2014 Claiming Crown Day Preview

We at Picks & Ponderings often focus our time and energies on stakes races in these handicapping previews. (We didn’t forget about you again, Hawthorne. We have a preview of this week’s Hawthorne Illinois-bred features, too.) Yet, when full card selections are done, claiming races are covered as well.  For an explanation of a claiming race, consult the following, courtesy of Jockey World/Youtube:

Run at nearly every track from Aqueduct to Zia, claiming races many times don’t have the purse or stature of graded stakes.  Yet for one week, claimers get the spotlight to themselves.  And they get to run for six figure purses, too.  Gulfstream Park plays host to this spectacle, Claiming Crown Day.

Claiming Crown 2013

Image courtesy ClaimingCrown.com.

Claiming Crown Day was first conceived in 1999 at Canterbury Park in Minnesota.  Run every year in the summer at Canterbury until 2010, save for the 2002 renewal at Philadephia Park (now Parx Racing) and the 2007 renewal at Ellis Park in western Kentucky, it shifted to Fair Grounds in New Orleans for the 2011 iteration and moved to an early winter event.  2012 saw the Claiming Crown move to Gulfstream, and the south Florida oval plays host for the third straight year.  Typically, six or seven races have been run under the Claiming Crown banner, with five at Fair Grounds the only outlier.  This year, a record eight Claiming Crown Day races will be run and all eight Claiming Crown races are previewed here.  And with the action at Gulfstream, it provides the first of many visits to what is considered by most the premier wintertime horse racing oval.

All of the Claiming Crown races are for three-year-olds and up and will be run under starter allowance conditions. That is, the horse must have raced for a claiming tag not exceeding a predetermined amount of money and having met the first condition in a certain time frame.  For example, consider the Claiming Crown Jewel: “For three-year-olds and upward which have started for a claiming price of $35,000 or less since January 1, 2013.”  To be eligible, a horse must meet the price restriction (appearing, or starting in any race with the claiming price is no higher than $35K) and must have done it in 2013 or 2014.  All Claiming Crown races use this framework and “since January 1, 2013” time frame, but change the conditions based on surface, gender, distance, or claiming price (the “cap” price).

Daily Racing Form (through their site will provide a live video stream of Claiming Crown Day card in full. HRRN will provide an audio stream through their site that is also slated to be broadcast on their Sirius & XM Channels, airing from 3:00 pm ET to 6:00 pm ET.  The final five Claiming Crown races are live while the first three races (Iron Horse, Express, Tiara) are presented on tape delay.

Authorship of each race in this piece is denoted by initials at the end of the piece, PM for Paul Mazur and NN for Nicolle Neulist.  All races in this preview are slated for Saturday December 6.  In races carded for the turf, selections are given “turf only”.  All post times given below are those given by Equibase as these post times are purely an approximation and the track is known for running races after the advertised post time.

Gulfstream Park — Race 3 — Claiming Crown Iron Horse — 1 1/16 miles on Dirt — post time 1:33 pm ET

The Iron Horse is one of the mainstays of the Claiming Crown, and has been run since the event’s inception in 1999.  The $110,000 race, which drew ten runners this year, is open to three-year-olds and up who have won for a claiming price of $7,500 or less since January 1, 2013.  Antrim County, one of only two horses to win two Claiming Crown races, won this race in 2008.  He followed that up with a win the next year in the Claiming Crown Emerald — and two starts after that, finished second behind Public Speaker in the Robert F. Carey Memorial Handicap at Hawthorne.  In a reversal of the common story of Ken and Sarah Ramsey claiming a horse and then winning here, Antrim County was claimed away from those connections by Boys Haven Equine, and then won the Iron Horse for his new connections.  Probably the most famous (or, at least, the most famously-bred) Iron Horse winner was Brother Bird, who won the race in 2012.  He is by Yonaguska out of Mining My Own: the same mare who produced both Mine That Bird and Dullahan.

