Opening Day at Gulfstream Park features $1.1m Claiming Crown

Gulfstream Park begins Saturday with an 11-race card featuring the 18th Claiming Crown. First post is 11 a.m. central.  Wagering windows in the Canterbury Park Racebook open at 10:30 a.m.

Jennie Rees, director of live-racing publicity for Kentucky Downs, provides this report on Kentucky connections in Claiming Crown:

Kentucky will be well-represented among the 118 horses entered in Saturday’s nine Claiming Crown races at Gulfstream Park, including the impressive winners of Kentucky Downs’ pair of $75,000 automatic-qualifier preps in Cammack and Daddy’s Boo.

The $1.1 million Claiming Crown serves as a Breeders’ Cup-style championship for claiming horses — the backbone of American racing. The Claiming Crown is a partnership between the National Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, whose affiliates include the Kentucky HBPA that represents owners and trainers at the commonwealth’s five thoroughbred tracks, and the Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders Association to give these important blue-collar horses and their owners and trainers their own special day in the sport’s limelight.

Team Block’s Cammack, who drew post 13 in the $125,000 Claiming Crown Emerald at 1 1/16 miles on turf, won six straight races this year, capped by taking the Claiming Crown Emerald Stakes Prep At Kentucky Downs, which was a starter-allowance race carrying a $75,000 purse for horses that competed for a claiming price of $25,000 or less in 2015-16.

Cammack, trained by Kentucky Downs regular Chris Block, had been off 16 months with an injury when he resumed racing this winter, his victory streak starting in his second race back and encompassing Arlington Park’s Black Tie Affair Handicap for Illinois-breds. The streak ended with a good fourth in an open allowance race at Keeneland in Cammack’s last start.

“He made a good run at them turning for home into the stretch and just got outrun the last eighth of a mile in what I thought was a top performance for him,” Block said. “I think he held his form; he just got beat by better horses. Hopefully that race will serve him well Saturday.

“The post is not one I would have hoped for. But I have a lot of confidence in Julien Leparoux and a lot of confidence in the horse.”

Patricia’s Hope LLC’s Daddy’s Boo likewise will be among the favorites in the $125,000 Claiming Crown Tiara, a race with the same conditions as the Emerald but for fillies and mares. The Larry Rivelli-trained Daddy’s Boo won the Claiming Crown Tiara Prep At Kentucky Downs by 5 1/2 lengths, followed by an allowance victory at Indiana Grand and a starter-allowance at Churchill Downs. She drew post 12 as she seeks her fourth straight win and sixth in her past seven starts, the lone defeat coming in a second-level allowance race at Saratoga.

Kentucky Downs and Laurel Park were awarded automatic qualifying races for the Claiming Crown, assuring that their winners would get in their respective race — no small perk with the event’s large fields. The winners also had their nomination fee paid and received a travel stipend.

“We couldn’t have asked for better horses to carry the Kentucky Downs banner into the Claiming Crown,” said Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs senior vice president and general manager. “Both were most impressive, Daddy’s Boo with her dominance and Cammack fending off multiple challengers to prevail by a head. The Kentucky Downs races were ideal stepping stones, as they faced large fields like they will Saturday. We look forward to big performances from them and other Kentucky horses at Gulfstream Park.”

Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey of Nicholasville, Ky., and Louisville-based trainer Mike Maker come well-stocked as they seek to break their record 14 Claiming Crown victories to cap a big season in which the Ramseys swept the owners titles at Kentucky Downs, Keeneland, Churchill Downs and Turfway Park’s winter meet, while Maker won titles at Kentucky Downs, Keeneland’s spring meet, Churchill Downs’ fall meet and Turfway’s winter meet.

Maker is running nine horses in the Claiming Crown, with six owned by the Ramseys.

Maker could have the favorite in the $200,000 Jewel, for horses that competed for a $35,000 claiming price or cheaper in 2015-16. Three Diamond Farm’s Bigger Picture, claimed at Aqueduct for $32,000 13 months ago, has won four of seven turf starts for Maker and now makes a return to dirt. After finishing a very close fourth in Kentucky Downs’ Old Friends Stakes, Bigger Picture lost Keeneland’s Grade 3 Sycamore by a nose before taking Aqueduct’s Grade 3 Red Smith. Maker also is running the Ramseys’ Homespun Hero, who narrowly lost a Churchill Downs allowance race to the highly regarded Unbridled Outlaw in his last start.

Maker and Ramsey also team with the stakes-winning Keystoneforvictory in the Emerald, with Littlemissperfect in the $110,000 Glass Slipper, Partly Mocha and Creaky Cricket in the $110,000 Canterbury, and Great Lou in the $110,000 Express.

Maker also will saddle Be Playful, supplemented into the Tiara for $3,000 after being claimed for $40,000 at Churchill Downs in her last start by Louisville owners Rollin Fishback and Pat Logsdon, and Arella Princess in the Glass Slipper.

Joe Sharp, a former Maker assistant, has two Claiming Crown entrants. American Sailor won a $15,000 claiming race at Ellis Park and then captured Laurel’s prep for the Canterbury at five furlongs on turf, while Fire Mission runs in the $110,000 Rapid Transit at seven furlongs.

Trainer Buff Bradley, the owner in partnership with Carl Hurst of Louisville, sends out Canterbury contender Divine Warrior, an improving horse who was fifth in the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint.

Matt Kordenbrock, who like Maker and Sharp is based at Churchill’s Trackside training facility, has Sharp Art (winner of a $50,000 claiming race at Churchill in his first start for the barn) in the Rapid Transit and Churchill allowance winner Laythatpistoldown in the Emerald.

Louisville’s Rob O’ Connor has Ellis Park allowance winner Flashy Chelsey back in the Emerald, hoping for a better outcome than last year’s eighth when the race was taken off the grass. Flashy Chelsey, owned by O’ Connor’s brother-in-law Bruce McCrea, was seventh in a trouble-filled trip in the Kentucky Downs’ Emerald prep, losing by a total of 3 1/2 lengths.

Kentucky mainstay Eddie Kenneally, as owner and trainer, supplemented Flashy Jewel, who raced three times at Canterbury in 2016, into the Rapid Transit for $2,500 after claiming the gelding for $25,000 at Churchill in his last start, a race he won by 5 3/4 lengths.

“When they started the Claiming Crown, the first thing I thought of was ‘What a great idea,’” Block said. “Those are your every-day, hard-knocking horses that make up the racing programs around the country, and those horses never get the attention they probably deserve. When you look at the Breeders’ Cup and start handicapping, you think, ‘Wow look at all these great horses from across the country that come in for this one day.’ I liken the Claiming Crown to that.

“Look at all these horses that maybe started off at a higher level, maybe worked their way down a little bit and now have bounced back and found a level that they’re very competitive at. Or you have horses that are modestly bred or sold cheap at the sales, that started out down low and built their resume up to where it is today. They’re all going to get their day in the sun at Gulfstream.”

  • For more on the $1.1 million Claiming Crown 2016 read this Bloodhorse.com story.
  • The In The Money Contest had four winners last Saturday. The contest this weekend is the Saturday Gulfstream card.  The ongoing Horse Player World Series Super Satellite series continues as well. Win an entry to the Dec. 17 satellite and from there a trip to Vegas to play in the 2017 HPWS.
  • Even Thunder, winner of the Shakopee Juvenile in September, today won a $100,000 stake at Aqueduct. He paid $7.40.
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