Gulfstream Park’s 2021-22 Championship meeting is off and running and Saturday’s Claiming Crown card is a challenging way to begin the season.
Let’s amend that…Saturday’s Claiming Crown card is an extremely challenging way to begin the season.
Besides paying homage (and rich purses) to horses that often race with luggage pre-packed like one-on-one Bachelor date hopefuls possibly headed elsewhere, Claiming Crown also delivers the ultimate handicapping challenge to horseplayers of all ages.
Entrants from around the nation, once again, descend on Gulfstream for Saturday’s tests and they bring along an assortment of trainers, jockeys, class levels, surface experiences and more. Go ahead and attempt to figure out how they’re likely to run; it’ll give you a headache. So, why even bother? That’s easy. Because, if you happen to put the right numbers in the correct places, you’re going to win a basketful of bread.
Add to your bounty this Saturday and each subsequent Saturday and Sunday through December 26 by registering free for the Gulfstream $2,000 Late Pick 4 Split promotion. It’s your chance to submit a winning Late Pick 4 and to collect a share of $2,000 in bonus bread. If you’re going to play the wager anyway, it’s a free swing at some extra bread. When you hit the wager, think of the bonus as a congratulatory kiss.
Sometimes, short-priced favorites dominate Claiming Crown proceedings, temporarily giving way to a bomb or two along the way. This humble horseplayer doesn’t see the same happening this Claiming Crown edition. Many of these races, especially those in the Late Pick 4, 5 and 6 are scrambles where no fewer than five, six or even seven different runners can be supported.
Roll up the sleeves, dig in and enjoy the beginning of the Gulfstream season. By the time we’re finished in South Florida, chances are that we’ll have identified several Kentucky Derby contenders, turf, dirt and synthetic older stars and, if you’re fortunate enough to make it on-track a few times, a suntan.
Claiming Crown Canterbury Tom Metzen Memorial Stakes $90k
Three Year Olds & Upward
$25k Starter or Less
Five Furlongs (Turf)
#1 Tropicat has been gone since September off a pace-pressing fourth at this level. This gelding seems best a bit below this level and is just 2 for 10 at the distance.
#2 Bad Beat Brian has been second in his last two races and has won 3 of 6 over the GP layout. The 4-year-old comes from off the pace and this five-furlong distance seems a bit short for his best. Still, he’s in good form, has a capable rider and trainer.
#3 Harry’s Ontheloose won at this level, distance and course two back. That was over a ‘good’ lawn. That was his second consecutive win. Last out he was third over the synthetic, a good effort. He’s in form at age 5 and figures to be close to the early pace.
#4 The Connector changes hands from Mark Hoffman to Darlene Rodriguez and shifts from the northeast to Florida. The 4-year-old gelding will need to improve.
#5 Henry’s World is a forward-moving type who needs to move again a bit to win. He’s a 4-year-old gelding with outstanding credentials, speed and a powerful jockey-trainer combo. Trainer Zerpa and jockey Zayas win at 22%. Gelding boasts 3 for 12 at GP and 5 for 16 at distance.
#6 Mystery Messenger needs a bit more to compete in here. The 5-year-old gelding ships in from extended appearances in SoCal and the Big Apple. Popular at the claim box 3 of last 4 starts, this one will need a hot pace to get home at five furlongs.
#7 Belgrano is a 7-year-old with some meat on his bones. He’s won his last 3 starts and has posted fast Thoro-Graph speed figures. One hurdle for him is the GP lawn where he’s only 2 for 16. He’s 4 for 7 at the distance. He invades from Laurel and Monmouth where he posted most recent successes. Still, that weak GP turf record is difficult to take at a short price.
#8 Forest Survivor has speed and is effective at the distance with 2 out of 3 wins. He’s a new face arriving from Woodbine where he won a restricted $80k five-furlong turf race. His new local trainer is 0-10 but hasn’t had him very long. He’s not fast enough on Thoro-Graph figs.
#9 Xy Speed won 2 of his last 3 and 4 of his last 5. He’s 2 for 2 at GP and 7 for 9 at the distance. His most recent triumph came in the $100k Laurel Dash at five and one-half furlongs on grass. He’s probably been aimed for this race and trainer Bennett and jockey Lopez are 20% together.
The 5-year-old gelding has won on and from just off the early pace. 5-1 seems a generous number.
#10 Discreet Tune is not fast enough according to Thoro-Graph speed figs. He’s a 4-year-old colt with some speed, solid connections, a 3-10 mark at GP and a 3-10 record at the distance. Conflicting info at a 15-1 price. You make the call.
#11 Admiral Abe has speed but is 0-6 on turf. That’s notable because he’s 10 for 28 overall. So, what we have is a solid 5-year-old with speed who’s a terror on dirt and not so tough on grass. He’s based a Parx and has faced some tough foes and played fiercely—he was third in the Gr. 3 Turf Monster two back. Still, it’s clear he’s better on dirt than turf.
