By JIM WELLS
Forget the whispers behind shedrow, the explanations for trainers who no longer show up, the rumors of impending demise.
The Claiming Crown is alive and well, Virginia, although Canterbury Park seems the only venue that can keep it that way.
The 12th annual staging of this event for the nation’s claimers was a success by several measuring sticks, not the least of which was attendance on Saturday.
Tracks across the country are crying for patrons, looking for anything possible to put customers in the seats.
Saturday, a turnout of 11,473 showed up in Shakopee to watch this event that was first staged there in 1999.
Ten of the 12 Claiming Crowns have been held at Canterbury, all with impressive turnouts.
Highlights of Saturday’s show included two wins in the Claiming Crown by rider Israel Ocampo, who rode the winners of the Iron Horse and the Express.
Julien Leparoux also rode two winners, in the Emerald and the Jewel. Alex Birzer rode King A.J.,. the winner of the HBPA Sprint and capped his day aboard the winner of the Rapid Transit.
The leading owner of the day was Ken Ramsey, who had Headache in the Jewel and Inca King Emerald. Make it two wins also in those races for trainer Mike Maker.
Shane Sellers was late arriving for the card after his flight from Chicago was delayed by weather concerns and lost two winning mounts on the card, to Birzer in the HBPA Sprint and to Ocampo in the Express.
His trip was not wasted, though. He rode Never Retreat, the winner of the $100,000 Lady Canterbury for owner/trainer Chris Block.
$50,000 IRON HORSE
(1 mile 1/16 main track)
This race produced one of the grandest stories in Claiming Crown track history, a victory that summed up the intent and purpose of the event itself.
The late George Bango was walking on air after Superman Can did indeed win for owner Dana Isaacson, with Scot Stevens up. So a local trainer, rider and owner claimed the prize in 2004.
No such luck this time for trainers Dave Van Winkle, Red Rarick, Francisco Bravo or Dave Wolochuk.
Not even the 2-5 favorite, Sea Gaze, a ship-in from Churchill Downs, could catch front-running Roaring Home, who did just that under Daniel Centeno
“We wanted to be up front, maybe stay close,” said Centeno. “But my horse broke so sharply, and then they let us go.”
Roaring Home finished ¾ lengths in front of Sea Gaze who had the same margin on 11-1 Benson in a gate to wire performance.
The winning time was 1:43 and 4/5 for the mile and 1/16 event. The winner did the first six furlongs in 1.11 flat.
The winner is owned by Maggi Moss and trained by Chris Richard.
(Six furlongs, main track)
This race produced the first winner with truly local connections. Moralist was too much horse, too well trained, too well ridden and too well owned to settle for anything less than the winner’s circle under substitute rider Israel Ocampa, who filled in for Shane Sellers, late arriving Sunday because of travel difficulties from Chicago.
It didn’t matter.
Moralist, trained by Tammy Domenosky, was simply the best horse in the race, moving to the lead at the head of the lane and then closing strongly to finish a length in front of Thegreatcrosby, who had 1 ¾ lengths on Churubusco. First the winner put away Esperamos between the eighth and sixteenth poles, and then held the Thegreatcrosby safe.
Domenosky became so engrossed in the race that she found herself running from the steps to the horsemen’s level of the grandstand to trackside as her horse led the way to the wire.
Asked by paddock analyst Kevin Gorg about her emotions during the race, Domenosky replied, “emotions? I’m still shaking.”
The winner is owned by local stable Miracle Logistics. Spokesman Greg Peterson, one of the owners, was elated with the win. “Tammy did an excellent job,” he said. “We really have to thank (track president) Randy Sampson and (media relations manager/Claiming Crown coordinator/ad infinitum) Jeff Maday for getting us involved three or four years ago with the Canterbury college. We’ll always be Canterbury people.”
Later, Pat Cuccurullo, agent for Shane Sellers, asked Domenosky if she wanted a martini. “No,” she said. She still had one to saddle. Besides, as she said after the race…”I feel great. I wish I could do this every day.”
No martini could duplicate what she felt at that moment.
$75,000 GLASS SLIPPER
(six furlongs, main track)
My Irish Girl had the right rider, the Hispanic Irishman Ocampo, and she put on a late charge to win the six-furlong sprint in 1:09 and 4/5s, 1 1/2 lengths in front Margie Marie and 2 ¾ lengths ahead of Hawaiian Sky.
My Irish Girl was the first Claiming Crown winner for former Canterbury trainer Jamie Ness, closing with a rush to overtake the front-running sentimental favorite Lil Dish, trained by Canterbury’s Doug Oliver and ridden by Lori Keith.
Keith tried to steal the race, putting her sharp breaking mount directly on the lead. She stayed there until the stretch charge by the first three finishers and settled for fourth. “I thought she was going to steal it,” a bystander remarked. So did a number of folks, but Keith got all she could get out of her mount against a talented field. “She tried her heart out,” Keith said. ” At the top of the lane, I could feel her digging in and trying, but she was tiring and I could hear the other jocks coming.”
The winner is owned by Midwest Thoroughbreds out of Chicago.
$75,000 RAPID TRANSIT
(six furlongs, main track)
The largest field of the Claiming Card, a field of 11, lined up for this six-furlong race, and Humble Smarty, with Alex Birzer aboard, got there first, by ¾ length over Red Pete, ridden by Eddie Martin, Jr., who had ¾ length on Max Ahead.
Owner/trainer Brett Creighton found the win a bit emotional and choked up trying to describe his feelings afterward.
“He’s a good horse, and he’s been very good me,” Creighton said. “He’s as honest as they come.”
The winner tracked the early pace, never more than a length back of Max Ahead. Red Pete closed through the stretch but couldn’t catch Humble Smarty.
(mile and 1/16 turf course)
The winner’s circle after the Emerald is nothing new to Ken Ramsey, who was there twice previously, in 2007 with One Eyed Joker and in 2008 with Self Made Man.
He made it three times on Saturday after Inca King, trained by Mike Maker, won for the 16th time in 34 career starts with a strong close to hold off Tiger Lake by 1 ¼ lengths under a perfect ride from Julien Leparoux. Elusive Schemes finished a nose out of second.
“It’s quite an honor win this race three times,” Ramsey said. “You guys put on quite a show up here. Everything is well done.”
The winner finished in 1:37 and 1/5.
(mile and 1/8, main track)
Guess who was back in the winner’s circle at this race! Ken Ramsey. With two of his grandsons.
With some prompting about the good-looking grandsons, Ramsey said “They’re good looking just like their grandfather.”
It was Headache, a four-year-old gelded son of Tapit, who looked the best, however, with a masterful ride from Leparoux, who brought him from off the pace to catch Smarten Destiny a stride from the wire and finish first by a neck. Strike Impact was third under Shane Sellers, another neck back.
Ramsey was most pleased that his horse had overcome a fascination with second place. “He’s given me a headache with all those seconds,” Ramsey said.
Headache is now 5-5-2 from 18 career starts and broke his seconditis with a strong final 16th. Eddie Martin, Jr. had Smarten Destiny on the lead until the eighth pole when he started to weaken, but no horse is ever entirely done under Martin.
He brought his horse back to life inside the 16th pole to hang on for second.
Third place went to Strike Impact, longest priced horse on the board at 15-1 and the only horse in Pat Dupuy’s stable. He and his wife, Louisville-Courier Journal writer Jennie Rees (who hot-walked the horse during his stay in Shakopee), wanted a win naturally but figured they’d pay their expenses to the Claiming Crown with a fourth-place finish. They did better than that, claiming $15,000 show money.