by JIM WELLS
As the Claiming Crown approaches trainer Justin Evans finds that he’s thinking more and sleeping less.
He no sooner falls into a nice slumber than some unaccounted for piece of business creeps into his consciousness and demands immediate attention.
“I’ve been getting about three hours sleep a night,” he said. “I’ll wake up in the middle of the night thinking about something.”
Yet, he wouldn’t trade it for anything. In fact, he likes the added activity and the rush of adrenaline that accompany a task such as this one. Evans pre-entered six horses on Wednesday for the Aug. 2 event.
“This thing is real exciting for me,” Evans added. “The whole barn is really excited. It’s the closet thing we’re going to get to the big time – the breakfast draw and all that stuff adds to it. Jeff (Maday) told me that TVG will be here to televise it. I wake up just thinking about it.”
Evans has had to curtail his barn’s time off because of the the extra work involved. “We’ve all been really pumped up for a month now. I tell all the guys in the barn to make sure all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed. We don’t want to leave a single stone unturned.”
That approach lead Evans to curtail the barn’s time off over the weekend. “They all wanted to take off on Monday and go to the lake. I said ‘no’ there will be plenty of time for that after Aug. 3. Somebody has to stay in the burn and make sure the president doesn’t get shot.”
Evans’ Claiming Crown team looks like this with the pre-entries: Eagle Storm (Rapid Transit), Chickster (Express) and Global Trader (Iron Horse). He also pre-entered Sneakin’ By (Rapid Transit and Emerald), John Hennessy (Rapid Transit) and Dinner Magic (Express). The first four are owned by Curt and Sharon Johnson (SEJ Stable) of Detroit Lakes, the leading owners the past two seasons.
Evans saddled two horses in the 2005 Claiming Crown. Gospodin ran fifth in the Iron Horse. Run in the River was fourth in the Express. “We supplemented Runnin the River, so he made enough to get his money back,” Evans said.
Evans likes his chances better this time, particularly with two of them.
“Eagle Storm is training better and better every day,” he said. “He’s one of those horses that just wants more and more.”
Then there is Chickster, five-for-five at Canterbury and nine for 11 overall this season and the North American leader in wins.
Evans wants his horses babied and treated like infants in the coming days, given even more attention than usual. He doesn’t want anyone taking chances with any of the horses in the barn, much less those that will run for Claiming Crown purses.
“These horses are like strawberries,” he said. “Good one day and spoiled the next.”
So schedules are important, doing the right things at the right times.
Eagle Storm will get a work on Friday morning. “Chickster, we treat him like a lion and only show him the light on race day,” Evans said. “Global Trader works once a week.”
Evans will be joined in his barn soon by a training buddy from Lone Star Park, Chris Hartman, who will bring three horses to the Claiming Crown.
And Evans got a call the other night from a Claiming Crown regular, trainer Scott Lake. “He said he’s arriving Saturday night and will be out here on Sunday,” Evans said. “He’ll be here all week. He acts like it’s a vacation and he can’t wait to get here. He loves coming to this event.”
Lake has won a record eight Claiming Crown races and has pre-entered four for the 2008 event. Steve Asmussen, the leading U.S. trainer in wins and earnings, has pre-entered two. Maggie Moss of Des Moines, Iowa, was the leading owner in wins last year and has pre-entered three horses.
Tom Kelly, former manager of the Minnesota Twins, will assist with the draw on Wednesday.
THE QUIET BEFORE THE STORM
Stall superintendent Mark Stancato has had a respite of sorts the past couple of days. No horses have shipped in from other tracks and he doesn’t expect any. “That’s a first this season,” he said.
That will begin changing on Sunday night when the horses being shipped by van as opposed to being flown in will begin arriving for the Claiming Crown. Stancato can see the stable gate from his room on the backside so he can respond as needed when the claimers begin arriving from various tracks around the country.