#12 Dr. Shane seems overmatched in here.
Top Pick: #9
Threats: #3, #5, #7
#13 Gran Malbec needs to draw into the race and do better.
Claiming Crown Rapid Transit Stakes $85k
Three Year Olds & Upward
$16k Starter or Less
#1 I’m a G Six was more than 3 lengths behind #11 Legal Deal last out going this distance. This 5-year-old gelding moves to the rail for the return engagement. Just 1 for 8 at GP and 1 for 7 at the distance, this runner will need to do better than he has recently.
#2 Fortunate Friends comes in needing best off some solid sprints last season. Pass in here.
#3 Financial System has fired some notable shots recently, winning by more than 6 lengths and then losing by a neck going one mile. He’s 2 for 3 at GP and 2 for 2 at the distance. Trainer Joseph and jockey Zayas are a strong 31%. Difficult to ignore this one’s credentials.
#4 Motaabeq is not fast enough to win this.
#5 Pudding is a pretty consistent type—3 for 7 at GP and 4 for 6 at the distance. A :59 3/5 bullet best of 32 at Palm Meadows says ‘ready to fight.’ Trainer Doubles and jockey Reyes are an amazing 30% together.
#6 Star Sign exploded with a strong effort last out at Parx. A repeat of that wins this. Can the 5-year-old move his game south? It’s notable that the recent neck loss strong effort came around two turns going one mile and seventy yards. The 5-year-old gelding is 2 for 2 at the distance. Trainer Mosco and jockey Gonzalez are a strong 30%.
#7 Blessed Journey seems a bit overmatched in here off a lowly rated third last out. He’s 3 for 6 at the distance but needs to pick up his game a bit in here.
#8 Miles Ahead has fired some fast races this year that would make him tough in here. He’s been off since September, so he’s got to fire fresh for trainer Plesa and jockey Lopez. This guy won the Gr. 3 Smile Sprint at Gulfstream and was nowhere in the Gr. 1 Vanderbilt at Saratoga. The 4-year-old gelding finished seventh in this race last year.
#9 Well Defined has a pair of efforts this season that would win this race. The 5-year-old gelding has won 5 of 10 starts this season, is 7 for 18 at GP and is 4 for 9 at the distance. He’s a speedy type looking to go wire to wire. #3 Financial System and #11 Legal Deal figure to add heat to the early mix.
#10 Lookin At Roses comes to the end of a busy year. Like many of these hard-knocking claimers, the 5-year-old gelding can be counted on to give his best. He’s won 4 of 10 starts this season—from seven furlongs to one mile and one-half! Won’t see that very often. He’s not quite as strong at GP—just 1 for 4—and 1 for 3 at the distance, including a win last out in a starter $16 at Laurel. He was a closing third in this race at 47-1 last year.
#11 Legal Deal just won clear going seven furlongs at GP to bring his local mark to 6 for 12 and 1 for 3 at the distance. This 4-year-old gelding has a great outside post for the trainer/jockey combo of David/Gonzalez (17%) and appears to have more improvement in him.
Nod in a Toughie: #11
Next in Line: #3, #5, #9
Claiming Crown Jewel $125k
Three Year Olds & Upward
$35k or Less Starter
One Mile & One-Eighth
#1 Ludington has speed and an inside post. He loves GP with 4 wins in 8 starts. He’s never tried one mile and one-eighth and he’s in familiar company because none of these have won at the distance and only 2 have even tried it. The 5-year-old gelding should have company early and he’ll need to step up his game to get the job done.
#2 Hard Lightning needs to do better to threaten in here.
#3 Girolamo’s Attack has speed and comes in off a pair of big efforts. The 4-year-old gelding has won 4 of 8 at GP and tries this distance for the first time. He returns relatively quickly (2 weeks) for 23% trainer Joseph and jockey Zayas—30% together. This guy will take money and there are reasons to go against him.
#4 Tune In has won 2 of his last 3 and defeated #1 Ludington last out. The 5-year-old gelding has a pair of early ’21 races that would win this. Negative is that he’s part of what seems like could be a contentious early pace. Like others, he loves GP with 5 wins out of 8 tries. This will be the first try at the distance.
#5 Glory of Florida just missed against probable strong favorite #3 Girolamo’s Attack. The 5-year-old horse is pretty steady, and his closing style works in here. He’s never tried the distance. On the downside, he has more seconds (5) than firsts (2) this year, but he’s a good bet to be closing late.
#6 Strike Appeal is an interesting invader from Thistledown where he won 5 of his last 6. The 4-year-old gelding has won 10 of 22 overall but these foes ought to be tougher than what he usually faces. He can be found just off the early pace and that might be an OK place to be. This guy’s a great example of why picking winners out of Claiming Crown races is such a challenge!
