The 14th edition of the $850,000 Claiming Crown promises to make opening day at Gulfstream Park an even more special occasion on December 1, judging from the long and talented list of nominees for the seven-race series that will be renewed for the first time at the Hallandale Beach, Florida, track.
The horsemen's enthusiastic response to the event that offers rare lucrative opportunities for horses that have run in claiming races resulted in an aggregate of 232 nominations, including a number of horses nominated for more than one race.
"The response and cooperation from horsemen for the Claiming Crown has been exceptional," Gulfstream Park Racing Secretary Dan Bork said. "Everyone is eager for opening day at Gulfstream."
The quantity of nominations may only be surpassed in excellence by the quality of nominees, which includes several Grade 1 stakes performers.
Willy Beamin, who captured the Grade 1 King's Bishop at Saratoga in August, tops the list of 25 nominees for the $200,000 Jewel, the richest of the Claiming Crown races open to horses that have run for a claiming price of $35,000 or less. Claimed for $25,000 at Belmont Park in May, the three-year-old colt won five straight races, culminating in the King's Bishop score, for new owner James Riccio and trainer Richard Dutrow before finishing a close second in the Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park.
Dutrow also nominated Associate, a former $25,000 claimer who finished third in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler at Belmont last time out and third in the Grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita last December. Homeboychris, whom Dutrow saddled for a victory in the 2009 Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont, was nominated to the Jewel by new trainer Ron Moquett, who saddled him for a victory in a starter allowance at Churchill Downs last time out.
Jewel nominee Second City, who ran in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita in his last start, is owned by J. Paul Reddam, who campaigned dual classic winner I'll Have Another.
The $125,000 Emerald, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for horses that started for a claiming price of $35,000 or less, has also attracted Grade 1 talent. King David, who captured the Grade 1 Jamaica Handicap at Belmont Park in October less than a month after being claimed for $35,000, tops a list of 50 nominees for the Jewel. Trainer Michael Maker has saddled seven Claiming Crown winners, one fewer than leader Scott Lake.
King Kreesa, a New York-bred stakes winner who broke his maiden under a $25,000 claiming tag, finished just a half-length behind King David in the Jamaica and has been nominated for a possible rematch in the Emerald.
The Maker-trained Juanita, a multiple Grade 2-stakes winner with Grade 1 experience, heads a list of 39 nominees for the $125,000 Tiara, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares that ran for a claiming price of $25,000 or less. The four-year-old daughter of Mineshaft was claimed for $25,000 in 2011.
Homeboykris, a Jewel nominee, was also made eligible for the $100,000 Rapid Transit, a seven-furlong sprint for horses that started for a $16,000 claiming price or less.
Ainsley, a multiple stakes-placed filly who was claimed for $12,500 at Gulfstream in February, has been nominated for the Tiara, as well as the $100,000 Glass Slipper, a seven-furlong sprint for fillies and mares who raced for a claiming price no higher than $16,000.
The $100,000 Express, a six-furlong sprint, and the $100,000 Iron Horse, slated for a 1 1/16 miles, both for horses that started for a claiming price of $7,500 or less, round out the seven races dedicated to the unsung heroes of the racing industry.
The Claiming Crown, which was co-founded by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders' Association and the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, has been hosted by four other tracks -- Canterbury, Parx, Ellis Park and Fair Grounds -- since 1999.