Though J B’S UNC is notching up in class here in this race, he looks like the total package here.  This runner has been as consistent as they come this year: 8-4-3-1 on the year, and on the board in his last three starts (including a third in the Claiming Crown Express last year).  He comes in here second off the lay for trainer Jorge Navarro, who is an absolutely unreal 41% with runners second off the lay — in 95 starts, so that percentage is no small-sample fluke.  Though he failed as the favourite last out behind fellow Iron Horse runner CHILLIN DYLAN, he gets a jockey upgrade to Paco Lopez.  Lopez is known for his prowess on the front end, and J B’S UNC should be close to the front end in this race.  He has enough speed to contend with this field, but typically stalks a bit off the pace.  That ability to rate should be very helpful, as there are two true can’t rate types in the field (DOUBLE JUDGE and ARARAT), as well as C D GOLD and GIMMEADRINK who stand a decent chance of sending.  Still, he should not be too far off no matter what, helpful given Gulfstream’s typical friendliness toward forward placements.  The aforementioned GIMMEADRINK has been another consistent type, on the board in all but one of his last seventeen starts.  The only time he missed the board was two starts back — he was fifth in the Washington Park Handicap (GIII), but only beaten two lengths all told.  He is a sharp 18-6-3-3 at this distance, and gets back jockey Eduardo E. Perez — who rode him to two of his wins at Arlington this summer.  In terms of style, he has some versatility: he can set the fractions if necessary, but he can also rate a bit off the pace and still get there.  He also showed last out after some trouble that he can also stay engaged from a closing place — though that style will probably not serve him best here, it is good to know he can stay engaged despite things not going his way.  He should also be sharper than that last out, since that race was his first in almost two months.  He is working well leading into this race, and as long as he takes to the Gulfstream dirt, he has the speed and style to threaten.  Finally, take a look at last year’s second-place finisher in this race: FRANCOIS.  He looks to be getting back into form at the right time, and comes into this race off of a third-place finish behind Sweet Luca and Super Soldier in a tough turf allowance.  He switches back to dirt here, but has been no slouch on that surface: he is 10-3-3-1 on fast dirt, and was second last year behind the streaking Point Finish in his only career attempt on the Gulfstream main.  Pacewise, he should be coming in from a few lengths back, but still in touch — a style that new rider Corey Lanerie typically executes well.  FRANCOIS should be in touch with the pace enough for a piece of the pie, and if runners get too eager on the front, he may get all the way there.


#6 J B’S UNC (4/1)


#4 FRANCOIS (4/1)

Longshot: #1 SIR LESLIE (6/1) has been well-beaten in his last two starts, but one was the last into a lay, and the other was first off a lay.  Both were against tougher company than this.  He comes in for a barn that wins at 18% second off the lay, and is doing long works leading into the race.  He can show enough speed to contend with this bunch, and can rate off the pace while DOUBLE JUDGE, ARARAT, and anyone who gets entangled with those can’t rate types burns each other out.  He has both a win at the distance and a win over the course, and has a new rider (Irad Ortiz) who has been riding his best of late. — NN

Gulfstream Park — Race 4 — Claiming Crown Express — Six Furlongs on Dirt — post time 2:02 pm ET

The Claiming Crown Express is the sprinters’ analogue to the Iron Horse: same starter condition (claiming price of $7,500 or less since January 1, 2013), same $110,000 purse, but just six furlongs over the dirt.  This year’s edition drew a field of ten.  The Express is another race that has been a part of the Claiming Crown since its inception in 1999.  The race’s best-known winner is also its most recent: Ribo Bobo, who worked his way up from $6,500 claimer to stakes mainstay last year, and has kept even tougher company this year.  He returns this year to defend his title.  The six-furlong track record at Canterbury was set during the 2005 running of the Claiming Crown Express.  That year, Texas-bred Onlyinurimagination beat out Chicago circuit regular Cicero Grimes by three and a half lengths, stopping the clock in 1:08.04.  That record still stands today.  In 2010, local trainer Tammy Domenosky won this race with Moralist.  Moralist ran many of his big races on dirt — he was third in the Shakertown (GIII) at Keeneland that year, third in the Arlington Sprint, and won the Honor the Hero Turf Express at Canterbury two years in a row — but he showed his class and prowess on dirt.

