Inca King, trained by Mike Maker, takes on 11 in the Claiming Crown Emerald Stakes on the turf.

Inca King, trained by Mike Maker, takes on 11 in the Claiming Crown Emerald Stakes on the turf.

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography

Maker Brings Two Contenders to Claiming Crown

Trainer's hopes rest with Inca King and Headache in the day's richest events.

Trainer Mike Maker, who has won five Claiming Crown races in the past three editions, brings a pair of strong contenders into this year's main events July 24. He'll have Inca King in the $100,000 Emerald Stakes and Headache for the $150,000 Jewel at Canterbury Park.

There were 52 entries for the 12th Claiming Crown. This year's series for Thoroughbred racing's "blue-collar" workers is composed of six stakes worth $500,000.

The event, which annually brings together many of racing’s biggest names, is being hosted by Canterbury Park, the suburban Minneapolis track, for the 10th time in 12 years.

Sponsors have scaled back this year's Claiming Crown a bit from 2009 when there were seven races worth $600,000. Scrapped was the $100,000 Tiara Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on turf.

Steve Asmussen, the leading trainer in the United States with 321 wins, has entered Sea Gaze in the $50,000 Iron Horse, a 1 1/16-mile race for horses who have raced for $7,500 or less since Jan. 1, 2009. Trainer Joe Woodard, third in the country with 152 wins, entered Cape Hatchet in the $50,000 Express at six furlongs also for those who have started for $7,500 or less. Jamie Ness, fourth with 150, entered five, all for Midwest Thoroughbreds, the leading owner in the country in terms of wins.

Post time for the 11-race Claiming Crown Day program is 1:30 p.m. CDT. The card also includes the $100,000 Lady Canterbury Breeders’ Cup Stakes.

Maker won one Claiming Crown race last year, but had better luck with a horse that finished third in the 2009 Claiming Crown Jewel. Furthest Land went on to claim the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) at Santa Anita. Maker trains Furthest Land for Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who own both of Maker's current Claiming Crown contenders as well.

Inca King is part of a 12-horse field in the Emerald, a 1 1/16-mile turf event that includes Gran Estreno, who won the race last year and went on to capture Arlington Park's Washington Park Handicap (gr. IIIT). In order to get Inca KIng, a 6-year-old Sir Cat gelding, eligible for the race, Maker had to sweat out a $25,000 claiming race on the grass at Gulfstream Park Jan. 21. Inca King won by more than three lengths as the 6-5 choice but wasn't claimed.

"In Inca King's case, he is (an) old-class horse and we didn't have very many options with him," Maker said. "So we put him in for the $25,000 to get him eligible for that particular race. And, you know, the rest is history so to speak. So we've just got to show up on Saturday."

Inca King, with 15 wins in 33 lifetime starts and earnings of $749,113, usually does.

Headache, who faces five rivals in the Jewel at 1 1/8 miles on the main track, was also pointed to the Claiming Crown early in the year, Maker said.

"He was a horse Mr. Ramsey had with Nick Zito last year (and) wanted to get the horse stretched out," the trainer said. "And as he stretched out, he ran some very good races.

"But he's a very quirky horse when he makes the lead. A horse comes to his outside, he does all kinds of (things), cocks his head and makes the lead too early. He doesn't finish his races as strong as we'd like to see it, so timing is everything with him."

Jockey Julien Leparoux will be aboard both Inca King and Headache.

Inca King started a five-race win streak in that claiming race. It ended with a third-place finish July 4  in the Firecracker Handicap (gr. IIT) on the Churchill Downs turf. Inca King was running second in the one-mile Firecracker in the stretch when jockey Victor Lebron lost his whip. Maker thinks that effort gives Inca King a class edge over the others in the big field.

"That was a very strong Firecracker and he ran an incredible race and was unlucky not to be second," Maker said.

Inca King and Gran Estreno will each carry 124 pounds.

Gran Estreno, trained by Mike Stidham for Feel The Thunder Stable, has won once in seven races since his victory in the Washington Park last September. The 7-year-old Argentina-bred horse is coming off a strong third-place finish, however, in the Hanshin Cup (gr. III) on Arlington's Polytrack May 29.

Four are coming into the Emerald off victories -- Little Wagon, Exchanging Kisses, Tiger Lake and Prairie Fox.

Though a small field awaits Headache in the Jewel, it will not be an easy task for the 4-year-old Tapit  gelding, a four-time winner in 17 races with $135,455 in earnings. Headache, who breaks from the far outside, ran second last time out in a second-level allowance race going 1 1/16 miles July 2 at Churchill Downs.

"He's a horse that'll fare well," Maker said. "The distance suits him well and I think his running style as well."

My Friend Nev has won all five of his starts for trainer Ness this year, most recently taking the Wild and Wonderful Stakes at Charles Town Races June 19.

Racing Bran has won three of five in 2010, including the Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park Feb. 6. Trained by Scott Becker for owner-breeder William Stiritz, the 5-year-old Awesome Again  gelding is coming off a second in the Cornhusker Handicap (gr. II) at Prairie Meadows June 26.

Also in the field is Strike Impact, a 13-time winner in 45 starts with earnings of $339,373. Pat Dupuy trains the 6-year-old son for Smart Strike for owner Chester J. Miller.

Other stakes on the card are the $75,000 Claiming Crown Glass Slipper for fillies and mares, and the $75,000 Claiming Crown Rapid Transit. Both races are for starters for a $16,000 claiming price or less since Jan. 1, 2009, at six furlongs.

The Claiming Crown, inaugurated in 1999, has been run all but two years at Canterbury. Ellis Park in Kentucky and Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack in Pennsylvania each hosted the event once.

$100,000 Claiming Crown Emerald Stakes (Race 8, 5:14 p.m.), 3 & Up, $25,000 Starter Stakes, 1 1/16 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Elusive Schemes (KY), G V Mitchell, 120, V Belvoir
2. Inca King (KY), J R Leparoux, 124, M J Maker
3. Little Wagon (KY), D C Bell, 120, M Kirby
4. Pursue a Dream (KY), E Martin Jr., 120, M E Biehler
5. Chip Hunter (LA), D P Butler, 118, B B Rhone
6. Ghost Five (KY), D Cardoso, 120, B L Riecken
7. Exchanging Kisses (FL), Q Hamilton, 122, M Cameron
8. Tiger Lake (IA), S Laviolette, 120, D L Anderson
9. Gran Estreno (ARG), E T Baird, 124, M Stidham
10. Prairie Fox (FL), J A Rivera II, 120, C Brinson
11. Dontlaffhespaidfor (FL), N G Goodwin, 120, M Troche
12. Carson's Honor (MD), S J Sellers, 124, M Robertson
Blinkers Off: Elusive Schemes

$150,000 Claiming Crown Jewel Stakes (Race 9, 5:47 p.m.), 3 & Up, $35,000 Starter Stakes, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Smarten Destiny (KY), E Martin Jr., 122, A O Montano, Sr.
2. My Friend Nev (KY), I Ocampo, 124, J Ness
3. Racing Bran (IL), C A Emigh,    124, S Becker
4. Strike Impact (KY), S J Sellers, 122, P J Dupuy
5. For All Who Conga (FL), D Centeno, 120, J Ness
6. Headache (KY), J R Leparoux,    122, M J Maker