by JIM WELLS
He has been involved with all 11 editions of this “Breeders’ Cup” for claiming horses, the first as an employee of TOBA but ever since as Claiming Crown coordinator for Canterbury Park or for Philadelphia Park in 2002 and Ellis Park in 2007.
He is Nat Wess.
He absorbs himself in the CC job and is totally immersed in the weeks just before the next running.
As a horsemen noted recently, “Nat acts as if he’s solely responsible for putting together a wedding for his only daughter and it’s taking place in the morning.”
Or as Canterbury Park president/CEO Randy Sampson said at Wednesday morning’s draw for the seven races in the 11th running of this event,” Nat is the one running around here like a chicken with his head cut off.”
Nat is a detail man and no detail is too small not to worry about. Yet, while shuffling a multitude of details only he is fretting over, Wess is in his element and truly thriving. What no one questions about him is his love of racing and his devotion to the Claiming Crown in particular.
The Claiming Crown is Nat’s baby.
The eleventh running is scheduled for Saturday at Canterbury Park, where it will be staged for the ninth time.
Although there were questions about the races and short fields in a couple of cases at Wednesday’s draw, for the most part there was an air of satisfaction that things weren’t worse, in view of what has happened to racing across the country.
Wherever you look these days, $150,000 and $250,000 races are drawing short fields and that reality was somewhat mollifying to Wess as he talked about the Saturday’s $150,000 Claiming Crown Jewel with six horses, the $100,000 Tiara with six and the Rapid Transit with seven.
As Wess pointed out about closing day last Sunday at Hollywood Park, where he worked at one time, “there were only four horses for a $150,000 race (the Sunset stakes) there.”
Still, there was one nagging question when the issue was held up to the light for additional scrutiny.
“I was having dinner with (trainer) Scott Lake last night,” Wess added, “and he just couldn’t understand how these (claiming) horses with the only chance of their careers to run for $150,000 weren’t lining up for the Jewel.”
The speculative responses to that query are numerous. Unlike Saturday’s $100,000 Lady Canterbury and its seven-horse field, there is no class entry such as Donnie Von Hemel’s Euphony to scare off the shippers in any of the Claiming Crown races.
It is a pointless exercise, trying to pin down a ready answer, so the conversation turned to other matters, such as the 14-horse field that will line up for Saturday’s $100,000 Claiming Crown Emerald.
It is the fourth time in Claiming Crown history that a race has produced a field this large. One Brick Shy won the 1999 running of the Jewel against 13 rivals, and Taffy won the running of the Tiara (then at 6 1/2 furlongs) the same year. In 2004, Stage Player won the Emerald against 13 other horses. Four Claiming Crown races have drawn fields of 13, including last year’s Rapid Transit, won by Canterbury Park’s Horse of the Year, Eagle Storm.
Canterbury’s morning line man, Mark Stancato, has installed Gran Estreno, an Argentine-bred trained by Michael Stidham, as the 4-1 favorite in Saturday’s Emerald. Drivingmaxandmitzi is the 6-1 second choice and Divine Master, one of three Lake horses (Lake is the leading trainer in Claiming Crown history with eight wins), is an 8-1 third choice. “I might have to do some tweaking if the computer doesn’t accept (these odds),” Stancato told the breakfast gathering. “I’m not used to handicapping 14-horse fields.”
He understands his duty to the bettors, but Stancato is reluctant nonetheless to assign 50-1 odds to horses that might in fact be sent off as such. “I don’t like to embarrass the trainers and owners who travel across country to watch their horses race,” he explained. “They didn’t travel all that way thinking their horse is a 50-1 long-shot. I think 20-1 ought to tell the story.” Gun Salute and Luckman has such distinction in the Emerald, alongside four others assigned 12-1 odds.
Wess was intrigued by the competitiveness of the races as he assessed them on Wednesday morning.
“I don’t think we have one overwhelming favorite the whole day,” he said. “The shortest morning line favorite (Love To Tell in the Tiara) is 2-1 and I don’t see that horse or any other one being less than 2-1.”
The second choice in that race is R. Vicarious Girl at 3-1. Next is Mizzcan’tbewrong at 7-2. “And either one could end up the favorite,” Wess continued. “And you know that (local horse) Couple Whiles is going to get plenty of play. Mizzcan’tbewrong won here and will get plenty of play, too.”Other tidbits from Wednesday’s draw:
*Mr. Meso, the 3-1 favorite in the $50,000 Claiming Crown Iron Horse, is making his 57th career start on Saturday.
Calm And Collected, in the same race, has won six of nine starts this year, and Bright Hall has won five of his last six.
*Back to the Tiara.
Canterbury fans watched Mizzcan’tbewrong win the HBPA Mile this year. Couple Whiles, trained by Bernell Rhone and owned by Will Carlson and Jerry Pint, finished second in last year’s Tiara by a neck to Cat Hop.
R. Vicarious Girl has won six straight races _ at four different tracks.
*$75,000 Rapid Transit. Max Ahead, trained by Jamie Ness and the second choice at 5-2, won three in a row this year at Presque Isle.
*Trainer Cody Autrey won the $50,000 Claiming Crown Express last year with Extra Exclusive. He will saddle 12-1 outsider Jacob’s Run in this race on Saturday.
*Antrim County won the $50,000 Iron Horse last year and is the morning line favorite this time in the $150,000 Jewel.
*Seventeen starters for the Claiming Crown were not on the grounds as of 3 p.m. Wednesday. Stancato said he expected four of them to arrive “by sunset.” Grand Traverse, the 2-1 favorite in the Rapid Transit, and Ready’s Rocket, the 3-1 choice in the Express, are both trained by Tim Glyshaw and were en route Wednesday afternoon, as were
Antrim County and 7-2 second choice in the Iron Horse, Calm And Collected.
“The others will begin arriving (Thursday morning), ” Stancato added.
*Fourteen jockeys will arrive from other racing sites for Saturday’s card.
There are 96 horses on the overnight for Saturday’s card. Half of those horses weren’t or aren’t yet on the grounds at this time last week.”