This race is called the Claiming Crown Express, and it looks very likely to live up to its name: the race is absolutely loaded with early speed types.  RIBO BOBO is the defending champion, and the one who has been keeping the classiest company of the group.  If he comes in with his best form, he should be able to beat this field, even with all of the early speed in it.  He has shown the ability to handle a contested lead, or even rate just a bit off of it early, and get home.  However, even after tossing his last outing (the Grade I Vosburgh, in which he was eminently outclassed), the question remains whether he can run back to the form he had last year when he was going into this race.  It is not out of the question, given trainer Jason Servis’s 24% record with runners coming in off the same sorts of lays from which RIBO BOBO comes in.  Still, though he has not been bad this year, he has not shown quite the same sharpness as he did last year.  He is a legitimate contender, but will be overbet due to his status as defending champion and fan favourite.  Thus, it makes sense to find selections with a bit more value.  With as much early speed as there is in this race, DISARM is the top selection.  Though DISARM can show early speed, he can also hang back a length or two off of it — leaving him forwardly placed enough to suit the fact that this race is going on at Gulfstream, but making it possible to stay out if conditions lead to a meltdown.  The 10 post is not great, but he did win from the 9 hole two starts back, showing some aptitude for compensating for that post position.  His record is solid at the distance (13-4-2-2), and his speeds are regularly solid for the field.  Finally, regular rider John Bisono ships down from Parx to take the call; Bisono has won with him as either pacesetter or stalker, and should show good judgment here.  FRONTIER WARRIOR also deserves a look here.  He will likely be on the front end (as most of the better horses in this field are), but his recent speed has been excellent for this field — he seems to be peaking at the right time.  He comes into here first off of the claim; he was claimed by owner Loooch Racing and trainer Peter Walder for $20,000 out of an Allowance Optional at Laurel last out.  He has won his last five, rising up from $5,000 beaten company in the first two of those starts.  His last three have been wire jobs, but The first two wins on that streak are far more interesting given the pace here.  He was able to rate and rally, deal with getting caught wide, and still win.  Though four of those five wins in his current streak have come at 5 1/2 furlongs, he is well proven at six; nine of his fourteen career wins have been at this distance.  Finally, he gets a rider change to one of the sharper riders in the business today: Irad Ortiz.


#10 DISARM (6/1)


#3 RIBO BOBO (7/5)

Longshot:  #5 BLINGS EXPRESS (6/1) was turning in mostly wire jobs earlier in the year, but has been rating a few off the early pace in each of his last six starts.  With as much chance as this race has for early speed, that versatility should serve him well, especially since he does not quite have the early zip of a RIBO BOBO or a FRONTIER WARRIOR.  He was second against weaker company last out, but that was also going a flat mile.  He cuts back to six furlongs here, a distance at which he is a perfectly respectable 14-5-1-2.  He also has shown some prowess on the Gulfstream oval, with two wins and two seconds in six starts over it.  The humans behind him are also pretty sharp: he gets back regular rider Orlando Bocachica, and Bocachica and trainer Marcus Vitali have a 25% win rate in 69 starts over the last two months. — NN

Gulfstream Park — Race 5 — Claiming Crown Tiara — 1 1/16 Miles on Turf — post time 2:31 pm ET

The female complement of the Emerald, it carries the same conditions (1 1/16 miles on turf, starter allowance conditions capped at $25,000 and since Jan. 1, 2013) but is for the ladies of the older variety.  It carries a purse of $125,000, also the same as the Emerald.   At publish time the rail is set to seventy-two feet from zero.  The Tiara has carried (with the Emerald) the second highest purse of these races, with $100,000 the minimum.  The Tiara has been an off-and-on part of the program ever since (unlike the Emerald, with will be contested for the fifteenth time without interruption). Contested on the first Claiming Crown Day on the dirt, it moved to the grass course the following year. Arlington based connections were involved with two Claiming Crown winners, the late jockey Eddie Razo on 2008 winner Cat Hop and trainer Richie Scherer of 2009 Tiara hero Mizzcan’tbewrong.  Like Mizzcan’tbewrong, 1999 winner Taffy and 2006 winner Tens Holy Spirit also became open stakes winners.

