Having dominated the event like no trainer in its history, Mike Maker can add to his record 15 career Claiming Crown victories when he sends out both Capital Letters and Flashy Jewel in Saturday’s $200,000 Jewel at Gulfstream Park.
The 1 1/8-mile Jewel for 3-year-olds and up that have started for a claiming price of $35,000 or less since Jan. 1, 2016 is the richest of nine stakes on the 11-race $1.11 million Claiming Crown Day program that kicks off Gulfstream’s 2017-18 Championship Meet. First race post is noon.
This marks the sixth straight year in South Florida and 19th overall for the Claiming Crown, created in 1999 to honor the blue-collar horses that are the foundation of the racing industry nationwide. Total handle for the Claiming Crown has surpassed $10 million each of the past three years, topped by a record $11.1 million in 2016.
Also on the Claiming Crown program are the $125,000 Emerald at 1 1/16 miles and $110,000 Canterbury at five furlongs, both on turf; the $110,000 Iron Horse at 1 1/16 miles, and the $110,000 Rapid Transit and $110,000 Express at seven and six furlongs, respectively, all for 3-year-olds and up.
Fillies and mares 3 and older take center stage in the $125,000 Tiara at 1 1/16 miles and $110,000 Distaff Dash at five furlongs, each contested on the grass, and the $110,000 Glass Slipper at one mile on the main track. First race post time Saturday is noon.
Other highlights of Gulfstream’s 89-day Championship Meet include the $600,000 Clasico Internacional del Caribe program Dec. 9, the first time the event has been held in North America since its 1966 inception; second running of the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1), the world’s richest horse race, Jan. 27; 67th renewal of the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) for 3-year-olds, Gulfstream’s signature race, March 31; and the 47th annual Eclipse Awards ceremony, being hosted in Sport of Kings Theater for the sixth straight year Jan. 25.
Maker, 48, won his first Jewel with the prophetically named Miami Sunrise at Ellis Park in 2007, repeating in 2010 and 2012, the latter part of a four-win day with primary clients Ken & Sarah Ramsey in the Claiming Crown’s Gulfstream debut. Like Maker, the Ramseys own a record 15 Claiming Crown wins.
Douglas Nachman’s Capital Letters has won two of three starts since being claimed by Maker for $30,000 out of a third-place finish July 21 at Ellis Park. He was a gutsy neck winner in the first start for his new connections Sept. 22 at Churchill Downs then came back to run ninth – beaten less than four lengths – in his turf debut Oct. 19 at Keeneland.
Last time out, the 5-year-old Afleet Alex gelding rolled by 3 ¼ lengths in an off-the-turf optional claiming allowance going 1 1/16 miles Nov. 16 at Churchill, prompting Maker to keep Capital Letters on dirt for the Jewel.
“His last race was spectacular and we’re expecting another big effort from him,” Maker said. “When we claimed him, he was bred for the turf but he wasn’t running terrible on the dirt. We kind of caught some soft going at Keeneland though he didn’t run a bad race. We felt we’d hold off on the experiment until after the Claiming Crown. He’s a very versatile horse, which is a nice asset to have.”
Michael Hui’s Flashy Jewel ran second in the seven-furlong Rapid Transit during last year’s Claiming Crown for previous trainer Eddie Kenneally. Maker claimed the 5-year-old Flashy Bull gelding for $80,000 this summer at Saratoga, and he was seventh in the Lukas Classic (G3) Sept. 30 at Churchill Downs in the lone start for his new connections.
Flashy Jewel ran four times during last winter’s Championship Meet, winning the 1 1/16-mile Old Hickory Feb. 20, finishing third by 3 ¼ lengths in the March 25 Skip Away (G3) and second to Grade 1 winner Greenpointcrusader in an optional claiming allowance Jan. 27.
“The horse is doing well. Though it’s going to be a very competitive field he’ll get a bit of a class relief. The biggest concern there is the distance and whether he can get the mile and an eighth,” Maker said. “We know he likes the track and he’s faced some tough customers in his previous races so hopefully the class relief will carry him a little bit further.”
Corey Lanerie has the call on Capital Letters from Post 7 in the field of 13, while Tyler Gaffalione is named onFlashy Jewel from Post 12.
Trainer Jorge Navarro will counter Maker with two contenders of his own, Chunnel and Flowers for Lisa, who together have won 13 of 74 career starts. Final Turn Racing Stable’s Chunnel, a 6-year-old son of champion grass horse English Channel, takes a three-race win streak into the Jewel, the most recent a 6 ¼-length romp over optional claiming allowance foes going one mile Oct. 14 at Parx.
Overall Chunnel has won four of eight starts for Navarro since being claimed for $16,000 in February. Third in each of his three career tries at Gulfstream, he will be ridden by Nik Juarez from Post 1. He shares the 124-pound topweight with Canadian-based Gigantic Breeze, winner of the Presque Isle Downs Masters in his most recent start Sept. 14, but who has never raced on dirt.
Flying P Stable’s Flowers for Lisa, bred by the Ramseys, was taken for $20,000 out of a runner-up finish July 21 at Navarro’s summer base of Monmouth Park. The Flower Alley gelding has been worse than third once in seven lifetime tries at Gulfstream, including three wins, but will be trying 1 1/8 miles for the first time. Paco Lopez rides from Post 13.
Diamond Bachelor returns to the dirt for just the third time in 10 starts since finishing second by a half-length to repeat winner Royal Posse in last year’s Jewel. The 6-year-old War Front gelding is winless in nine starts this year, seven of them in stakes, three of them graded. Last out he was fifth behind such Jewel contenders as Dreaming of Gold and Indian Guide in the Bull and Whistle Handicap Oct. 1 at Gulfstream.
Grade 1-placed Dream Saturday will making his first start since being claimed for $20,000 out of a seven-furlong victory Sept. 29 for Mike Anderson and trainer Peter Walder’s Aventura Stable. Third in the 2015 Carter (G1), the Any Given Saturday gelding has placed in four stakes through his 25-race career, running third in the Trinniberg and Perfect Season Stakes at Gulfstream this summer and fall.
Dream Saturday has tuned up for the Jewel with three works at Gulfstream since mid-November, including back-to-back five-furlong bullets in 59.78 seconds Nov. 18 and an eye-catching 58.37 Nov. 25, the fastest of 34 horses.
“Since I’ve had him he’s been great. I gave him a little bit of time with this race in mind,” Walder said. “I think horses tout themselves and his last few works have been great. He continues to do well. I know it’s a bit of a stretch looking at his PPs whether he can go the distance or not, but he’s got the back class and sometimes those horses – when you get them mentally right – they’ll run for you.”
Gladys Martinez’s Clubman has won four of his last five starts for trainer Jonathan Maldonado, the exception coming when he came from next-to-last in a field of 11 to run fourth in the 1 1/8-mile Maryland Million Classic Oct. 21 at Laurel Park. He bounced back with a two-length triumph in an open six-furlong entry-level allowance Nov. 6.
“He’s ready to run,” Maldonado said. “He worked very impressive the other day, going five-eighths in a minute flat. He’s doing really, really good. We’re looking forward to the race.”
Completing the field are stakes winners Dreaming of Gold and Turco Bravo; multiple stakes-placed Indian Guide; Fearless Dragon and Jay’s Way.
(from Gulfstream Park news release)