Organizers of the Claiming Crown hope its 2007 edition at Ellis Park Aug. 4 goes a long way toward strengthening the foundation of the event that was inaugurated in 1999.
During a National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference July 31, Ron Geary, president of Ellis Park, voiced his excitement for the Claiming Crown, which will be held for the first time at the Henderson, Ky., racetrack.
"We thought it would draw more people to locate (the Claiming Crown) in Kentucky," said Geary, who acquired the track in 2006. "I think we've been very successful, and I think we will help take it to the next level when we pass the baton back to Canterbury (Park) in 2008."
Canterbury, in Minnesota, has hosted the Claiming Crown every year but one; the other host was Philadelphia Park in Pennsylvania.
Under Geary's ownership, Ellis Park has been successful in securing sponsorships for all seven races on Claiming Crown day, as well as a title sponsor for the entire event.
"We can make money on (the Claiming Crown) in the future--we're not going to do it this year, but it's a great event and something where you build the foundation and get better and better," Geary said.
Nat Wess, Claiming Crown coordinator, noted the 357 horses nominated to this year's event were up 75 from last year, with most of the additional runners coming from Kentucky.
"It's now getting to the point where most people in racing know what the Claiming Crown is," Wess said. "One of the most gratifying aspects of the Claiming Crown has been the enjoyment the owners of these horses have had throughout the years. It's their Breeders' Cup--they get a good claimer and come out here."
Trainer Steve Asmussen has increased his chances of winning the Claiming Crown Express by entering two talented horses from his barn: Super Danny and Golden Hare, who will be saddled by his assistant, Scott Blasi.
Golden Hare, who has won or placed in his last 13 starts at various tracks, will attempt to wear down his stablemate, Super Danny, who will enter the Claiming Crown off a five-race win streak on the Southwest circuit.
"Golden Hare has started at so many places," Asmussen said. "You never know where he might show up, and that will probably have to continue for the rest of the year."
Asmussen has a big weekend mapped out, as he also has Curlin in the Aug. 5 Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I) at Monmouth Park, Appealing Zophie in the Aug. 4 Darley Test (gr. I) at Saratoga, and Zanjero in the Aug. 4 West Virginia Derby (gr. III) at Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort.
"I have nothing but confidence in Curlin, and expect him to have a very good rest of the year," said Asmussen, who chose to enter Curlin in the Haskell to accustom the colt to the track before the Breeders' Cup is held there in October. "The Haskell gives us an opportunity to get these horses back without having to run against older horses right away."
Meanwhile, jockey-turned-trainer Pete Anderson is mentally preparing to send out this year's Ohio Derby (gr. II) winner Delightful Kiss in the West Virginia Derby.
"My horse is doing really good, and I would like to possibly take a shot at Curlin and Street Sense (if Delightful Kiss wins the West Virginia Derby)," Anderson said. "I might also take a shot at the Indiana Derby (gr. III, Hoosier Park), and I may entertain the thought of going to the Breeders' Cup if it comes up."
Delightful Kiss was just short of graded-stakes earnings for this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). The son of Kissin Kris will be ridden by Jeffrey Sanchez in the West Virginia Derby.
"I've never wavered in my confidence in the ability of this animal," Anderson said. "He can be mean around the stall, but he's all business and delights in what he does. He's just a horse that has gotten better--he's bigger, and he's stronger."