FLAMINGO LANE ships down from New York, where she graduated eleven months ago during the Inner Track Meet at Aqueduct and worked her way up the claiming ladder and into the starter allowance races.  Open allowances have been a tougher nut to crack, but FLAMINGO LANE just missed in the a-other-than condition last time at Aqueduct.  The nine starts this year have seen five wins and all have her on the podium.  Adding to the solid form is a trainer wins one of every five grass starts.  For FLAMINGO LANE, the water here is a lot deeper than what she was facing up north, but this starter stakes isn’t that strong at first blush and her form is as sharp as a tack.  Despite being the man behind Kitten’s Joy and the scads of Kitten named horses and all the progeny that win on the green, Ken Ramsey doesn’t come to Claiming Crown just for the sights.  No one has had more Claiming Crown winners than him, nor his stable trainer Mike Maker.  The Maker/Ramsey production ST. BOREALIS gets a look here.  Taken for sixteen grand two back at Ellis, this one jumped a bunch of levels and won an open forty grand claimer at Churchill last out.  Once again there’s another leap to starter stakes for this filly, but she’ll be working from the far outside fourteen gate and Gulfstream grass can penalize those on the inside.  Still, ST. BOREALIS has three of her four career wins on the green and the forward pressing style she won last time will do just fine over the Gulfstream green.  Good pair of local works also.  Last year, ROCK ON BABY was second in this exact race at 23-1.  The Marty Wolfson trainee has been in the weeds since then, and does show a ten month work gap.  Still, the works resumed about a month ago and the speed number she put up when second last year still holds water.  Wolfson also wins them by the bunches from his south Florida base (22% wins on the year) and is solid with layoff types (18% wins, 50% top three, 90 outs).  ROCK ON BABY is live because of the humans, but she got her placing going seven wide in the Tiara last year.  Perhaps from an inside gate she can craft a less overland rally.



#14 ST. BOREALIS (5/1)

#5 ROCK ON BABY (15/1)

Longshot:  Although this is a starter stakes, #7 DUN WON (10/1) may have been keeping the classiest company of this bunch.  She’s hit the superfecta in two open stakes, the Wasted Tears over this course at today’s mile and a sixteenth trip and the Cellars Shiraz across town at Gulfstream Park West nee Calder.  Put into mothballs after the Cellars Shiraz, this sophomore ticked off the maiden and allowance conditions over this course in the summer.  While DUN WON hasn’t been seen since that open listed stakes, there are maintenance works to indicate this one didn’t have a spot to go in, as the Sunshine Millions Preview for Florida-breds was the big event in the interim and her Bluegrass breeding disqualifies her.  Rider switch to Luis Saez in play here.–PM

Gulfstream Park — Race 6 — Claiming Crown Glass Slipper — One Mile (one turn) on Dirt — post time 3:00 pm ET

Stretched out to a one-turn mile from last year’s seven furlong rendition, the Glass Slipper’s starter claiming condition is capped at $12,500.  Older females are slated to see the starter here.  In prior years, the race functioned as the female complement to the Rapid Transit and around one turn, had been between six and seven furlongs.  Yet its first renewal was as a two-turn distaff race.  The Glass Slipper is one of the Claiming Crown Races that has been on every program, making this year’s the sixteenth renewal. Locals with Chicago ties have been peppered the ranks of this race, from trainer Percy Scherbenske saddling 2005 Glass Slipper victor Ells Editor to rider Eddie Razo booting home 2008 heroine Chippewa Court to owners Midwest Thoroughbreds (of Work All Week and The Pizza Man fame) taking down the 2010 renewal with My Irish Gal.  Yet the more recent winners have gone to brighter and richer fortunes.  2012 winner Starship Truffles would annex the G1 Princess Rooney the following year. Last year’s winner, Centrique, would go on to be third the next winter in Laurel’s G2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap.

A race like the Claiming Crown Glass Slipper seems to be the perfect thing for a lunchpail type like COURTNEY RYAN, who sees the starter for the fifteenth time this year and has ten win pictures.  A local to these parts, she might the type who needs to be on or just off the pace, as she was too far off it in one of the worst starts this year, the Musical Romance stakes at seven panels.  Discarding that as it had a different rider, COURTNEY RYAN’s form does take some liberties with the class book (win a two other than, drop into a starter allowance and burn money at 1-2, win again in starters) but she does like the Gulfstream oval, with nine wins and fifteen podium finishes in nineteen outs.  COURTNEY RYAN has regular rider Abdiel Jean in the irons, and she won from an outside draw two back across town.  UNSEEN VISITOR has perhaps the hottest humans on the grounds, with rider Edgar Prado and trainer Mike Maker.  Claimed for a dime three starts back at Churchill, but that start three back at Churchill was a one-turn mile (which is today’s trip) that she won by six.  The other time in a one-turn mile was over a wet track where she chased around Antipathy, who has since gone to bigger and better.  The Prado/Maker team in the last two months (with 21 meetups) has 38% wins, 62% in the money.  But, this one was snagged last time for $32,000 by Maker and is jumping from claimers to starter stakes and does look a bit light in the figure department.  Marty Wolfson sent out 2012 winner Starship Truffles and the south Florida-based conditioner has BEST BEHAVIOR to see the starter.  Stretching out to a one-turn mile, she chased home graded stakes winner Merry Meadow last time in a listed stakes across town at Gulfstream Park West.  She’s been on the engine going six furlongs, and she’ll project to get her name called early.  With Into Mischief in the breeding, a mile shouldn’t be that high of a hurdle to climb over.  And BEST BEHAVIOR has only been out of the trifecta once in seven career tries over the local dirt.  Second off the layoff is in play, but so is the more favorable albeit small sample size second start post claim (two wins in three outs) angle.





