December 6, 2015 — Royal Posse slipped through along the rail under Javier Castellano to grab the lead on the backstretch before drawing away to a commanding victory in the $200,000 Jewel, providing the reigning Eclipse Award-winning jockey with his fourth win of the nine-race $1.1 million Claiming Crown at Gulfstream Park on December 5.
Castellano, who got off to a fast start in a quest to win his fifth straight Championship Meet title, also scored aboard Run With Bulls ($110,000 Iron Horse), Stallwalkin’ Dude ($110,000 Rapid Transit) and Moonshine Promise ($110,000 Glass Slipper) on the Opening Day card of Gulfstream’s premier meet.
“I’m very lucky, very blessed. I feel at home here. Gulfstream has been very good to me. The fans, the people, the trainers, the owners always support my career,” Castellano said. “This is where I started riding horses in the States, in Florida. The people have been very good to me. They give me fast horses to ride and I feel very blessed.”
The first two finishers in the Jewel are trained by New York-based trainer Rudy Rodriguez.
Royal Posse, the 9-5 favorite owned by Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables and Gary Aisquith, notched a 2 ½-length victory over stablemate Mr. Palmer, a 21-1 longshot ridden by Joel Rosario and owned by Carl Lizza Racing Stables and Michael Imperio.
“I was like, ‘Come on, boys. Come on, boys.’ Everything worked out good for us today,” Rodriguez said. “Thank God for the owners to give us the opportunity to train for them.”
Royal Posse broke from the No. 11 post position in the field of 14 and was deftly maneuvered to the inside by Castellano off the early pace before sending the 4-year-old gelding through a hole inside pacesetter Rizwan leaving the backstretch. The New York-bred son of Posse quickly built a clear lead on the turn into the homestretch and easily held off his stablemate, who finished three lengths clear of third-place finisher African Fighter.
“The way I handicapped the race there was a lot of speed in the race. It was important to get good position because unfortunately I had the  hole. I had to save a little ground on the first turn. But then everything worked out by the three-eighths pole,” Castellano said. “I was able to angle in and cut the corner and he gave me a good, powerful kick. I was just the pilot. Basically, Rudy did all the work; he claimed the horse; he trained him. He does everything the right way and I think the way he developed the horse is fantastic.”
Timed in 1:50.77 over a sloppy track in the 1 1/8-mile stakes for horses that raced for a claiming price of $35,000 or less, Royal Posse was claimed for $20,000 at Belmont Park May 31. He went on to win two of four starts, finishing no worse than second and capturing the Evan Shipman Stakes at Saratoga.
“He’s been an amazing claim since Day 1. He’s very, very sound. I tell all my owners we got very, very lucky to get him that day. I just have to thank Mr. Dubb for giving me the opportunity to claim horses for him,” Rodriguez said. “He’s run a couple good races on a muddy track and a sloppy track, so I really was not worried.”
Trainer Brendan Walsh was disappointed when it was announced in the middle of Saturday’s program that the $125,000 Emerald would be moved from the turf to the main track.
Premier Stables Unlimited’s Key to Power brightened his trainer’s spirits a few races later when the 6-year-old son of A.P. Indy made a successful transition to a sloppy main track with an impressive triumph in the 1 1/16-mile stakes for horses that raced for a claiming price of $25,000 or less.
“He’d been training super. The last six months have been built around this race, so it was obviously disappointing when you’re expecting a good turf course,” said Walsh, whose trainee was timed in 1:44.61. “But we had talked last year about putting him on dirt, not necessarily a sloppy track. He is bred to run on dirt. It’s nice that it worked out. I thought he was very impressive.”
Key to Power, who had raced for a claiming price as low as $20,000, was claimed by his current connections for $35,000 out of a 10th-place finish at Gulfstream Park Feb. 27. The Kentucky-bred went on to win four races, including two stakes, since being claimed. He finished fourth in the Tropical Turf Handicap (G3) at Gulfstream Park West Nov. 21.
Ridden by Corey Lanerie, Key to Power rated off the pace set by Laythatpistoldown before gaining striking position at the top of the stretch and drawing away to a 1 1/2-length victory over Roman Approval, who finished another neck in front of third-place finisher Ghost Hunter.
M-Z Racing Partnership’s Doddsprivatelabel employed a wide rally in the stretch drive of the $110,000 Express to capture the six-furlong sprint for horses that raced for a claiming price of $7,500 or less by a neck.
The Marcos Zulueta-trained 4-year-old gelding scored a 12-1 upset under jockey Jorge Vargas Jr., who rated the Texas-bred several lengths off a pressured early pace before setting him down for the winning drive in the stretch. Doddsprivatelabel ran six furlongs in 1:10.77 over a sealed sloppy track. Stan Abhaile made a strong rail run to finish second, a head ahead of Big Legacy.
Doddsprivatelabel, who was claimed for $7,500 at Churchill Downs in November 2014, has been competing on the Mid-Atlantic circuit in preparation for Saturday’s career highlight.
Total handle on the 17th edition of the Claiming Crown, contested for the fourth year Saturday at Gulfstream Park, was $10.118 million, up 0.57 percent from 2014 despite rainy conditions, a sloppy track, and four races being taken off the turf.
Gulfstream’s Opening Day program had 11 races compared to 10 in 2014.
“We’re extremely pleased with the success of Saturday’s Claiming Crown,” said P.J. Campo, General Manager of Gulfstream Park and Vice President of Racing for The Stronach Group. “We had big fields and tremendous participation from horsemen throughout North America. We’re confident the numbers would have been even more impressive with a fast track and firm turf course.