The Claiming Crown comes to Gulfstream Park for the south Florida oval's season opener Dec. 1, and local horsemen have responded enthusiastically with 97 horses entered for for the seven-race series worth a total of $850,000 in purses.
"We're ecstatic to play host to the 14th running of the Claiming Crown on our opening day," Gulfstream President Tim Ritvo remarked as the track embarks on a 90-day meet. "Horses competing in the claiming ranks are many of the toughest in the world. They're game and they build loyal followings within the Thoroughbred community, whether with fans, owners or trainers. I think this is a great opportunity for Gulfstream to help showcase these Thoroughbreds. It's also a great way to kick off what we believe will be a memorable winter meeting."
The Claiming Crown, established in 1999 as a means of rewarding racing's "blue collar workers," has been hosted at several venues over the years while often calling Canterbury Park home. The Thoroughbred Owners And Breeders Association and Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association co-founded the event.
Horse Racing Radio Network will provide live coverage of the Claiming Crown from 2-5:30 p.m. The coverage is available on Sirius channel 93 and via live streaming provided on the HRRN website.
Gulfstream, which has never had it before, will be the Claiming Crown's third venue in three years, following Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots last year and Canterbury, which hosted from 2008-10. Philadelphia Park, now Parx Racing, and Ellis Park have also entertained the event, but Gulfstream will be the highest profile track to hold it. And based on the number of entries, the Claiming Crown will have its biggest year yet in 2012.
Gulfstream boasts a strong horse population from which to draw, noted Dan Metzger, president of TOBA.
"You have the South Florida trainers that are there year-round and you also have the Eastern trainers, the New York-based trainers and the Midwest-based trainers who go to Gulfstream for the winter. And you also have Tampa Bay Downs," he said in a press release.
"To hold it on opening day puts it into a spotlight it's never been in before," Metzger went on.
The move to Gulfstream Park this season has resulted in purse increases, as well as a return to seven races from five a year ago.
The $200,000 Jewel, which attracted a field of 12, will anchor the program. Horses that have started for a claiming price of $35,000 or lower since Jan. 1, 2011 will clash at 1 1/8 miles in the Jewel.
The Claiming Crown provides lower-priced horses a chance to compete as well. The $100,000 Iron Horse (1 1/16 miles) and $100,000 Express (6 furlongs) will be open to horses that have started for a claiming price of $7,500 or lower. Horses that have raced for a $16,000 claiming tag or lower are eligible for a pair of $100,000 seven-furlong stakes, the Glass Slipper (fillies and mares) and the $100,000 Rapid Transit. A pair of $125,000 1 1/16-mile turf races, the Tiara (fillies and mares) and the Emerald, are open to horses that carried claiming prices of $25,000 or lower.
There were 18 entered in the Emerald, with 14 to start, while the Tiara and Iron Horse each attracted 15. The Rapid Transit (14 entries), Glass Slipper (13), and Express (10) were also popular
Parent's Honor, trained by Mike Maker for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey, is the 124-pound co-top weight in the Jewel. The Ramsey's claimed the 4-year-old Elusive Quality gelding out of a $35,000 claiming event that he won going 6 1/2 furlongs at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 15. The allowance winner has finished last in his two most recent starts, however. Parent's Honor, who drew post 4, has six wins from 18 lifetime starts and earnings of $215,395.
"I think Gulfstream is a wonderful place to have the Claiming Crown," Ken Ramsey said. "Sometimes when they've run it other places, all the races didn't even fill. We'll have at least one horse in all seven races and another horse or two in other races on the card if the right races fill."
Ramsey goes into Saturday's renewal as the leading owner of Claiming Crown winners with six.
"We've won the six races with just nine starters," he noted.
Maker, who has seven Claiming Crown victories, sends out all of the Ramsey runners. The trainer will bid to overtake trainer Scott Lake, who has eight wins in the series going into Saturday. Lake does not have any horses entered Saturday.