Longshot: #1 DON’TCALLMECHARLEY (15/1) was last seen in the Sunshine Millions Preview against Florida-breds. With the Bwana Charlie-Indian Charlie sire line, putting her in a one-turn mile (her start last time was a two-turn mile) seems a smart idea.  She may be better at cross-town Gulfstream Park West (nee Calder), as she’s only hit the board once in six tries at Gulfstream.  However, she’s moving from Florida-breds to restricted starter types and this space thinks that doesn’t seem to be much of a class difference. There’s also a switch to Manny Cruz, who was aboard the last time this four-year-old got a win picture, make her likeable despite the rail draw.  She also boasts a bullet 5F workout a week before, meaning the starch hasn’t been sapped out of her form yet. –PM

Gulfstream Park — Race 7 — Claiming Crown Canterbury — Five Furlongs on Turf — post time 3:29 pm ET

This year is the first running of the Claiming Crown Canterbury, named in honour of Canterbury Park.  The Claiming Crown started at Canterbury Park in 1999, and has been run there for ten of the sixteen years of its history.  The race is a five-furlong turf dash with a $110,000 purse, open to runners who have started for a claiming price of $25,000 or less since January 1, 2013.  It is the first time that the Claiming Crown has had an event for turf sprinters; previously, a turf runner who wanted to run in the Claiming Crown had to either test their dirt sprint mettle in the Express or the Rapid Transit, or stretch out for the Emerald or the Tiara, a turf route.  This race replaced the Iron Lady, which had been a fillies’ and mares’ analogue to the Iron Horse.  Judging from entries, the Canterbury was a wildly popular addition to the schedule: it drew a full field of fourteen runners, plus two on the also-eligible list. At publish time the rail is set to seventy-two feet from zero.

A year ago, MONGOL BULL was having his good days and bad days in $20,000 claimers at Hawthorne.  Trainer Bradlee Rainwater claimed him out of a race on the Hawthorne Gold Cup undercard last year, brought him back in an allowance in February, and it has been onward and upward from there.  He won that allowance over dirt, was just a head away from perfection in four starts this summer at Arlington, and then closed like a freight train to finish just 1/2 length behind No Nay Never in the Woodford (GIII) last out.  There is no No Nay Never in this field, and MONGOL BULL has had a good two months off since that race.  The distance of the Canterbury is perfect; he is 7-4-3-0 in these short turf dashes.  He also gets Edgar Perez in the irons: his regular rider at Hawthorne and Arlington, who also rode him in the Woodford last out.  Being marooned out in the 13 hole is less than optimal, but his form and class this year make him formidable.  That big closing kick could help, too, with speedsters like QUALITY LASS,  MONGOLIAN SATURDAY, AMELIA’S WILD RIDE, and PIRATES VOW in the field.  BUSTER ROSE has only recently found his calling as a turf dasher, but he is undefeated in his four starts at five furlongs on the lawn.  It will not be his first try in a stakes of any sort, but he is open stakes-placed at six and a half panels on poly, and an Indiana-bred stakes winner in a dirt sprint at age three.  There is some back class.  He is another one who should be able to stalk off the early pace or even come from mid-pack; regular rider Jeremy Rose, who has taken him both of those trips, has the return call here.  Though several of the runners have stakes (and even graded) experience here, only one of the competitors has truly been a regular against that class of runners: MR. ONLINE.  Though he has done most of his work going significantly longer than the Canterbury, he does have an allowance win going five and a half furlongs, and is graded stakes placed at distances as short as six furlongs.  He has been on the shelf since a disappointing fifth in the Highlander Stakes (GII) in July, but there is precedent for him to run well after a layoff.  His trainer Michael Pino is 20% off lays of over ninety days, and MR. ONLINE himself broke his maiden first off of a seven-month lay.  He has been a regular on the worktab since late September, suggesting he should be fit to go.  He also takes a class drop from the sort of company he had been keeping late last year and early this year.  If he comes back in similar form as he showed earlier this year, he will be formidable.