#7 Twelve Volt Man won the first 2 starts of his career and then was well-beaten in a stakes race. After a short rest, he came back strong to win an optional claimer that made him eligible for this race. He’s only 3 and really hasn’t been fast enough, but he starts for the Joseph/Gonzalez combo that hits at 25%. Like many in here, he loves GP with 3 wins in 5 starts.
#8 Braccio Di Ferro hasn’t been fast enough to threaten these, but he’s a 3-year-old and moving forward. Expect to see him running late. Can you say ‘Atomic Bomb?’ He’s 30-1 on the line and would need to do much better than he ever has. He’s sharp—won last out by more than three lengths and that kind can be dangerous if the rest of the field falters.
#9 Mo Hawk adds speed to the race and will need to go much faster than he has before.
#10 Hanalei’s Houdini has been claimed in 3 of his last 4 races, most recently by Mike Maker, a veteran Claiming Crown-race winning trainer. This 5-year-old gelding races from off the pace and that’s a good thing. He will need to run one of his better races to threaten and he’s just 1 for 12 this season. He does have 3 runner-up finishes in that mix. The post is no help.
Best and a Bomb in a Mess: #5, #8
Best: #1, #4
Against Favored: #3
Claiming Crown Emerald Stakes $95k
Three Year Olds & Upward
$25k Starter or Less
One Mile & One-Eighth (Turf)
#1 Mid Day Image has speed, the inside post, a 3 for 4 record at GP and a 2 for 2 mark at the distance. Jockey Lopez rides for low-profile connections. Needs very best but not impossible.
#2 The Last Zip is one of 2 runners in here trained by Mike Maker. This 5-year-old has won just 4 of 25 with 7 seconds and 3 thirds. He defeated #4 Clear Vision three back and adds depth to an already challenging race. Next door and stable neighbor #3 Attentive offers a better price and maybe a better chance.
#3 Attentive is the ‘other’ Mike Maker runner in here and he’s a 5-year-old horse who’s been claimed from 4 out of his last 5 starts. Maker, who excels at claiming runners with the specific purpose of running them in Claiming Crown races, claimed this one back last out—a solid third place effort behind Carom at Belmont. Attentive runs from off the pace and there seems to be plenty of early speed signed on in here, including barnmate #2 The Last Zip. Two nice post-claim half-mile moves add intrigue to the mix, as does the 8-1 morning line.
#4 Clear Vision comes off of two strong wire-to-wire wins at Saratoga and Belmont for $25k. The 5-year-old gelding was claimed out of his last and starts for low profile connections in Mathew O’Conner. Doubt he’ll get to ‘walk the dog’ on the lead in here like he did in those last two. He has run well from off the pace before but is 0 for 3 over the GP turf.
#5 Mandate is a juicy 8-1 shot off a pair of big wins—the latter an Artie Schiller stakes win at nearly 45-1! A repeat of that will get the job done. Both recent triumphs came from off the pace and they weren’t phony setups either. Based on recent races, this guy’s a ‘single.’ Those digging deeper will find several losses to common foes in this race. Did Mandate just blossom into a star and can he repeat either of his last two efforts? Or, did he just fire a pair of bombs that will knock him out completely? He’s just 2-12 at the distance and 1 for 3 over GP turf.
#6 Louder Than Bombs is pretty loud. This guy won his last two starts—one on turf and most recent on synthetic. He was best last season when close in some Gulfstream stakes, including the Gr. 3 Canadian Turf. He races from off the pace and that’s a help.
#7 Kitten’s Spa has found dirt to be his best surface so far.
#8 Max K. O. is an honest 5-year-old who lost a close decision to #6 Louder Than Bombs last out over synthetic. A return to turf should help this honest runner who’s 4 for 10 at the distance. Trainer Joseph and jockey Zayas are 30%. The morning line number of 3-1 should go much lower by post time.
#9 Surf and Turf seems overmatched.
#10 Benelux has done his best work at Arlington Park and will need to transfer that form to Gulfstream turf and up his game a bit. He has a nice stalking style and is 2 for 7 at the distance.
#11 Light Fury comes off two synthetic tries and is 5 for 10 on the GP turf. The 4-year-old gelding is 2 for 3 at the distance. He’s got pace and will be asked to use it from this outside post position. He should have company up front. He’d be a more attractive proposition from an inside post but he is improving and 12-1 odds could increase by post time. Exotics thought?
#12 Go Mike is the lone 3-year-old in the field and likes to be ridden from well off the pace. He seems in deep.
#13 Call Curt is a longshot to threaten in here if he draws into the race.
#14 Vow Me Now will add to the early pace in the race if he draws in. He’s won 7 of 12 GP starts and that’s got to be considered. He’s won 1 of 2 at the distance, too. Still, an outside post at GP on turf going one mile and one-sixteenth is a considerable challenge.
Best Last Race at a Big Price: #5
Others to Consider: #3, #8
$.50 Late Pick 4 ($24)
Race 8: #2, #5, #7, #9
Race 9: #11
Race 10: #1, #4, #5, #8
Race 11: #3, #5, #8