by JIM WELLS
As records go it won’t challenge DiMaggio’s hitting streak, Marciano’s undefeated career or John Henry’s graded stakes triumphs.
Just the same, Pat Cuccurullo wouldn’t mind providing the Claiming Crown with a footnote on Saturday.
Cuccurullo won three consecutive training titles at Canterbury Downs beginning in 1989 and later hustled book for Scott Stevens during Canterbury Park’s first summer.
Today Cuccurullo has a farm in Shelbyville, Ky., where he handles layups. One of his best customers is Steve Asmussen.
Nonetheless, when he heard that the unretired Shane Sellers was headed to Arlington Park this year and needed an agent, Cuccurullo couldn’t resist. “How many chances does a guy get to work with a rider who’s won more than 4,100 races,” Cuccurullo said.
Friday afternoon, Cuccurullo was en route to Canterbury Park after catching a ride from Chicago with trainer Tammy Domenosky, who will saddle Moralist in the Claiming Crown Express on Saturday with Sellers up.
Sellers is also on Carson’s Honor, trained by Mac Robertson for Jer-Mar Stable in the Emerald, and on Strike Impact for Pat Dupuy in the Jewel. He also has a mount in the Lady Canterbury,
“Tammy was instrumental in us coming up here, gave us the opportunity to work her horse and ride it,” Cuccurullo said. “Then when people heard we were coming, we picked up a couple more mounts,
Cuccurullo wanted to be at Canterbury for the Claiming Crown and Lady Canterbury, but he had another reason for the visit to Minnesota. “I want to see Scott,” he said.
Stevens, of course, was badly hurt on July 2 in the worst spill in track history and will be recovering for some time from those injuries.
Cuccurullo was sleeping when his phone rang that night. It was Gary Stevens, Scott’s brother, who had been watching the race on TV and saw the spill. He wanted to know who Cuccurullo knew at Canterbury.
Cuccurullo placed calls to Mike Biehler, Doug Schoep and Bernell Rhone, trying to gather information and passed on what he knew to Gary. It was the least he could do. After all, he’s known the Stevens brothers for some time, and they had been instrumental in lining him up with Sellers.
Now, the former trainer/agent/farm manger will be part of the Claiming Crown for the fourth time. He made trips to Canterbury for the first three Claiming Crowns as a trainer, winning with Secret Squall and Luis Quinonez for Lothenback Stables in 2001.
So what’s the record he could set on Saturday?
“Nobody else has ever won the Claiming Crown as a trainer and as an agent,” he said.
DiMaggio sounds safe…real safe.
“Which one’s the little dish?” a pressbox wag asked.
“That’s funny,” Keith said.
That was funny and today will be something else altogether for Keith, who will ride Lil Dish for trainer Doug Oliver in the $75,000 Glass Slipper, her first mount in a Claiming Crown race.
From funny to exciting.
“I’m very excited,” she said. “This event is exciting. It brings in great riders, trainers shipping in, a great atmosphere in the grandstand. There’s a big buzz. It’s an exciting day. I like it.”
What Keith likes most is the opportunity given the small stables by the Claiming Crown to compete in races they otherwise wouldn’t get a shot at, and, of course, the thrill that accompanies it.
“I think the day is more emotional,” she said. “A lot of people expect the shipins to dominate, so when the smaller, local trainers _ the guys with 12 or 20 horses _ win, it is a lot more emotional.”
The chance to compete in a race of this kind means more to the smaller stables. “These big boys ship in and it’s just another stakes race to them,” she said.
Lil Dish is two-for-three at Canterbury this meet with a second in the race she didn’t win. She has won two straight but is taking on the kind of company that has relegated her to an outsider’s chance at 6-1 in the morning line.
Just the same, Keith agrees with Scott Stevens that local riders and trainers have an edge on this track because they aren’t breaking their routines, they don’t have to ship in, adjust and get used to their surroundings.
“Oh, absolutely,” Keith said. “We’ll all on our home ground. There’s nothing really different other than we’re running for more money. It’s still horses in the gate, still six furlongs….”
Keith had an immediate thought when Oliver asked her if he should nominate Lil Dish. “I said ‘why not.’
I do think she has a legitimate shot. It’s horse racing. Anything can happen.”
Look no further than the 2004 Claiming Crown Iron Horse, won by longshot Superman Can with Stevens up for trainer George Bango and owner Dana Isaacson.
For handicappers who like to mix telling signs and coincidence with their PPs, consider this when wagering on the Glass Slipper:
Lori Keith rents a room from none other than Dana Isaacson.