Paco Lopez celebrates a five-win day, including four Claiming Crown victories. (Photo by Coglianese Photos/Ryan Thompson)

(from Gulfstream Park news releases)
Jockey Paco Lopez put the finishes touches on a five-win afternoon by guiding Patricia Generazio homebred Mid Day Image to a front-running 1 ¼-length triumph in the $95,000 Claiming Crown Emerald Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

The 1 1/16-mile Emerald was the last of nine starter allowance races worth $810,000 in purses on the 23rd Claiming Crown program, being held at Gulfstream for the 10th consecutive year. For 3-year-olds and up which have started for a claiming price of $25,000 or less in 2020-21, the Emerald was the last of four turf stakes.

Created by the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association in partnership with the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, the Claiming Crown rewards and pays tribute to the horses and horsemen that provide the foundation for day-to-day racing programs at tracks around the country.

Lopez, who shares the Gulfstream track record with seven wins on a single card, notched four of his wins in the Claiming Crown. He had consecutive victories with Joe Di Baggio ($6) in Race 2, Blue Steel ($9.40) in the $75,000 Iron Horse Kent Stirling Memorial and Payntdembluesaway ($5.60) in the $90,000 Distaff Dash, and captured the $85,000 Rapid Transit with Miles Ahead ($4.60). He also finished second with Xy Speed in the $90,000 Canterbury and Hanalei’s Houdini in the $125,000 Jewel, beaten less than two combined lengths.

“Not too bad a day. We had five wins and a couple seconds,” Lopez said. “My horses ran very well today.”

Mid Day Image entered the Emerald off back-to-back wins at Monmouth Park, the most recent coming Sept. 12, both in gate-to-wire fashion. The 5-year-old Midshipman gelding went straight to the lead from his rail post, posting fractions of 23.39 seconds, 47.73 and 1:11.22 chased by Clear Vision with 9-5 favorite Max K.O. looming in the clear in third.

Lopez and Mid Day Image maintained a clear advantage at the top of the stretch and continued on once set down for the drive, with Clear Vision unable to make up ground. Attentive came on late to get third, with Light Fury fourth and Max K.O. fifth. The winning time was 1:39.82 over a firm course.

“[Mid Day Image] has a lot of speed. Max K.O., I was scared of that horse because he’s fast, too. I know that horse,” Lopez said. “I give credit to my horse. He’s very, very good. He put me right there and [trainer Luis] Carvajal [Jr.] told me, ‘Paco, that horse is ready today.’”

Payntdembluesaway Proves Too Tough in $90,000 Distaff Dash

All My Hart Racing, Inc.’s Payntdembluesaway dueled with 46-1 long shot Cat’s Astray for a half-mile before putting that rival away and sprinting clear to a popular four-length victory in the $90,000 Claiming Crown Distaff Dash.

The Distaff Dash was the third straight victory on the program for jockey Paco Lopez including the $75,000 Iron Horse Kent Stirling Memorial with Blue Steel. Payntdembluesaway ($5.60), favored at 9-5 in a field of 12, covered the distance in 55.31 seconds over a firm course.

“She runs the way she runs. There is no tactics or anything. She just breaks and runs. She’s really, really fast, and she just loves to run,” winning trainer Jane Cibelli said. “Paco and I talked in the paddock and he said, ‘What do you think? There’s some speed in there.’ I said, ‘Paco, you’ve ridden her how many times? You know her better than anybody. Just when the gates open, see what she does.’”

Lopez has been aboard Payntdembluesaway for six of her eight career victories, including five straight from November 2019 to Jan. 28, part of the 5-year-old mare’s six-race win streak. They broke alertly and immediately hooked up with Cat’s Astray, going a quarter-mile in 21.67 seconds and the half in 43.85, taking over the lead for good in mid-stretch and drawing away.

“That’s exactly how she likes to run. She likes to sit on the outside of the speed and she was just running easily,” Cibelli said. “Paco wasn’t asking her at all. She’s just fast.”