#13 MONGOL BULL (6/1)

#7 BUSTER ROSE (9/2)

#3 MR. ONLINE (5/2)

Longshot: Though there is quite a lot of early speed in this race, #4 QUALITY LASS (10/1) figures to be among the fastest early.  She has been keeping good company this year; she won the listed Turf Amazon at Parx two starts back, and also won another listed sprint over the Presque Isle Tapeta (the Satin and Lace) in June.  Her outing last time in the Franklin County Stakes at Keeneland was a dud, but she never got the lead she likes, and was running over yielding turf.  The turf should be firmer here, and she stands a good enough chance to get the early lead to justify odds near her 10/1 morning line.  She is working well leading into this race, and also gets a barn change to that of Tom Albertrani, who wins at 16% (with a +$1.32 ROI) with runners starting for the first time for his barn. — NN

Gulfstream Park — Race 8 — Claiming Crown Rapid Transit — Seven Furlongs on Dirt — post time 3:58 pm ET

The Claiming Crown Rapid Transit, open to runners who have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less since January 1, 2013, drew a field of fourteen runners and one also-eligible entry to vie for a purse of $110,000.  The race was originally run at six and a half furlongs in the dirt, and has been run at distances as short as six, but has been run at seven since 2012.  Some incarnation of the Rapid Transit has been run since the Claiming Crown’s inception, except for the 2011 edition, which was not carded due to lack of horses entered.  Sassy Hound, who won the Rapid Transit in 2001, had started his career in the lower-level claiming ranks at Laurel.  His Rapid Transit win was his first stakes win, but he proceeded to win open stakes at Delaware, Laurel, and Pimlico as well as place twice in the Maryland Breeders’ Cup Handicap (GIII).  The 2003 running of the Rapid Transit was a particularly vintage affair, as Pioneer Boy (who beat the aforementioned Sassy Hound in the 2001 Maryland Breeders’ Cup Handicap) held off 2002 Malibu Stakes (GI) winner Debonair Joe to take the best share of the purse.

GRANDE SHORES finished third in this race last year, and aims to do two better this year.  He has been a very model of consistency, and looks to have a good chance to get that win if he keeps it up.  His speed is strong for this field, and he has been no worse than second in his last nine starts.  He moves into this spot from a second-place finish in the open Kenny Noe Stakes, and was also second in the open Housebuster Stakes in July over this same course.  His other starts this year have been in allowances, or in protected allowance-optional conditions.  Though most of his recent races have been at six furlongs, GRANDE SHORES has been quite a consistent runner going seven: 9-3-3-1 lifetime.  He also tends to race well at Gulfstream, having hit the board seven times in ten races there.  Pacewise, he has strong versatility, being able to run from on the lead, near it, or decidedly midpack.  This versatility should serve him well, because even though many of the runners can show early speed, there’s little enough true one-way speed to suggest that a duel is nothing certain.  Last year’s winner, GOODTIMEHADBYALL, returns here with a strong shot.  He has gotten a breather since September, but is working well leading into this race — for a Jorge Navarro barn that wins at 29% off of similar-length layoffs.  Pacewise he does not typically send right to the front, so he should be out of the fight if a duel ensues, but can stalk close enough to the pace to avoid being terribly compromised if Gulfstream loves speed the way it often can.  He has not hit the board in stakes company since last year’s Rapid Transit, but was running against far stiffer company: the likes of Lea, Itsmyluckyday, and Falling Sky.  He has the class to contend with this field, and new rider Paco Lopez should be a good match for his running style as well as the distance.  Finally, MONTY HAUL has a good shot on the front end.  He has typically been going shorter, but has tried seven furlongs twice recently, winning both of those starts.  He has shown an ability to handle or press a contested pace, even stretched out to seven furlongs.  That front-end running style should be right at home at Gulfstream, and his speeds are consistently strong for the field.  He comes into this race in just the right form he needs to contend; even though the 10/1 morning line likely will not happen, he will be good value in this field even if he drifts closer to 7/1.




