bremer Bank Claiming Crown Emerald, respectively. Now with six wins, Maker trails Scott Lake by only one win to pull into a tie as the all-time leading trainer in Claiming Crown history.

The Ramseys are no strangers to success on any level in the sport, having won numerous owners’ titles at racetracks. They have also raced 2004 Champion Turf Horse Kitten’s Joy and 2005 Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) winner Roses in May. They were the nation’s leading owners by earnings in 2005. Their repeated presence in the Claiming Crown just proves how attractive and prestigious the event has become.

The Pepsi Iron Horse

On paper, the $50,000 Pepsi Claiming Crown Iron Horse appeared to be at the mercy of Sea Gaze, owned and trained by Steve Asmussen. The six-year- old gelding was bet down to 2-to-5 favoritism, the shortest price of the day, based on a record that included eight wins, one second, and one third in his last ten starts . On the track, however, it was Maggi Moss’ Roaring Home who did roar to the early lead and bravely held on to that diminishing lead all the way to the wire to triumph over the favorite by three-quarters of a length in 1:43.79 for 1 1/16 miles.

“We were able to make the lead, set an easy pace, and in the stretch, I still had a lot of horse,” said winning rider Daniel Centeno, who picked up the mount when rider Chris Emigh was unable to make his travel connections to Minneapolis from Chicago.

Roaring Home, a seven-year-old bay gelded son of Roar and the Relaunch mare Parioli’s Gift, was claimed for $12,000 out of his last start – a dominant 4 ¼-length win in a 1 1/16-mile allowance at Prairie Meadows – by Moss on July 2. That race was the gelding’s first win in over a year and signaled a return to his best form.

Sea Gaze rallied from fifth place in the six-horse field to finish second, three-quarters of a length clear of Benson, who closed from last place to grab the show spot. It was 8 ¼ lengths further back to Mithrandir (CHI) in fourth, and he was trailed home by Freesgood and Lloron Jotace (CHI). Prospective Kiss was scratched.

Roaring Home was bred in Kentucky by 4-D Stables and is trained by Chris Richard. The Pepsi Iron Horse was his tenth win in 37 starts, and the $27,500 first place check increased his lifetime earnings to $125,512.

The Budweiser Express

The feel-good story of the day was unquestionably Moralist’s workmanlike victory in the $50,000 Budweiser Claiming Crown Express. Moralist was supposed to run in the Claiming Crown last year, but two weeks before the event, trainer Tammy Domenosky found him ill in his stall at Canterbury Park, struck by a severe case of colic. Luckily, a medical team at the University of Minnesota performed emergency surgery that saved his life.

As he recovered at a Lakeville farm, his owners – Bill Kroska, Stan Krupke, and Greg Peterson, who comprise the aptly named Miracle Logistics, Inc. (also the name of their trucking company) – visited daily to take him out for walks.

According to Domenosky, “You try not to get attached, but with him, you can’t help it. When you send a horse to the U, they usually don’t come back – especially with a twisted gut. He came back to the track better than ever. It’s just a tremendous way for this to turn out.”

Moralist, a Kentucky-bred five-year-old gelded son of Talk Is Money and the Risen Star mare Vita Eterna, was sent off as the 9-to-10 favorite in the Budweiser Express on the strength of a win in the $35,000 Honor The Hero Turf Express at Canterbury and a third in the $125,000 Arlington Sprint Handicap at Arlington Park in his only 2010 starts. Switching back to the dirt after those turf races proved no problem for Moralist.

Moralist vied with Hummaduff early before drawing off to a two length lead in the stretch. Thegreatcrosby made a run from next-to-last place but could get no closer than a length behind a resolute Moralist at the wire. Moralist ran the six furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.92.

Churubusco finished 1 ¾ lengths behind Thegreatcrosby in third place. Next came Prognosis, followed by Duke Deluxe, Esperamos, and Hummaduff. Cape Hatchet was scratched by the stewards.

“I’m still shaking,” said winning trainer Tammy Domenosky. “This is very, very exciting to win. It’s a great feeling.”

Moralist was ridden to victory by Israel Ocampo, who inherited the mount when jockey Shane Sellers was unable to make his travel connection in Chicago.

Bred by John Severance and Jill Baker, Moralist earned $27,500 for the victory to push his lifetime earnings to $177,689. Moralist had been claimed for $10,000 at Hawthorne Racecourse on October 18, 2008 by his current owners.

The Daily Racing Form Glass Slipper

Trainer Jamie Ness learned his profession at Canterbury Park, and he made a nice showing in his return to his roots on Claiming Crown XII Day. Saddling five horses, Ness captured one race and saddled one third place and two fourth place finishers in the Claiming Crown, highlighted by the victory of favored My Irish Girl in the $75,000 Daily Racing Form Claiming Crown Glass Slipper.