Drop a Hint, at 19-1, emerged from a tight trailing pack to be second, with Beantown Baby third, Cat’s Astray fourth and Odramark fifth, separated by a head and two necks.

Payntdembluesaway returned to her winning ways after two consecutive off-the-board finishes, eight months apart. She was fourth after forcing the pace in the five-furlong Lightning City Feb. 24 at Tampa Bay Downs, returning to be eighth following a wide trip over a yielding course in a 5 ½-furlong optional claimer Oct. 28 at Laurel Park.

“You look at her previous races, and you think if she runs back to her races of last year then she wins the race,” Cibelli said. “But, that last race was disappointing. It was yielding turf and she was on the outside, but it was still disappointing. You [wonder], is she going to come back? She did.”

Sweet Redemption for Sugar Fix in $95,000 Tiara Victory

Beaten after looking like a winner at the top of the stretch last year, Big Frank Stable and Mad Dog Racing Stable’s Sugar Fix came from off the pace and surged late to earn a 1 ¼-length victory in the $95,000 Claiming Crown Tiara.

It was the second straight victory for jockey Edgard Zayas and trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., who also teamed up with Face of Victory in the $75,000 Express. The winning time was 1:40.19 for about 1 1/16 miles on a firm turf course.

“The race before, I told Edgard to be aggressive. This race I said, ‘patience,’ and he executed,” Joseph said. “Like most of the Claiming Crown races, you know your horse is doing well but like I was telling the owner, you can run third or fourth having run your race. Thankfully she ran her best today.”

Centsless Drama was quickest from the gate and led though a quarter-mile in 22.91 seconds, pressed by fellow long shot Act Like Artie. Zayas settled Sugar Fix in fourth, where they still worth after a half in 47.26. They tipped outside and moved into a contending position on the turn, reeled in the leaders and slingshot past for her 10th career victory.

Passion Plus got up for second, with Whimsical Muse third and 8-5 favorite Kahiko fourth.

Sugar Fix, a bay 4-year-old daughter of Treasure Beach, hadn’t raced since finishing fourth in a one-mile, 70-yard allowance Sept. 8 at Kentucky Downs, a race she won last year heading into the Claiming Crown. In the 2020 Tiara, she took a 1 ½-length lead into the stretch but couldn’t hold it and wound up second to Queens Embrace.

“Last year she got a good trip, she just got beat. This year, I think she actually went into the race better,” Joseph said. “Last year she won her prep at Kentucky Downs, and then kind of lost her way. I don’t think she was at her best. This year, she got beat out there and then we couldn’t get a race to go so she had a good freshening. I thought today she ran a good race. It was a tough race. You never know if you’re going to win.”

Bad Beat Brian Gets Up in Time in $90,000 Canterbury

Paradise Farms Corp. and David Staudacher’s Bad Beat Brian, stuck behind a wall of horses entering the far turn, swung into the clear approaching the stretch and came with a steady drive through the lane to edge Xy Speed by a length in the $90,000 Claiming Crown Canterbury.

Bad Beat Brian ($10.20) ran five furlongs in 54.78 seconds over a firm turf course to extend trainer Mike Maker’s record to 19 career Claiming Crown victories with his first in the Canterbury. He has won at least one race in all but three Claiming Crowns since 2007.

“Hopefully, we’ll get a couple more,” Maker said.

Bad Beat Brian was unhurried under jockey Emisael Jaramillo while saving ground in the early going, as Oct. 2 Laurel Dash winner Xy Speed went right to the front and was challenged by Admiral Abe through a sizzling opening quarter-mile in 21.12 seconds. Xy Speed maintained an advantage around the turn and straightened for home in front after going a half in 43.46, with Jaramillo swinging out into the clear.

“The horse broke really sharp and the pace was lively. I was just hoping we’d have a chance somewhere to get out, and he did and ran them down,” Maker said. “As soon as he got him out without getting stopped, I felt pretty confident.”

Xy Speed held second, with 24-1 long shot The Connector third and Harry’s Ontheloose fourth. Discreet Tune was fifth with narrow 3-1 favorite Belgrano checking in seventh.

