Royal Posse had to work hard for it this time, but the 5-year old gelding came away with another victory in the $200,000 Claiming Crown Jewel, the centerpiece of a nine-race $1 million Claiming Crown card on the Dec. 3 opening day of Gulfstream Park's 2016-2017 championship meet.
A dominating 2 1/2-length winner last year in the 1 1/8-mile event for horses that have raced for a claiming price of $35,000 or lower, the Rudy Rodriguez-trained gelding was all out to register a half-length victory under a strong and urgent ride by Luis Saez.
"He's a really game horse. Every time, he tries so hard. I know the stretch isn't as long as the stretch at Saratoga and Belmont, but he did it. I'm very happy and proud of him," Rodriguez said.
Royal Posse was claimed at Belmont for $20,000 by Rodriguez for owners Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables, and Gary Aisquith in May 2015, and the son of Posse has gone on to finish no worse than second in 14 starts while numbering seven stakes among his eight victories.
"We claimed him at the right time. When we got him he was pretty sound horse. He's like an ATM. You put him in (a race) and he gives it to you. You don't have to put much back, just keep him happy," Rodriguez said.
Royal Posse saved ground in mid-pack as Homespun Hero and Diamond Bachelor contested the pace around the first turn, along the backstretch and around the far turn. Saez, riding the 7-10 favorite for the first time, eased his mount to the outside and went to work approaching the turn into the stretch. Saez urged Royal Posse to pick up the pace, but the Rodriguez trainee was a little slow in finding his best stride as Diamond Bachelor made a move past a tiring Homespun Hero to take the lead at the top of the stretch.
"I wasn't worried. I know when he's outside, he's a grinder," Rodriguez said. "Luis said as soon as he took him outside, he started grinding and grinding. That's what he does most of the time."
Diamond Bachelor continued to lead the way in deep stretch, but Royal Posse launched a relentless chase through the stretch that carried him to a narrow victory.
"He broke good and he was very comfortable. At the half-mile pole he was a little bit heavy but he kept going and when I started riding he responded," Saez said. "When we came to the stretch I put him in the clear and he took off. When you ask him, he just keeps going."
Royal Posse ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.84 to prevail over a game Diamond Bachelor, a 38-1 outsider who was 1 1/2 lengths clear of third choice John Jones.
Rodriguez said Royal Posse, bred in New York by Richard J. Troncone and Richard J. Troncone Jr. out of the Cryptoclearance mare Struckbylightning, will return to his New York base without a specific race in mind for his next start.
Gulfstream Park's total Saturday handle, highlighted by the 18th edition of the Claiming Crown, was a record $11.115 million. The previous record Claiming Crown handle of $10.362 million was set last year, also on Gulfstream's opening day program. Handle has risen all five years that Gulfstream has hosted the Claiming Crown. Handle in 2013 was $8.8 million and handle in 2014 was $10.06 million.
Other Claiming Crown winners on the card were $110,000 Claiming Crown Distaff Dash victress Spectacular Me; $110,000 Claiming Crown Rapid Transit Stakes winner Shaft of Light; $110,000 Claiming Crown Glass Slipper Stakes winner Tormenta de Oro; $110,000 Claiming Crown Express winner Defer Heaven; $110,000 Claiming Crown Iron Horse Stakes victor Chepstow; $110,000 Claiming Crown Canterbury Stakes winner Super Spender; $125,000 Claiming Crown Tiara Stakes winner Marabea; and $125,000 Claiming Crown Emerald Stakes winner Keystoneforvictory.