My Irish Girl, a three-year-old daughter of Closing Argument and the Rizzi mare Rich Assertion owned by Midwest Thoroughbreds, was the least experienced horse in the Glass Slipper field, but what she lacked for experience she had made up for by winning – something she had done by daylight in all five of her previous 2010 starts. In fact, the only loss on her resume was a fifth place finish in her career debut. However, she was in deep against a field that included multiple stakes winner and National HBPA 2009 Claimer of the Year No Flies On Doodle; Hawaiian Sky, who was riding a three-race win streak; and Prissy Proxy, who had won three of her last four starts.

In her races, My Irish Girl had proven versatile, able to press the lead or come from further back, and that versatility came in handy in the Glass Slipper. With a lot of speed in the race, her ability to rate for jockey Israel Ocampo was key to her victory.

Lil Dish took the early lead and set rapid fractions in the six furlong race, with Margie Marie pressing her and My Irish Girl dropping back to sixth place in the seven-horse field. Margie Marie dueled Lil Dish into submission and took over, but the early effort took its toll. Ocampo steered My Irish Girl to the outside, and she drove past Margie Marie in the stretch to post a 1 ½-length triumph in 1:09.92. It was Ocampo’s second Claiming Crown victory of the day following his win on Moralist in the Budweiser Express one race earlier.

According to Ocampo, “We looked at all the speed in the race, and Jamie decided we should take her back and make one run. She’s the Claimer of the Year for me. She’s really nice.”

Margie Marie held on to second place, crossing the wire 1 ¼ lengths in front of Hawaiian Sky. It was three-quarters of a length further back to Lil Dish in fourth, followed under the wire by Kathleen L, Miranda Diane, Prissy Proxy, and No Flies On Doodle.

My Irish Girl was bred in Florida by Sienna Farms, LLC. She earned $41,250 for her victory in the Glass Slipper to bring her career total to $116,250. Midwest Thoroughbreds claimed her for $15,000 out of a six furlong race at Oaklawn Park on March 12.

The AT&T Rapid Transit

Arkansas breeder James Danaher tends to name the horses he breeds something starting with the word “humble,” though many of them have exceeded that adjective in terms of accomplishment. No exception is owner/trainer Bret Creighton’s Humble Smarty, who fought his way to a three-quarters of a length victory over Red Pete in the $75,000 AT&T Claiming Crown Rapid Transit.

“He’s been really good to me — he deserves this,” asserted Creighton.

Humble Smarty, a six-year-old gelded son of Mutakddim and the Zignew mare Humble Danzig bred in Arkansas, was coming into the Rapid Transit off five wins and two close seconds in his last seven starts, and both of those seconds came in stakes races. He was sent off as second choice in the field behind Sweeten With Gold.

Ridden by Alex Birzer, Humble Smarty broke well and immediately took to tracking the early leader, Max Ahead. As they swung into the stretch, Humble Smarty drew even with Max Again. Those two dueled down the lane, with Humble Smarty edging ahead while drifting out. Red Pete came up the rail to join the fray late, but he could not catch Humble Smarty, who crossed the line first in 1:09.57 for the six furlong distance on a fast track.

“He ran a really big race,” Birzer commented. “Brett did a really good job getting him ready.”

Max Ahead held on for third place, three-quarters of a length behind Red Pete and a length in front of Sweeten With Gold. James Wilfred, Wild Expectations, Zoeling, Grasmere Park, Outta Tune, Big City Bernie, and Six Pack Abs completed the order of finish.

Humble Smarty increased his career earnings to $232,522 with his $41,250 winner’s share of the Rapid Transit purse.

The Bremer Bank Emerald

Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Inca King entered the $100,000 Bremer Bank Claiming Crown Emerald as the 1-to-2 favorite of a third place finish in the $175,000 Firecracker Handicap (Gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs that followed five consecutive wins in his first five 2010 starts. The six-year-old gelded son of Sir Cat and the Prized mare Inca Prize justified his odds with a decisive 1 ¼-length win over second choice Tiger Lake in 1:42.80 for the 1 1/16 miles on a god turf course.

Trained by Mike Maker and ridden by Julian Leparoux, Inca King tracked the early pace set by Carson’s Honor and Dontlaffhespaidfor along the rail. Leparoux urged him for more around the second turn, and Inca King angled out three-wide into the stretch for his rally. He had to swing even wider down the lane for racing room, but once clear, Inca King caught Tiger Lake and went on for a clear score.

“They made us work for it,” said Kenneth Ramsey. “That Julien is something else. It’s quite an honor to win up here at Canterbury.”