#10 MONTY HAUL (10/1)

Longshot: #6 BEAR BEHIND (30/1) will be a long shot, and deservedly so.  He races on these shores for the first time, and has never before raced on the dirt. Still, there are several things that make him intriguing here for the long price.  Trainer Niall Saville is making his name racing international shippers in the United States, and has seen success so far with runners such as graded stakes winner Legendary. He is four-for-twelve with runners first off the ship (+$3.72 ROI), as well as five-for-nineteen (+$2.72 ROI) with runners starting for the first time in his barn.  In other words, he gets some bombs home.  His breeding suggests seven furlongs is reasonable, and he adds Lasix for the first time.  BEAR BEHIND also comes from off the pace in most of his races, a likely beneficial race shape given the good portion of early speed here.  BEAR BEHIND is a quite speculative proposition, but especially given his trainer, he looks intriguing to add some spice to exotics given that he should be one of the longest shots on the board.  — NN

Gulfstream Park — Race 9 — Claiming Crown Emerald — 1 1/16 Miles on Turf — post time 4:27 pm ET

One of three turf events, Emerald eligibility is for those who have started for a claiming price of $25,000 or less since New Years’ Day 2013.  It carries a $125,000 purse and typically is the second-richest of the Claiming Crown Day races.  At publish time, the rail is set to the zero position.  The Emerald has been contested on Claiming Crown Day each year except for the first year, 1999.  It will be run for the fifteenth time this year, and has always been on the weeds.  As is the case with many of these races, despite the races being for those who have appeared for sale in claiming races, some of the contenders in the Claiming Crown races are veterans of minor stakes and a few have gone on to greater rewards at the graded level. Two that fall into that last category are horses who have won the Claiming Crown Emerald and who have won graded stakes at Arlington: double G3 Washington Park winner Gran Estreno (2009) and Arlington-based G2 Fayette winner Nikki’s Sandcastle (2012), also winner of the 2014 G3 Hanshin Cup.

It’s been a strange trip for HARD ENOUGH. He saw the starter in the G2 Monmouth Stakes, the local prep to Monmouth’s G1 United Nations, and was trying to strike while the iron was hot.  He had, one start prior, taken down the G3 Red Bank over a mile on the Monmouth course.  The G2 Monmouth came up frighteningly deep this year, and he set the pace before throwing up the white flag.  With him in deep water and maybe too far, the connections put him for sale for $62,500 at Saratoga.  David Jacobson claimed him, then dropped him into a $25,000 claimer (that makes him eligible for this race), where he won with ease.  Beating the tomato cans gave him confidence, as he would be second in a minor stakes at Laurel and second pre-disqualification in a slow-timed (zero run-up) allowance over a steeplechase course.  If HARD ENOUGH can run back to the Red Bank or to the washed-off quarter claimer, where he was on the lead but did not necessarily want it, he could prove turn to run down in the lane.  Cuts back from ten furlongs to today’s effort.  SAFFRON HALL may the coziest fit based on conditions, as his claiming race occured in January of 2013.  While there is a long layoff built in, SAFFRON HALL has done nice work at the allowance level, with only a G3 loss in the Kentucky Turf Cup to Suntracer the only blemish.  The last two races showed SAFFRON HALL doesn’t need the lead to be successful, and this is a Maker/Ramsey production.  While he dropped in class last time off a three-other-than win at Keeneland, he is shortening up to a mile and a sixteenth for the Emerald and better form for this one, post-claim, has been at distances of nine furlongs and beyond.  However, his forward style should do fine on these weeds.  They might go too fast on the front end with all the speed signed up, and DREAMS CUT SHORT would be the beneficiary.  He’s spent the summer nibbling in minor stakes and chasing around the likes of Lochte (won a weak G1 Gulfstream Park Turf), The Pizza Man, and Lubash.  Dropping out of open stakes back to this restricted stakes should help, and his only time over the course was a second place finish in a $90K stakes.  Also trained by Mike Maker (but not a Ramsey-owned horse) that goes with rider Edgar Prado up.