The Jewel will have to share the spotlight atop the marquee with the $125,000 John Deere Emerald, a 1 1/16- mile turf race with star appeal.
Maker will send out Ramsey's 6-year-old gelding Major Marvel in the Emerald but will also saddle the probable favorite, Scarlet Stable's King David. The 3-year-old colt was claimed for $35,000 out of a winning race at Belmont Park Sept. 13 and wheeled back to post a 28-1 upset in the Jamaica Handicap (gr. IT) over the Belmont course on Oct. 6.
A son of Hat Trick, King David will be ridden by Edgar Prado in the full field of 14 with four others on the "also-eligible" list. King David came back after the Jamaica to finish a fast-closing second in the Commonwealth Turf (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs Nov. 17 and is prominent among 13 horses Maker has entered in the seven Claiming Crown events.
In the Jewel, Private Tale, a 4-year-old son of Tale of the Cat trained by Michael Trombetta for Three Diamonds Farm, looks formidable. The Virginia-bred has posted three wins and two seconds in his past seven starts and is coming off a fourth-place effort in the Bold Ruler Handicap (gr. III) at Belmont Oct. 27.
Blackacre Farms's Flatter This, carrying 122 pounds, comes off a starter allowance win at Calder Casino & Race Track Oct. 27 for trainer Kathleen O' Connell. Before that, the 5-year-old by Flatter ran third in the Spend A Buck Handicap (gr. III) at Calder.
Also carrying 122 is Dominant Jeannes, a six-length winner over $20,000 claimers on the Saratoga turf July 30. The 5-year-old Pleasantly Perfect gelding has had one start since for trainer Jason Servis, finishing third in an allowance/optional claimer on the Belmont Park grass Sept. 16.
Trade, a 3-year-old son of Posse trained by Joe Woodard for Billy, Donna, and Justin Hays, invades from Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort, where he has won his past three starts by a combined 32 3/4 lengths.
Another 3-year-old, Dan and Sheila, has been claimed twice since running fourth in the Jerome Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct Racetrack in April. He now races for trainer Teresa Pompay and My Purple Haze Stables.
Zayat Stables is represented by Willy Elliot, a five-length winner over $16,000 claimers for trainer Rudy Rodriguez Nov. 2 at Aqueduct. Trainer Nick Zito has entered Tuvia's Force, a $20,000 claiming level winner at Delaware Park Oct. 18. Calder-based Kings Over will drop in class after competing at the allowance and stakes levels during most of 2012 for trainer Manny Azpurua.
Trainer Bob Hess Jr. ships in from Southern California with Tiz Liberty, a 4-year-old son of Tiznow that won his most recent start by 7 1/2 lengths over $12,500 claimers at Santa Anita Park. Homeboykris won his first start for Ron Moquett, a starter allowance at Churchill Downs Nov. 14, after being claimed for $30,000 at Delaware. And Bisnath Parboo enters American Legend, who returns to the main track following a disappointing effort on the Calder turf Nov. 8 in a $32,000 claiming level test.
$200,000 Claiming Crown Jewel Stakes, 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Tiz Liberty (KY), D Cohen, 118, R B Hess Jr.
2. Private Tale (VA), J Castellano, 124, M J Trombetta
3. Homeboykris (MD), J R Velazquez, 118, R Moquett
4. Parent's Honor (KY), A Garcia, 124, M J Maker
5. Dan and Sheila (KY), L Saez, 117, T M Pompay
6. Willy Elliot (KY), J Rosario, 118, R R Rodriguez
7. American Legend (KY), J L Alvarez, 118, S Parbhoo
8. Kings Over (FL), P Lopez, 119, M J Azpurua
9. Dominant Jeannes (KY), J Rocco Jr., 122, J Servis
10. Flatter This (KY), J Lezcano, 122, K O'Connell
11. Trade (KY), J V Bridgmohan, 121, J Woodard
12. Tuvia's Force (KY), C J Lanerie, 118, N P Zito