December 7, 2013 — Trainer Nick Zito notched another crowning achievement at Gulfstream Park Saturday.
Zito, who built his Hall of Fame career on success in the Triple Crown, ruled the day in the $1 million Claiming Crown by saddling Nevada Kid for a victory in the $200,000 Jewel, the last and richest of eight races run in honor of Thoroughbred racing’s most enduring competitors, the claiming horse.
Zito has been a considerably more frequent participant in the Triple Crown, having saddled two Kentucky Derby winners (Strike the Gold and Go for Gin), a Preakness winner (Louis Quatorze) and two Belmont winners (Birdstone and Da’Tara). Taking advantage of a rare opportunity in the Claiming Crown, he instructed jockey Luis Saez to send Nevada Kid to the lead from the rail post position in hopes of earning a front-running score in the 1 1/8-mile feature for horses that had started for a claiming price of $35,000 or less at least once.
The strategy worked out perfectly. Although stalked closely by Dominant Jeannes along the backstretch and far turf, the 4-year-old son of Silver Train was able to set comfortable fractions of :24.44, :48.33 and 1:12.43 for six furlongs. Turning for home, Nevada Kid drifted off the rail while turning back the challenges of both Dominant Jeannes and 9-5 favorite Bernie the Maestro and drew away to win by 2 ¼ lengths as the 5-1 fourth betting choice.
“He likes to run that way. We talked about it. The fence looks pretty good right now. I love it when the drift because the change leads and get into that second gear. They catch their breath. (Saez) did a great job doing that. I love it when they do that,” Zito said. “(Eddie) Belmonte used to do that. I’m dating myself. I used to watch Belmonte ride like that. (Saez) He actually reminds me of Belmonte.”
Nevada Kid ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.41 to earn $110,000 for the Hurricane Boys and Richard Pell. Dominant Jeannes, who was ridden by Paco Lopez, held second by a nose over late-charging Flatter This and jockey Eduardo Nunez.
“I was thrilled to death. My horse ran great, just terrific. I’m really happy. We just couldn’t get to the winner,” said Dominant Jeannes’ trainer Jason Servis. “My horse hadn’t run in a while, and for whatever reason I couldn’t get a race in the middle. I wanted to make this his third race off the layoff but I couldn’t get it done. But we’re thrilled to death. It was a big race. We’re real happy.”
Nevada Kid became eligible for the Jewel at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 27, 2012, when he posted a front-running 4 ¾-length victory while carrying a $30,000 claiming tag.
Zito started his first horse in the Claiming Crown at Gulfstream in last year Jewel, saddling Tuvia’s Force for a sixth-place finish. He started two horses in the Jewel Saturday: Nevada Kid and Sinorice, who tracked the pace in fourth before fading to eighth under Jose Lezcano.
The Jewel capped a most eventful Claiming Crown:
*Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who visited the winner’s circle four times during last year’s Claiming Crown, made two trips this year with Major Marvel ($5.40) after the $125,000 Emerald and with Deanaallen’skitten ($3.80) after the $125,000 Tiara. Julien Leparoux was aboard Major Marvel, while Javier Castellano rode Deanaallen’skitten to victory.
*The Ramseys now lead all owners with 12 Claiming Crown successes. Trainer Mike Maker, who saddled Major Marvel for his ninth victory in 10 starts since finishing second in last year’s Emerald, padded his all-time Claiming Crown total to 12.
*Ribo Bobo ($3) came back from only 10 days rest to impressively capture the $110,000 Express, toying with 10 rivals during a front-running performance that produced a handy 2 ½-length victory under Paco Lopez.
*Miller Racing and trainer Marty Wolfson won the $110,000 Glass Slipper, a seven-furlong sprint for fillies and mares, for a second straight year. Centrique ($3.80), a 1 ¼-length winner under Castellano, followed in the hoof prints of Starship Truffles.
*Carolina Lizard ($71.80) kicked off the Claiming Crown in the inaugural running of the $110,000 Iron Lady, capturing the 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares under Pedro Monterrey Jr.
*Goodtimehadbyall ($12.80) was guided to victory in the $110,000 Rapid Transit, a seven-furlong sprint, by Kendrick Carmouche.
*Point Finish ($9.60) gave Paco Lopez his second Claiming Crown win of the day in the $110,000 Iron Horse.