A 4-year-old Jack Milton gelding, Bad Beat Brian had gone winless in four starts since being claimed back by Maker for $40,000 July 16 at Del Mar after losing him for $62,500 one start earlier at Churchill Downs.

“He’s good. He’s a maintenance-free horse, very easy-going,” Maker said. “He’s a favorite around the barn.”

Twelve Volt Man Charges Late to Win Saturday’s Jewel

Magic Cap Stable’s Twelve Volt Man made a late charge along the rail to register an upset victory in Saturday’s $125,000 Jewel at Gulfstream Park.

The Jewel, a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up that have raced for a claiming price of $35,000 or less, headlined nine starter stakes in the Claiming Crown, an annual event that celebrates the blue-collar horses that support the daily programs of racetracks throughout the country.

Twelve Volt Man ($23.60) gave trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. his third Claiming Crown victory of the day. Joseph also visited the winners circle with Face of Victory ($11) in the $75,000 Express in Race 5 and Sugar Fix ($8.40) in the $95,000 Tiara in Race 6.

“It’s an amazing day. You come into these races and you can have thirds and fourths and go home with no wins. After we got the first one, I was thankful. Then, the second one happened Then, we got a hard beat and got the third one,” Joseph said. “All the horses showed up.”

Joseph-trained Girolamo’s Attack, who was seeking his third straight stakes victory in the Jewel, was more highly regarded than Twelve Volt Man but wasn’t a factor.

“Girolamo’s Attack got beat. He doesn’t like to be behind horses and dirt,” Joseph said.

Twelve Volt Man, who won his first two career starts before finishing far back in two subsequent stakes starts, was made eligible for the Jewel while winning an Oct. 14 optional claiming allowance while running for a $35,000 claiming tag. He tuned up for the Jewel with a fourth-place finish in the Showing Up over the Tapeta Course Nov. 6.

Twelve Volt Man raced between horses while tracking the pace along the backstretch a few lengths behind Hanalei’s Houdini, who was sent after early leader Mo Hawk on the far turn before moving to the lead while racing extremely wide entering the stretch under Paco Lopez. Edwin Gonzalez sent Twelve Volt Man inside Hanalei’s Houdini at the top of the stretch, and the two horses battled through the stretch while steadily drifting to the inside.

Twelve Volt Man won the battle nearing the wire to prevail by three-quarters of a length.

“I had a really good trip. I was saving ground around the first two turns. This is a really big horse. After the first time I rode the horse when he broke his maiden, I said to Saffie that this horse wants to go long,” Gonzalez said. “At the half-mile [pole], I followed the horse that finished second. At the quarter pole, when Paco moved, I moved with him. He drifted out with me and then I took my horse back inside and I think that won the race. When he got in a little bit tight, my horse got aggressive again. He’s a nice horse. I feel great.”

Twelve Volt Man, a 3-year-old gelded son of Violence, ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.92 to edge Hanalei’s Houdini. Mo Hawk held on for third.

“The time was really good,” Joseph said. “Now, he’s going to have to face proper older horses.”

Sweet Willemina Rallies to Capture Glass Slipper    

Richard Ciavardone and Home Team Stable’s Sweet Willemina ($18.60) emerged from a pack of horses in mid-stretch and rallied past Our Fantasy to capture Saturday’s $80,000 Glass Slipper at Gulfstream Park.

The Scott Lake-trained 4-year-old daughter of Reason d’Etat, who was coming off her first loss in seven starts since being claimed by her connections for $32,000, rebounded with last-jump decision over Our Fantasy in the mile starter stakes for fillies and mares that have run for a claiming price of $12,500 or less in 2020-2021.

Sweet Willemina, a Parx-based filly who broke her maiden for a $10,000 claiming price in September 2020, ran the mile in 1:36.68 under Silvestre Gonzalez to return to winning form after finishing second in an optional claiming allowance at Parx last time out.

“She’s a beast,” Lake said. “Her last race when she got beat – Silvestre and I talked about it and thought he rode her over-confidently and didn’t go after the lone speed,” Lake said. “We were a little worried coming in because she wasn’t quite as sharp coming off that race. But she’s been training great down here. Silvestre did a great job.”