Tiger Lake held off Elusive Schemes’ rally by a nose to retain second place. It was 1 ¼ lengths further back to Chip Hunter in fourth place. Little Wagon, Pursue a Dream, Exchanging Kisses, Prairie Fox, Carson’s Honor, Dontlaffhespaidfor, and Ghost Five completed the order of finish.

Inca King’s path to victory was made easier when the stewards scratched 2009 Claiming Crown Emerald and Washington Park Handicap (Gr. III) winner Gran Estreno (ARG) because he had been medicated for colic.

Inca King was bred in Kentucky by Dr. Ben F. Roach and Parrish Hill Farm. Notching his sixteenth win in 34 starts, Inca King earned $55,000 for the victory to increase his lifetime earnings to $804,113. A multiple stakes winner and victor in the 2007 Jefferson Cup (Gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs, Inca King was claimed by the Ramseys for $40,000 out of a race at Churchill Downs on November 26, 2009.

The TVG Jewel

TVG, the horse racing network on which the Claiming Crown races appeared, was the sponsor of the day ’s headline event – the $150,000 TVG Claiming Crown Jewel at 1 1/8 miles on the dirt. Multiple 2010 stakes winner Racing Bran was sent of as the slight favorite in the six-horse field, but it was the second choice, Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Headache, that left all his competition hurting with a strong late rally from last place that put him a neck in front of Smarten Destiny at the wire.

Like the Ramsey’s Inca King a race earlier, Headache was trained by Mike Maker and guided shrewdly to victory by Julian Leparoux. After several near misses, Headache was notching his first victory in his last eight starts, having last won in November of 2009. Just two starts before that win, the Ramseys had claimed the gelded son of Tapit and the Woodman mare Pamric for $25,000 at Belmont Park on September 2, 2009.

Smarten Destiny led the Jewel early under pressure from favored Racing Bran and Strike Impact. Meanwhile, Leparoux let Headache drop back to last place, never too far from the leaders. Under Leparoux’s urging, the four-year-old gelding move up around the final turn but ran into a roadblock in the upper stretch. Leparoux steered Headache to the outside, and the gelding found his best gear late to pass a courageous Smarten Destiny in the final yards for victory.
“I love this horse,” said Kenneth Ramsey, “but he had given me plenty of headaches running second, second, second so many times. Today Julien got him home, though.”

According to Leparoux, “He’s the kind of horse you have to wait with and then go, and that’s what he did today. It’s a lot of fun.”

Strike Impact finished third, a length behind Smarten Destiny. It was a neck further back to For All Who Conga in fourth place, who was another length to the good of fifth place finisher Racing Bran. My Friend Nev was eased in the stretch.

Kenneth Ramsey was accompanied to Canterbury Park for Claiming Crown Day by his two teenage grandsons, and they helped him lead Headache into the winner’s circle after the TVG Jewel. Ramsey was all smiles and clearly enjoying himself, commenting, “Winning is winning. It’s fun wherever you are.”

Of course, it does not hurt your chances when you come to the Claiming Crown with the event’s second all-time leading trainer and one of the top jockeys in the nation.

Attendance Stable, Wagering Down

The on-track crowd of 11, 473 compared favorably to many of the Claiming Crowns held at Canterbury Park and was a slight increase over last year’s crowd of 11,324. Wagering, however, decreased significantly on the Claiming Crown races this year. Total wagering on the six 2010 Claiming Crown races was $2,180,222, a 24 percent decrease from last year’s total of $2,422,922. The highest handle ever recorded for the Claiming Crown races was $3,575,778 in 2007 at Ellis Park in Kentucky, but it should be noted that there were seven Claiming Crown races that year.

According to the Daily Racing Form, Canterbury Park President and CEO Randy Sampson was “disappointed with the numbers but said the eventful racing helped to partly offset that sentiment.” The Daily Racing Form said Sampson further noted that with the large on-track crowd and the intractable scheduling commitments of TVG, which showed all six races, Canterbury “shut out quite a bit of money” on-track. However, Sampson also conceded that this was only a minor factor in the overall decrease in handle.

Part of the reason for the handle decline may have been the fact that the Claiming Crown was competing this year with opening weekend at both Del Mar and Saratoga. Moreover, Rachel Alexandra was running at Monmouth Park the same afternoon, where the racing is greatly improved this year due to much higher purses. Monmouth is attracting considerably more simulcast wagering this summer than it has in recent years.

Despite the wagering decline, the Claiming Crown again proved to be a wonderful day of racing for fans, bettors, and the horsemen and women who were lucky enough to participate. Canterbury Park continues to set the standard for hospitality in hosting horsemen from around the country for a major racing event.

© 2010 The Horsemen’s Journal