Breaking from the outside post 12, Flying P Stable's Flowers for Lisa hustled for the lead and never looked back, scoring by 1 1/2 lengths at the wire in the $200,000 Claiming Crown Jewel at Gulfstream Park Dec. 2.
The win capped off a solid day for trainer Jorge Navarro, whose trainee Sharp Azteca earned his first grade 1 victory in the Cigar Mile Handicap Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) about an hour earlier.
"Jorge told me the day he claimed him that this was our Claiming Crown horse," owner Jason Provenzano said of the 4-year-old Flower Alley gelding who was claimed for $20,000 at Monmouth Park in July.
"This is a dream for me," he added. "The phone hasn't stopped. I got in this game a long time ago. My father was a jockey years ago, he rode down at Bowie, Timonium, Pimlico, Marlboro—tracks that don't even exist anymore, some of them. I fell in love with horses at a young age but I never thought I'd have the money to own them. I got in a good position in my life and we started claiming horses."
The 19th running of the Claiming Crown marked opening day of Gulfstream's championship meet, and record handle on the 11-race program was $11.9 million, up 7% from last year when $11.1 million was wagered. Handle in 2015 was $10.3 million. Handle on the Claiming Crown has gone up every year since Gulfstream began hosting the event in 2012.
In the 1 1/8-mile Claiming Crown Jewel, Flowers for Lisa and jockey Paco Lopez took control early and led by a length through fractions of :23.60 and :47.06 for a half-mile. With six furlongs in 1:11.28, he extended his lead to 1 1/2 lengths and then held off Flashy Jewel and Diamond Bachelor in the stretch. The final time was 1:48.76.
"I had a little bit of a bad post position, and Navarro told me to do whatever I want. I know we have a bad position, but I know the horse is ready for this race," Lopez said. "I rushed a little out of the gate, but my horse was very responsive and we won in hand."
Flashy Jewel put a head in front of Diamond Bachelor for second. Turco Bravo and Capital Letters rounded out the top five in the field of 12. Favored grade 2 winner Gigantic Breeze raced near the rear of the field and finished 11th. The winner returned $35.80, $16.40, and $10 across the board.
Bred by Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey, Flowers for Lisa is out of the winning Lemon Drop Kid mare Indyan Lisa. She now has a record of 7-8-5 from 33 starts, with earnings of $276,616.
Other Claiming Crown races:
In the $110,000 Glass Slipper, Troy Onorato and Maritza Onorato's Mended shipped in from the West Coast and won by 6 3/4 lengths. The John Martin-trained 4-year-old Broken Vow filly finished the one-mile distance in 1:36.42 over the main track with Ricardo Gonzalez up. The win was her 10th consecutive victory.
Michelle Winters' First Growth drew clear under Gerardo Corrales for a 3 1/2-length score in the $110,000 Express. The 5-year-old Candy Ride gelding completed the six-furlong dirt event in 1:09.61 for trainer Odin J. Londono Jr.
The $110,000 Distaff Dash went to Dennis Drazin homebred Blue Bahia. Winning by 2 3/4 lengths, the Jason Servis-trained 4-year-old Wildcat Heir filly stopped the clock in :56.89 for five furlongs on the turf under Lopez.
Stephen Derany and John Rigattieri's Twocubanbrothersu won the $110,000 Iron Horse by 1 1/2 lengths with Daniel Centeno aboard. The 7-year-old Harlington gelding, trained by Rigattieri, completed the 1 1/16-mile dirt race in 1:42.22.
In the five-furlong $110,000 Canterbury on the turf, 7-year-old Pay Any Price picked up a narrow win by a half-length. Owned by Matties Racing Stable and Averill Racing and trained by Ralph Ziadie, the Wildcat Heir gelding finished the distance in :56.49 with Edgard Zayas aboard.
Moshe Mark's grade 2-placed Cautious Giant and jockey Emisael Jaramillo rallied to a one-length score in the $110,000 Rapid Transit. The 6-year-old gelding by Giant's Causeway , who is trained by Victor Barboza Jr., finished the seven-furlong race in 1:22.78 on the dirt.
Multiple grade 1-placed Martini Glass, owned by Vince Campanella and Nation's Racing Stable, nosed out Peru to win the 1 1/16-mile $125,000 Tiara over the turf. Trained by Keith Nations, the 4-year-old Kitalpha filly and Lopez stopped the clock in 1:46.55.
The $125,000 Emerald went to Skychai Racing's Special Ops, who won the 1 1/16-mile turf test by 1 3/4 lengths in 1:50.41. The 6-year-old Big Brown gelding, who is trained by Mike Maker, was ridden to victory by Julien Leparoux.