Our Fantasy made a sweeping move to the lead coming off the stretch turn to open a clear early lead under Edgard Zayas but was unable to hold off Sweet Willemina by a head. Let’s Be Honest finished third a length back.

Miles Ahead Flaunts Class in Rapid Transit

David Melin, Leon Ellman and Laurie Plesa’s Miles Ahead, a graded-stakes winner in a race for horses that have raced for a claiming price of $35,000 or less in 2020-2021, flaunted his class Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

The Eddie Plesa Jr.-trained 4-year-old gelding, who captured the Smile Sprint (G3) on the July 3 Summit of Speed program at Gulfstream, closely stalked the pace set by Legal Deal before moving to the lead at the top of the stretch and prevailing by a comfortable 1 ½ lengths in the $85,000 Rapid Transit.

The seven-furlong Rapid Transit was one of nine starter stakes in the Saturday’s Claiming Crown, an annual event that celebrates the blue-collar horses that support daily racing programs at racetracks throughout the country.

Miles Ahead ($4.60) broke his maiden for a $12,500 claiming price by 12 ¼ lengths in January 2020 after being eased in his debut over turf. The son of Competitive Edge has steadily improved with age while establishing himself as one of the top sprinters on dirt in South Florida.

Miles Ahead ran seven furlongs in 1:21.99 to give jockey Paco Lopez his fourth victory of the day, including three Claiming Crown wins.

Legal Deal, ridden by Edwin Gonzalez, finish second, two lengths ahead of Pudding and jockey Leonel Reyes.

Miles Ahead is likely to return to open stakes company for his next start.

“There’s a $100,000 race in Maryland (Dec. 26 Dave’s Friend), and there’s a race here (G3 Harlan’s Holiday, Dec. 19) that’s coming up a little two quick,” Plesa said.

Zayas Guides Face of Victory to Express Score

Under a heads-up ride by Edgard Zayas, Mercy Man Racing’s Face of Victory ($11) captured Saturday’s $75,000 Express, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and up that have run for a claiming price of $8000 or less in 2020-2021.

A split-second decision at the 3/8ths pole was the key to the Saffie Joseph Jr.-trained 5-year-old gelding’s upset victory over heavily favored Kalu, who broke sharply to take the early lead. Face of Victory, who broke from the rail post position and was ridden aggressively by Zayas, slipped inside the favorite on the backstretch. Gulfstream’s Fall Meet titlist quickly thought better of an inside challenge, easing up on his mount long enough to be able to guide him off the rail to make an outside challenge in the stretch. Face of Victory kicked on through the stretch to prevail by 1 ¼ lengths.

“Saffie gave me a lot of confidence in the paddock. He said, ‘Take it too [Kalu]. His only weakness is at the end where he tends to stop a little bit. He said, ‘Take it to him early if you can. Make him earn his money,’” Zayas said. “At the three-eighths pole, the other horse started to make his move early. At that point, I gave my horse a little breather and took him outside. He came running at the end.”

Face of Victory, who was claimed for $10,000 in August, ran six furlongs in 1:10.52 to upset Kalu, who held on to second by a head over third-place finisher Aequor.

Zayas and Joseph came right back to win the $95,000 Tiara in the following race with Sugar Fix.

Blue Steel Shows his Mettle in Iron Horse    

James Woodruff’s Blue Steel showed his mettle while holding on to win Saturday’s $75,000 Iron Horse Kent Stirling Memorial, a 1 1/16-mile starter stakes for 3-year-olds and up that have run for a claiming price of $8000 or less in 2020-2021.

Trained by Jeff Hiles in Kentucky, Blue Steel ($9.40) had won his last four starts on dirt by a combined 22 ¼ lengths at Indiana Grand, Ellis Park and Belterra Park, held on to win by a half-length after leading most of the way under jockey Paco Lopez. The 5-year-old gelding ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.61 to prevail over Zanesville, who finished 2 ½ lengths clear of Brasstown.