Ken and Sarah Ramsey teamed up with trainer Mike Maker to take four of the seven Claiming Crown events on Gulfstream Park's opening-day card Saturday, including the richest race of the day, the $194,000 Claiming Crown Jewel.
The team captured the Jewel with the unlikeliest of winners in Parent's Honor, who had been well-beaten in his past two against stakes company. The Elusive Quality four-year-old was settled just off the rail by jockey Alan Garcia and ran near the back of the 11-horse field on the backstretch. The bay gelding began picking off horses entering the turn, and had pulled his way up to the front runners before being blocked by a wall of horses entering the lane.
Garcia didn't panic and patiently waited for an opening before sending Parent's Honor through a narrow hole to split rivals. The Kentucky-bred kept motoring and got up to post a three-quarter length victory over Dominant Jeannes while finishing nine furlongs on the fast main track in 1:50.Parent's Honor finished third in the Hunch Stakes at Aqueduct in December 2011 and was also fourth in the Hockessin Stakes at Delaware Park in late July of this season. One race later he was entered in a claiming contest at Saratoga, which he won, and found new owners in the Ramseys. His last two races didn't offer much encouragement, but the bay proved to be a savvy claim after all with his win on Saturday.
Parent's Honor improved his career mark to read 19-7-2-3 and has now earned $325,395. His second dam, the multiple Grade 2-winning Trempolino mare Trampoli, is a half-sibling to Grade 1-scoring sire Roi Normand.
Two races earlier, Star Silhouette continued the Ramseys and Maker's good day at Gulfstream, flying down the center of the track to pass the entire $122,500 Claiming Crown Tiara field and get up for a 1 1/4-length win under Garcia.
"He's easy to train for," Maker said of Ken Ramsey after the race. "He tells it like it is and he places them where their competitive. He loves the game. It makes my job easy."
Star Silhouette, whose dam is a half-sister to Grade 1-winning multi-millionaire Evening Attire, bided her time in last of the 12-distaffer field before putting in her winning rally to stop the clock in 1:42 4/5 for 1 1/16 miles on the firm turf. The five-year-old mare has found success on turf, dirt and synthetic tracks during her career, racking up a 31-11-5-5 line and banking $254,766 in earnings.
Star Silhouette came to the Ramseys after being claimed at Saratoga in August 2011. In 13 starts since, she has captured seven races while finishing second or fourth in five others.
Richard Sherman's homebred Nikki's Sandcastle denied a Ramsey-Maker double in the turf Claiming Crown events when securing the $122,500 Emerald in a head-bob with that team's Major Marvel.Nikki's Sandcastle took full advantage of a ground-saving rail trip on the backstretch of the Emerald under jockey Corey Lanerie before angling to the outside of Major Marvel. The pair passed pacesetter Diamondsdiplomat in the stretch and duked it out in the lane before Nikki's Sandcastle completed 1 1/16-grassy miles in 1:43.
The five-year-old gelded son of Castledale is no stranger to the winner's circle, earning his first stakes victory in the Sea o' Erin at Arlington Park in early June and running second in the Grade 2 Fayette, Robert F. Carey Memorial Handicap and Edward J. DeBartolo Memorial Handicap in his past three. Nikki's Sandcastle finally got back to his winning ways in this spot, and the chestnut boasts a 29-7-9-3, $339,067 resume.
"It's been a little frustrating to see him finish second the last three times, but this makes up for it," trainer David Kassen said. "He runs hard every time and on any surface -- dirt, turf, Polytrack -- although I think he's a little better on turf. He ran good in all five of his races here last winter, but got in trouble several times. The jock said he got to loafing when he got to the lead to day, but got it done."
The Ramseys' Brother Bird may not have the fan following his older Kentucky Derby-winning half-brother Mine That Bird does, but the Yonguska gelding looked a champion when running down pacesetter Jazzit to take the $98,000 Claiming Crown Iron Horse. Joel Rosario guided the Maker pupil around Gulfstream, settling the dark bay five-year-old in midpack before sending him wide around the turn. Brother Bird dug in and got up to beat Jazzit by three parts of a length while completing 1 1/16 miles on the dirt in 1:43 2/5.
