Trainer Bret Calhoun will be on hand July 25 when Antrim County receives the 2008 National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association "Claimer of the Year" award. A couple of hours later, he'll saddle the 6-year-old gelding for the $150,000 Claiming Crown Jewel Stakes at Canterbury Park in suburban Minneapolis.
The return of Antrim County is one of the highlights of the 11th annual Claiming Crown, a series of seven races worth $600,000 for racing's blue-collar workers. Jockey Russell Baze, the sport's definitive lunch-pail guy and the all-time leading rider with 10,507 victories through July 21, flies in from Northern California to make his first appearance in the series with five mounts. Julien Leparoux and Robby Albarado will also be arriving from the Midwest to be among several leading jockeys from different parts of the country participating.
Antrim County, who won the 2008 Claiming Crown Iron Horse after being tagged for $7,500 earlier in the year, will attempt to become the first horse in the event's history to win in more than one division.
Claimed four races after last year's Iron Horse for $50,000 by current owner Carl Moore, Antrim County will be Calhoun's first entrant in the Claiming Crown. Antrim County won 10 of 15 starts last year to earn his national top claimer award from the National HBPA. So far in 2009, the chestnut son of Giant's Causeway has compiled a record of 2-2-3 in eight starts. In his career, he is a 14-time winner in 51 attempts with earnings of $334,130.
During an NTRA national teleconference July 21, Calhoun credited Antrim County's prior trainer, Clifford Wilkinson, with "a great job getting the horse there last year and winning.
"And sure there's pressure on me to win this race this year," Calhoun added. "We're pretty excited about coming, it's a great purse, a great day and ... we kind of chose this race because of the purse."
The Claiming Crown Jewel, contested at 1 1/8 miles, has six entrants. Antrim County will be ridden by Jamie Theriot and break from post 5 under 122 pounds. Others in the field are Furthest Land and Repenting, both carrying 124, Glamour Guy (122), Forest Warfare (118) and Fancy Runner (120).
Antrim County is coming off a third-place finish in an optional claiming allowance race on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs June 21. Furthest Land won a stakes at Indiana in his last start for trainer Michael Maker, a Claiming Crown mainstay, and owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey.
"Obviously it's a very competitive race," Calhoun said. "We're going to have to step up that day but we feel he's a very live horse in that spot."
Baze does not have a mount in the Jewel, but is named in the fourth though eighth races aboard, in order, Bartok's Bling (Tiara), You're My Boy Blue (Rapid Transit), Jacob's Run (Express), Frisco Fox (Glass Slipper) and Stormy Surge (Emerald). All are for Northern California-based trainer Lloyd Mason except for Jacob's Run, who will be saddled by Cody Autrey.
"Well, probably the biggest portion of the wins I've had have been on claiming horses," Baze noted in discussing the decision to come to Canterbury, where he has won two of eight starts in his long career. "Some of my best memories have been on claiming horses. You know, these tough hard knocking horses that may have been real good at one point but have lost a step or two during the passage of time.
"But they still go out there and just run their eyeballs out trying to win. The horses that try that hard are the ones that really endear themselves to me. (The ones that) triumph over adversity. Claiming horses, I think, are the backbone of the industry. I don't think we could (ride) without them."
Besides the Claiming Crown Jewel, the other races in the series are the $100,000 Emerald, the $100,000 Tiara, the $75,000 Glass Slipper, the $75,000 Rapid Transit, the $50,000 Express, and the $50,000 Iron Horse. The program at Canterbury also includes the $100,000 Lady Canterbury Breeders’ Cup Stakes and a $15,000 stakes for Quarter Horses. First post time is set for 1:30 p.m. CDT. The races will broadcast on TVG.
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.
$150,000 Claiming Crown Jewel Stakes (Race 9, 5:45 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Forest Warfare (KY), E T Baird, 118, P J McGee
2. Furthest Land (KY), J R Leparoux, 124, M J Maker
3. Repenting (FL), J Arce, 124, J Ness
4. Fancy Runner (FL), J Rose, 120, S A Lake
5. Antrim County (KY), J Theriot, 122, W B Calhoun
6. Glamour Guy (FL), R Albarado, 122, R E Nicks