When Paul Parker and trainer and co-owner Jeff Hiles claimed Time for Trouble for $8,000 some 2 1/2 years ago, they did not have huge expectations beyond getting a horse worth his price tag.
Hiles: “We thought we were getting an $8,000 horse that we might be able to improve a little bit with.” Parker: “We were just trying to win some starter races over at Belterra going a mile and a half on turf.”
Since then, Time for Trouble – the only horse Parker currently has in training — has won six races and, by Hiles’ calculation, $330,000 in purses. That includes a $166,000 allowance race on turf last year at Kentucky Downs and a $120,000 second-level allowance race on dirt at Keeneland this spring. (He also won his first start for his new barn at Belterra, setting a course record in an $8,000 starter-race at 1 3/8 miles on grass.)
Saturday, the 6-year-old gelding will attempt to repeat last year’s victory in the $75,000 Claiming Crown Iron Horse Kent Stirling Memorial (race 6, post time 3:15 p.m. CT), this time at the Fair Grounds after being held last year at Churchill Downs. Hiles is going for a personal three-peat in the race, having won in 2021 with Blue Steel at Gulfstream Park for his first Claiming Crown victory.
Also seeking a repeat in the Claiming is National HBPA Claiming Horse of the Year Invaluable, who returns in Glass Slipper, albeit with a new trainer in Joe Sharp.
The Claiming Crown, conceived to be a Breeders’ Cup-style event for claiming horses, was created in 1999 by the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (NHBPA) and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA). The program gives thoroughbred racing’s workhorses, their owners and trainers a day in the spotlight in recognition of their importance to filling out race cards across the nation. This year’s 25th Claiming Crown is being staged with support from the host track and the Louisiana HBPA.
The Claiming Crown races are conducted under starter-allowance conditions, meaning they are restricted to horses that have competed at least once for a certain claiming level or cheaper during a designated time frame.
June 18, 2021 was the only time that Time for Trouble ran in a claiming race as cheap as $8,000, and he finished fourth. But that race gave him lifetime eligibility for the Ready’s Rocket Express, for horses that have raced for a claiming price of $8,000 or less at any time in their career.
“You’ve got to get lucky,” Hiles said. “We won a 13-way shake the day we got him. So we got really, really lucky. We thought he could run a lot longer and on the grass. At $4,000 apiece, if you lose out on it, you’re not losing a whole lot. And there seemed a lot of upside.”
Time for Trouble had raced well on turf and dirt, fast or sloppy tracks and at distances from 1 1/16 to 1 3/4 miles.
“I think he’s better on dirt than he is on turf is the weird thing,” Parker said, referencing Time for Trouble’s pedigree, being a son of turf champion English Channel out of a Galileo mare. “He runs on anything. I think he gets that from the Galileo.”
Hiles believes Time for Trouble is better this year than going into last year’s Claiming Crown, when he prevailed by 3 1/4 lengths in the slop. James Graham picks up the mount on the tepid 7-2 favorite in the field of 12.
“He should be the favorite,” Hiles said. “He won a ‘two other than’ at Keeneland this spring. He finished second in a stakes race at Saratoga. But he’s not a heavy favorite. Those Claiming Crown races are tough.”
Time for Trouble flew to California for the Grade 2, $250,000 Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Stakes at 1 5/8 miles on dirt on the Breeders’ Cup undercard. But the gelding wound up scraping a back leg in the stall and had to be scratched so they could treat the wound.
The Claiming Crown is Plan B, Hiles acknowledged. “It probably should have been Plan A,” he said. “We wanted to run in that race in California, and unfortunately he got scratched. This is our next option.”
Parker owns the 1950’s style diner Parker’s Drive-In in Paducah, Ky. Racing as Thorndale Stable, he tends to be a one-horse operation at the track. Parker had the filly Wicked Wish that he raced and then bred. She produced Rated R Superstar, with whom Parker won multiple graded stakes before losing him as a 5-year-old for $62,500. Rated R Superstar wound up earning more than a million for other owners.
“My kids are all over me about being the dumbest guy in the world,” Parker said. “I said, ‘I can play this game.’ That’s when I claimed Trouble. That’s the only horse I ever claimed. And we weren’t the only guys trying to claim him.”
You could say Parker is looking for Trouble Saturday.
“I love the Claiming Crown,” he said. “The longest stretch in the country and it’s looking like rain. It looks like it’s all coming together for Trouble.”
But Parker won’t be there, saying, “I’ve never been to a race he’s won. I hate it, but it’s not going to hurt his feelings if I don’t show up. I’ll take one for the team.”
Claiming Horse of the Year Invaluable returns to CC — for new barn
Invaluable secured the National HBPA’s Claiming Horse of the Year when she captured the Claiming Crown Glass Slipper last year at Churchill Downs in the mud for trainer Mike Maker and owner Paradise Farms Corp. The 6-year-old mare will defend that victory in the $100,000 race for fillies and mares that have competed for a claiming price of $12,500 or less in 2022 or 2023. But this go-round it will be with a new trainer (Joe Sharp) and owners (Forgotten Man Racing and Dominic Damiano) and at the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in New Orleans.
