Ken Ramsey is back at the Claiming Crown. If he has only three horses (in two races) running in the program designed to showcase American horse racing’s blue-collar horses, it’s not for a lack of effort.
Ramsey is the winningest owner in the history of the Claiming Crown, which will be staged for the 25th time this Saturday at the historic Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. But his last starter came with Peru, whose victory in the 2018 Claiming Crown Tiara at Gulfstream Park extended Ramsey’s record in the program to 16.
“I’m trying to pad my résumé,” quipped Ramsey, who significantly downsized his once massive racing operation in recent years. “… I was trying to get a horse for each (Claiming Crown) race. I started looking when they finished up last year. I decided, hey, I’m going to get back in the game. I’d downsized and I had a few health issues and I’ve not been as active. But I enjoyed it so much and missed it so much that I started claiming some. I probably claimed 20 horses this year – and got out-shook for probably three times that many.
“… I just turned 88. I’m kind of an old fossil. I’m probably getting pretty close to the finish line, so I’d like to go out with a blaze of glory.”
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.
Though he and his late wife, Sarah, became major players internationally — earning four Eclipse Awards as outstanding owner and two as outstanding breeder, as well as four Breeders’ Cup victories and the Dubai World Cup — Ramsey burst on the scene as a Pick Six bettor and by claiming lots of horses and winning lots of races. Extremely goal-oriented, Ramsey put his mind to setting records for meet titles at wins at Churchill Downs, Keeneland and Kentucky Downs – in the process becoming the winningest owner in Kentucky history.
The Claiming Crown became a major goal as well, one now off hiatus.
In King’s Ovation, Ramsey has one of the favorites for the $200,000 Claiming Crown Jewel at 1 1/8 miles for horses that have competed for a claiming price of $35,000 in 2023. Ramsey claimed King’s Ovation for $62,500 at Keeneland – a race he won impressively – in his last start. The owner also has Shimmer Me Timbers and Cotton in the $150,000 Canterbury Tom Metzen Memorial at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf for horses that have raced for a $25,000 claiming price or less in 2022-2023. All three were claimed out of their last start specifically for the Claiming Crown, he said.
“It gives the little guy a chance to strike a home run,” Ramsey said of the Claiming Crown. “The purses are good and the competition is good. They spread it around. It’s been at about four or five different tracks. I used to never miss, would have three, four or five running in it all the time. But I’m back to feeling good. I’m looking forward to Saturday so I can try to add another one.”
King’s Ovation and Shimmer Me Timbers are trained by Robertino Diodoro, while Saffie Joseph trains Cotton.
Diodoro began training for Ramsey this past spring.
“I’d have loved to have seen this guy when he was about 45 years old,” the trainer said of Ramsey. “I give him a lot of credit. He’s full of a lot of energy and I love his attitude. He loves the game — and loves winning.”
Joseph hoping for ‘Concrete’ results with his CC contingent
Since being claimed for $6,250 in his last start in 2022, the 4-year-old gelding Concrete Glory has won four of five starts for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. and new owner Frank Rupolo’s Big Frank Stable. The lone defeat came by a half-length to Caramel Chip, a horse Concrete Glory defeated in their prior two meetings.
The two horses get a rematch in the $75,000 Claiming Crown Ready’s Rocket Express (race 3, post time 1:45 p.m. CT) at six furlongs over the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots’ main track. Concrete Glory is the 5-2 favorite, with Caramel Chip the 4-1 second choice in the capacity field of 12.
“He’s just a cool horse to be around,” the Florida-based Joseph said. “He shows up every time he runs. We’ve pointed for this race all year. It’s a big thing for Big Frank. He’s going through a tough time the last couple of years. Every time this horse runs, it kind of rejuvenates him. The Claiming Crown to him is huge.”
Concrete Glory and Caramel Chip went separate directions after that March 27 meeting in a $16,000 optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park. Bianco Stable’s Caramel Chip, trained by Jose D’Angelo, headed to Kentucky and the Northeast, where he won four more races out of eight starts. Concrete Glory got a five-month vacation and has returned with a pair of dominating wins, including earning a career-best Bris speed figure of 100 in his last start.
“We had to stretch him out to a mile last time because we couldn’t get a short race to go,” said Joseph, who also made Concrete Glory eligible to the $100,000 Claiming Crown Rapid Transit for horses that had raced for $16,000 or less in 2022-2023. “He handled that quite well. But the plan has always been this race. We wanted to give him a break. This is the third race off the layoff, so he’s in good order. Hopefully he’ll show up and run his race.”
The Express is well-populated with front runners, with Concrete Glory setting the pace in his past seven races, resulting in six wins, including the day he was claimed. He’ll be well-positioned from post 5 for new rider Ricardo Santana to play off the speed to his inside.