#5 HARD ENOUGH (15/1)

#13 SAFFRON HALL (5/1)


Longshot: #7 EL JEFE GRANDE (20/1) enters the Emerald on a three-race win streak, having won a $25,000 N2L claimer three back, then clearing the first-level and second-level allowance conditions.  The past in recent races has been faster than what EL JEFE GRANDE was getting in his three-year-old and early four-year-old starts, so perhaps he’s just needed a target and no one going :25/:50 on the front all along.  The start of his ascent was over these weeds in the summer, and though the water will be deeper here, he does have an affinity for the green.  Rider upgrade to Corey Lanerie (who has hit the top two in the last Emeralds) in play for this runner who should get some pace targets from SAFFRON HALL and LASSO to reel in. –PM

Gulfstream Park — Race 10 — Claiming Crown Jewel — 1 1/8 Miles on Dirt — post time 4:57 pm ET

It seems fitting that a race with Jewel in the title would be the richest of the day’s races.  That’s the case with the $200,000 Claiming Crown Jewel, the showcase race of the Claiming Crown Day races.  Three-and-up types are in this field, and while run under starter allowance conditions, this race contains the most restrictive and the highest “cap” claiming price.  You’ll need a $35,000 claiming price or less within the past twenty-three months to get in the field.  Always a six-figure race around two turns, it’s been at nine furlongs nearly every year.  This year’s Jewel will be the sixteenth running and will be a full circuit on the Gulfstream Park dirt.  As is the case with other Claiming Crown races, the Chicago folk have been on the scene in the Claiming Crown Jewel, with 2005 Jewel runner up Lord of The Game entering that year’s event off back-to-back wins in the G2 Cornhusker and G3 Hanshin Cup.  The most notable winner of this race is Headache, who win this race in 2010 and a year later won both the G2 Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap and G3 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap.

Team Valor finally cut their losses on CERRO three back and put him in a quarter claimer at Laurel.  Dane Kobiske bit, and he’ll be saddling CERRO in the Claiming Crown Jewel.  While being dropped in for twenty-five grand seems suspicious, this was a horse entered in races like the Curlin Stakes (a local prep to the Travers) and the G3 Lexington. Now Team Valor was now at places like Parx and Timonium with him.  Perhaps that led to the low price, and quarter claimers on the Maryland circuit are usually written as two-other-than allowance optional claimers.  Even with that, it makes CERRO a confirmed allowance class runner who got back on the beam with a change of scenery and cleared the upper levels of allowance races post claim at Laurel. The trump card is he’s the speed of the speed from the inside post, an asset on a traditionally inside favoring and forward-favoring course.  That could be a potent combination if the scenario is right, and others get the strangles.  Post twelve going nine furlongs at Gulfstream is no easy task, and that’s where PAGE MCKENNEY breaks from.  Second in two listed stakes, the Mountaineer Mile and the Small Stakes on DeFrancis Day, he was behind a next-out stakes winner last out at Laurel. He also annexed an open stakes three back. While PAGE MCKENNEY got a good rally at Laurel, his best figure came when he just missed at the Mountain in early November.  Gulfstream and shipping will be new for this Parx-based runner, and the twelve post did not do him favors on an oval that can play like a carousel at times.  Rider switch to Jose Lezcano here, and the form this year has been nothing to scoff at.  VIRAMUNDO’s third place effort two back came at today’s nine panel circuit at Gulfstream, but it also came in the G1 Donn and done so on a day when speed was kind.  He closed to get third while Lea and Will Take Charge nailed down the higher placings.  Not seen since a win at Gulfstream in March going a one-turn mile, going nine panels off the long lay will be no gimme.  Still, with Marty Wolfson at the controls (18% wins on these layoffs) and a rider that’s five-for-fifteen working with him, you have good humans to help you.  Long string of works back to the late summer for this runner.


#1 CERRO (4/1)


#10 VIRAMUNDO (20/1)

Longshot: The aforementioned Headache in that historical blurb was owned by Ken & Sarah Ramsey and trained by Mike Maker.  That team is behind #5 ERIUGENA (10/1), the choice of this space.  He’s been nibbling in upper level allowances at Keeneland and Saratoga and twice chased around Carve, once in the G3 Cornhusker and again on West Virginia Derby Day.  ERIUGENA hasn’t been out since October at Keeneland, inducing a short layoff that Maker has a 20% strike rate with.  Winner at nine panels at Churchill clearing the two-other-than condition, he doesn’t have Carve to chase around in his event and hasn’t lost the form that saw him saw tick off the allowance conditions.  Unlike a few others in the field, he’s actually bred nicely for nine panels and Irad Ortiz sees fit to leave the opening week of the Inner Track meet to try his luck here. –PM


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