Sharp and the owners claimed Invaluable two races ago, the day she won a $25,000 claiming race by a nose. They’ve run her back once, in a $10,000 starter-allowance race at Keeneland. Invaluable closed to finish second, but was never a threat in a 12 3/4-length victory by Illinois shipper Samarita. The two will face off again in the Glass Slipper (race 4, post time 2:15 p.m. CT), which at the Fair Grounds is a mile around two turns vs. Churchill Downs’ one-turn mile last year.
While calling Samarita “definitely a really nice filly,” Sharp is extremely confident for a trainer whose horse just lost by 12 3/4 lengths.
“Obviously she showed last year she can handle the off track, if it’s the weather they’re calling for,” he said of Invaluable. “She’s been a nice filly. We claimed her at Churchill, ran back at Keeneland and she came out of that with a little bit of a sinus deal going on. So it probably wasn’t her best effort. But she’s doing fantastic, really has transitioned well down here. She had a nice breeze about 10 days out from her race. I think we can turn the tables on the filly that beat her.
“Post race unveiled that we weren’t 100 percent that day. So we’ve got a built-in excuse and we’re going to use it. I feel very confident going into this race, and she’s doing fantastic.”
Of being the reigning Claiming Horse of the year, Sharp said, “I know! Those are big shoes to fill. We’ve got to keep her crown.”
Sharp also is well-positioned in the $200,000 Claiming Crown Jewel (race 10, 5:15 p.m. CT) at 1 1/8 miles with 5-2 favorite Money Supply, a $400,000 yearling purchase claimed by Sharp and owner Jordan Wycoff for $35,000 at Saratoga. In three races for Money Supply’s new team, the 4-year-old Practical Joke colt was a close second in a $50,000 starter-allowance, then won a similar race at Churchill Downs and followed with victory in a first-level allowance race.
Dana’s Beauty will make her first start for Sharp in the $150,000 Claiming Crown Tiara (race 5, 2:45 p.m. CDT) at 1 1/16 miles on turf for fillies and mares that have raced for a claiming price of $25,000 or less in 2022 or 2023. Dana’s Beauty is 8-1 in a field of nine, with the 3-1 favorite Perhaps Tonight making her first start for trainer Tom Amoss.
The 5-year-old Dana’s Beauty, who had been racing over Presque Isle’s all-weather surface, was claimed for $25,000 two starts back to become Claiming Crown-eligible, then finished a very close third in a stakes. She’s owned by the Magic Oaks Stable of the brother and sister team of horse owner and trainer Adam Rice and Taylor Ortiz, who is married to jockey Jose Ortiz.
“Taylor worked for me this summer (at Saratoga), so it’s kind of fun,” Sharp said. “The filly has been down here at the Fair Grounds, had about a month to settle in and has had three good works over the track. She just seems like an improving filly. I don’t know what would happen if it would come off the turf, but her work in the slop was really good.
“We have a lot of confidence. If it’s on the grass, we like her a lot. She’s been working phenomenal.”
Sharp also has Bizzee Channel and Runway Magic in the $150,000 Emerald at 1 1/16 miles on turf (race 9, 4:45 p.m. CT). Magic Castle is entered in the $75,000 Ready’s Rocket Express but could be scratched because of difficulties in getting the horse shipped from Remington Park in Oklahoma.
Van Berg hopes CC success continues with Junior Bug
Last year Tom Van Berg had his first Claiming Crown starters when he ran five horses in three races at his hometown track, Churchill Downs, winning the Tom Metzen Memorial Canterbury with Petit Verdot and the Rapid Transit with The Queens Jules by a nose. But the celebration started even before the first race as Van Berg and his wife, Angi, used the opportunity to host their clients at the event as the stable’s owners appreciation day for a banner year.
Van Berg’s contingent will be smaller this year at the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in New Orleans with his only definite starter being Grit to Glory Racing’s Junior Bug in the $75,000 Claiming Crown Ready’s Rocket Express. The trainer is leaning toward scratching his other two entries, Northern Diamond in the Glass Slipper and Knight’s Cross in the Iron Horse Kent Stirling Memorial, saying the forecast for a wet track and the way the races shaped up make it harder to justify the ship from Louisville.
Though favored Concrete Glory and Caramel Chip loom in the field, Van Berg believes Junior Bug is sitting on a big effort.
“He’s running great right now,” Van Berg said. “He’s running the best he’s ever run. He’s on top of his game, healthy, happy, came out of his last race in great shape. And he likes the mud, which it looks like it will probably be.”
Van Berg said his clients tried to acquire more Claiming Crown horses via the claim box, but other people had the same idea. For instance, they were out-shook in a $40,000 optional claiming allowance race Oct. 4 at Horseshoe Indianapolis for Shimmer Me Timbers, who finished second by a head that day. He’ll be one of the favorites in the $150,000 Canterbury Tom Metzen Memorial (race 7, post time 3:45 p.m. CT) at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf for new owner Ken Ramsey and trainer Robertino Diodoro.
Van Berg also lost out to Diodoro for King’s Ovation, who is 4-1 in the $200,000 Claiming Crown Jewel at 1 1/8 miles on the main track.
“I love the Claiming Crown and always look for those horses,” Van Berg said. “You can’t take an $8,000 starter horse and run for a $75,000 purse very often. We always look to see if they are Claiming Crown-eligible. It just adds another revenue stream possibility when you claim a horse if you can point to something like that.”