Brother Bird came to the Ramseys via a July 8 claim, and has since finished second in an optional claiming contest at Turfway Park and seventh in a starter allowance at Keeneland, both over the synthetic Polytrack. The Iron Horse boosted his record to 9-5-3 from 25 starts and he's now earned $234,175.
"That wasn't an ideal spot for him last time when he ran at Keeneland, but this race came up at the right place and right time," Maker remarked. "I can't say what we might do with him next. We'll just enjoy this one today."
It didn't take long for the Ramseys, Maker and Rosario to return to the winner's circle, as Bernie the Maestro gave the team a 2 3/4-length score in the $97,000 Claiming Crown Rapid Transit one race later. The Bernstein gelding captured his fourth race from his past five starts when running seven furlongs in 1:21 3/5 after tracking the early pace in third. He took over from leader Off the Jak at the top of the stretch and drew away from that rival over the fast dirt.
"I hope the next one makes me the winningest winningest trainer," Maker quipped after becoming the leading trainer in Claiming Crown history with Bernie the Maestro's win.
Bernie the Maestro was a stakes performer early in his career, winning the 2010 editions of the Ride the Rails and American Dreamer while placing in five other black-type events. However, this year the dark bay five-year-old has been claimed five times, most recently winding up in Maker's shedrow after the Ramseys got him from a Saratoga optional claiming contest. Bernie the Maestro immediately rewarded his new connections with a four-length starter allowance victory at Keeneland, and is now two-for-two for his new barn while improving his overall record to 47-12-7-7, $423,254.
The Ramsey-Maker team didn't get a chance to make it three in a row after their entrant in the $96,000 Claiming Crown Glass Slipper, Isabelle's Thunder, was scratched. That filly would have had a tough job anyway in trying to overcome romping winner Starship Truffles. Campaigned by Chasing Tail Stables, the Ghostzapper sophomore challenged on the front end throughout the seven-furlong race before taking over rounding the turn and easily pulling away in the lane to be four lengths clear on the wire in a time of 1:22 1/5.
Trained by Marty Wolfson and ridden by Luis Saez, Starship Truffles has finished off-the-board only four times in her 16-race career, and boasts a 9-1-2 mark to go along with $146,805 in lifetime earnings. The bay filly has captured seven of her past nine races now, six of which have come since being claimed at Calder on Independence Day.
Starship Truffles, who is from the same family as ill-fated Kentucky Derby hero Barbaro, was purchased privately by her current connections following a 7 1/4-length starter allowance triumph on September 15 at Calder.
"I had her in this race and the mile-and-a-sixteenth against colts (Iron Horse), but she drew the outside (14) in that one, so I decided that this was a better spot for her even though she's been running in two-turn races," Wolfson said. "She had won going 5 1/2 (furlongs) early in her career, so I thought she would handle this. We bought her privately (after her September 15 victory at Calder). We love Ghostzapper and now she's got some black-type. She's actually still eligible for 'a other than' (allowance) conditions."
A jockey's mistake ended up giving Joey Merritt's Tiban the win in the opening Claiming Crown race, the $96,000 Express, by a half-length over Pot of Gold. That bay gelding looked a winner in late stretch, but jockey Pedro Cotto Jr. misjudged the wire, pulling up Pot of Gold and allowing Tiban with Calvin Borel aboard to slip by to his inside. Cotto realized his mistake and began riding again, but it was too late as Tiban stopped the clock in 1:09 4/5 for six main-track furlongs.
"I got confused with the poles," Cotto admitted. "I feel very bad. I should have been more prepared."
"It's unfortunate (what happened to Pedro)," Borel commiserated. "I've been there. We've all had those days. I had a good trip and when I saw (Cotto) pull up I knew I had it."
Tiban has not been worse than third in his past 14 starts, including the Express. The five-year-old gelded son of Flatter was claimed by Merritt from a 6 1/2-length score at Churchill Downs on May 19, and proceeded to rack up a 3-3-1 mark from seven starts for trainer Tim Glyshaw. The bay ran second in an allowance under the Twin Spires earlier this month, and now shows a 21-9-6-1 scorecard to go along with $144,813 in career earnings.