“He wants to be forwardly placed,” Joseph said. “The key to him is breaking. He’s not the best horse in the gate, as much as we stand him (gate schooling). He always likes to kind of mess around. Sometimes he’ll miss the break, like a step slowly, but he’s fast enough to recuperate. Hopefully Ricardo will get him away from there well. He doesn’t have to lead, but he likes to be forwardly placed.”
Concrete Glory is one of three Joseph-trained horses in the Claiming Crown, the others being second-choice Proverb in the $75,000 Iron Horse Kent Stirling Memorial and Cotton in the $150,000 Canterbury Tom Metzen Memorial at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf.
Clay R Sides’ Proverb is the 4-1 second choice behind 7-2 Time for Trouble in the $75,000 Iron Horse Kent Stirling Memorial (race 6, post time 3:15 p.m. CT) at 1 1/16 miles for horses that have run for an $8,000 claiming price or less at some point during their career. Claimed for $8,000 in February at Gulfstream Park, Proverb was third in Caramel Chip’s win over Concrete Glory in his first start for Joseph before rolling off three straight victories.
However, Proverb comes into this race off a 5 1/2-month layoff and drew post 13 in the field of 13. Graded stakes-placed at 3, Proverb ran in allowance races and high-priced claiming races before he began dropping down the claiming ranks. He came in off another 5 1/2-month hiatus the day Joseph claimed him, the only time he ran as cheap as $8,000.
“He has a lot of back class,” Joseph said. “He was in for the $8,000, so for that price we thought he’d be a good starter horse for us. He’s been consistent. He’s obviously drawn pretty wide. That’s not advantageous, but hopefully he won’t lose too much ground around the first turn.
“He hasn’t been freshened by design. I gave him a little time because he’s a horse prone to quarter cracks, but he’s in good order right now.”
Cotton will make his first start for Joseph in the $150,000 Claiming Crown Canterbury Tom Metzen Memorial (race 7, post time 3:45 p.m. CT) at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf. The 5-year-old gelding was claimed for $50,000 by owner Ken Ramsey out of his last start in Canada, where Cotton was racing in sprints on the turf and Woodbine’s synthetic main track. He finished fourth the day he was claimed.
Cotton is 8-1 in the capacity field of 12, with two more horses needing scratches to get in off the also-eligible list. The favorite is the Doug Cowan-trained Mischievous Rogue at 3-1 in the race for horses that have started for a claiming price of $25,000 or cheaper in 2022 or 2023.
“It’s a great event,” Joseph said. “Claimers are the backbone of the industry. The majority of the horses are claimers. I’ve got a lot of owners spend the whole year trying to find these kinds of horses for the Claiming Crown.”
Shane Wilson to saddle two in Claiming Crown debut
Louisiana mainstay Shane Wilson will represent the home team in Saturday’s 25th Claiming Crown, which returns to the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots for the first time since it hosted a truncated version in 2011. The trainer will saddle High Cruise in the $75,000 Ready’s Rocket Express at six furlongs and Mau Mau in the $75,000 Iron Horse Kent Stirling Memorial at 1 1/16 miles, both for horses that have have run for a claiming price of $8,000 or less at any point of their career.
This will be Mau Mau’s first race since Wilson claimed him for $7,500. But he’s very familiar with the 6-year-old gelding. Wilson had Mau Mau for only two races last fall after claiming him for $10,000. But that was long enough for owner Kevin Roberts’ wife, Pam, to fall in love with the horse.
“We won a starter-allowance race with him here at the end of the meet but wound up losing him in a claiming race,” Wilson said. “It was Kevin Roberts’ wife’s favorite horse that they’d had. So when they dropped him in at Remington, he called me and said, ‘I’m looking at a picture of him in our living room on the wall and my wife wants her horse back.’ So we went and claimed him…. When he got claimed, he called me and said, ‘Man, I’m in the dog house right now. We lost Mom’s favorite horse.’”
Mau Mau is royally bred, being by 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker out of the Medaglia d’Oro mare Tokyo Time, whose 5-year-old son is Grade 1-winner and $3 million-earner Olympiad, whose career ended with a second place in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic won by Horse of the Year Flight Line.
“He’s not that type of horse,” Wilson said, comparing Mau Mau to Olympiad. “But he acts like it. He’s very, very classy.”
This will be Wilson’s second start with the 6-year-old High Cruise, an 11-time winner that in his last start set the pace until weakening to seventh in a seven-furlong optional claiming race at Delta Downs.
“They gave him a break during the summer time,” Wilson said. “I think he needed the last race. He only had three works going into it. Delta is a deep, deep surface, and we ran him two turns first time back, which probably not a good idea. But he got pretty tired. Since then he’s worked really sharp.
“He’s not eligible for starter races (which often have a one-year or two-year restriction) anymore, but with the Claiming Crown he is. We looked at it as an opportunity to run against starter-allowance horses again. And being here at home, we just walk right up front, don’t have to ship. He won a starter-allowance over this track last year. There’s no reason not to run. He’s been training great, really working strong since his last race. That race should really have him tight.”