Formful John Jones bids for Claiming Crown berth
John Jones. Photo by The Racing Biz.
From a Maryland Jockey Club release
When John Jones was claimed for $25,000 in mid-July, his new connections thought the 4-year-old gelding could be a useful horse. Three starts and three wins including one shocking stakes victory later, owner Matt Schera and trainer Lacey Gaudet have uncovered a real gem.
Based at Laurel Park, where he has made 13 of his 17 career starts, John Jones will put that win streak on the line in his toughest test yet, Sunday’s $60,000 Claiming Crown Jewel for 3-year-olds and up that have started for a tag of $35,000 or less since Jan. 1, 2015.
The 1 1/8-mile Jewel is the richest of nine starter allowances worth $400,000 in purses that comprise the Claiming Crown Preview Day program at Laurel, where all winners will earn an automatic berth and free shipping to Gulfstream Park for the $1.11 million Claiming Crown Saturday, Dec. 3.
To date, Maryland-bred John Jones has never raced outside his home state but Gaudet hopes the son of Smarty Jones has what it takes to step beyond just being the current Mid-Atlantic sensation. He upset Ben’s Cat at odds of 43-1 in the Mister Diz Stakes Aug. 20, the first start for his new connections, preventing the popular 26-time stakes winner from tying the North American record with a seventh straight victory in the six-furlong turf sprint.
From there, John Jones has reeled off back-to-back optional claiming allowance wins three weeks apart going a mile on the dirt, the latter rained off the turf to a sloppy, sealed main track Oct. 8, banking $113,172 since the claim. The farthest he has run is 1 1/16 miles, on both dirt and turf, most recently May 20 at Pimlico.
“He’s run two turns before. It was for a different stable and he was in different form than he’s in right now, but it’s a stretch to go from a mile to a mile and an eighth and it will be asking a lot of him. We’ll be really confident and feel great if he can do it here and that will definitely solidify us going to Claiming Crown,” Gaudet said. “If for some reason he doesn’t handle the mile and an eighth, then we didn’t take him out of his element and he can stay home from there.
“Hopefully he can stretch out a bit further,” she added. “I think it will move him up significantly if he can go a mile and an eighth and do the classic distance, go two turns. That kind of puts him in a different caliber of horse and takes him away from being just a nice Maryland-bred that likes the mile at Laurel. We’d like to have one of those.”
His recent form has seen John Jones, paired with jockey Luis Garcia, successful running on or near the lead. Though he only faced two rivals in his most recent effort, he was pressed from the start by Furyofthenorsemen before pulling away to win by two lengths. Garcia will be back aboard from Post 5 of six as the 124-pound highweight.
“I think that’s where he’ll be; that’s usually where he seems to take Luis. He said that going the mile he’s had speed but he doesn’t have to be there,” Gaudet said. “I think he’s just a horse that gives you a lot of confidence and he’s very good right now. We’ve gotten to know him to where if he wants to go we’ll let him go. He’s really good at running his race right now. The other day I was more nervous going into a three-horse field than the two races before. He had pressure the entire way around there from a very nice horse and it didn’t push him to go any faster. It never seems to faze him.”
Laurel’s current fall meet co-leading trainer Mary Eppler will challenge John Jones in the Jewel with stakes-placed Golden Glint. The 7-year-old gelding, runner-up in the Native Dancer at Laurel to open 2016 and fifth in the Pimlico Special (G3) May 20, has not raced since finishing second behind Noteworthy Peach in an optional claiming allowance July 30.
Dynamic Strike won the 2013 Miracle Wood at Laurel and back-to-back editions of the Leemat Stakes at Presque Isle Downs in 2015-16. Most recently the 6-year-old gelding was a decisive second to Name Changer in a Laurel optional claiming allowance at 1 1/16 miles Oct. 28.
U.S.S. Boxer is a 4-year-old son of Hall of Famer Curlin that shows two wins from six starts this year after ending 2015 finishing ninth in the Claiming Crown Jewel at Gulfstream. Stakes-placed Monkey’s Medal is seeking his first victory since last November at Laurel, while multiple stakes-winning Illinois-bred Banner Bill ships in from New York to round out the field.
The $40,000 Iron Horse for 3-year-olds and up that have started for a tag of $7,500 or less since Jan. 1, 2015 that closes the Preview Day program will mark the 107th career start for 11-year-old gelding No Brakes, who enters the 1 1/16-mile race in the best form of his long career.
Co-owned by T D C B E Stable and trainer Wayne Potts, the confirmed closer has won two of three starts since mid-July with one second, has won at least one race in eight of nine racing seasons since 2008 including the 2011 Deputed Testamony Starter Handicap, and has finished in the top three 62 times with 22 wins.
“He’s doing very well. I’m going to be coming into the race with a good horse. I don’t know if he’s going to be good enough but he’s doing well and we don’t have to ship out. He can run from his own stall on his home track,” Potts said. “I just want to try to give him something to do. Obviously I’m not going to run him for a claiming price and usually when I ship out of town I don’t get the pace to run at. Honestly, I wish he was going a one-turn mile because I think that’s more his style but I think the mile and a sixteenth won’t bother him.”
Twocubanbrothersu, first or second in 22 of 40 lifetime starts with 16 wins, was second as the favorite in last year’s Claiming Crown Iron Horse at Gulfstream. He has won his last three races including a starter allowance Oct. 13 at Delaware Park, his first start in more than seven months.
No Brakes will carry jockey Jevian Toledo and 120 pounds from Post 6, five spots away from and two pounds fewer than topweight Twocubanbrothersu, who drew the rail with Daniel Centeno.
“He’s a tough horse. I’m not sure if we’re good enough to beat him but we’re going to give it our best shot,” Potts said. “[No Brakes] is doing great. He breezed last Saturday, just went down the lane an easy three-eighths and galloped out very strong. We’re ready to go.”
Kicking off the day’s action is the $40,000 Express at six furlongs for 3-year-olds and up which have started for a claiming price of $7,500 or less since Jan. 1, 2015. Delaware Park-based 8-year-old gelding Lake Creek has won four straight races and six of seven since mid-May to headline the eight-horse field. Dixie Deputy is also a 15-time career winner that owns six wins and five seconds from 12 lifetime starts at Laurel.
Chapel of Chimes, a 12-length winner in the Maryland Million Distaff Starter Handicap Oct. 22 last time out for his third consecutive victory, and Sweet On Smokey, whose multiple stakes wins include the What A Summer Jan. 2 at Laurel, are among the nine entries in the one-mile, $40,000 Glass Slipper for females 3 and up that have started for a claiming price of $12,500 or less since Jan. 1, 2015.
A field of 10 fillies and mares 3 and older that have run for a $25,000 tag or less since Jan. 1, 2015 will line up in the $50,000 Tiara, set for 1 1/16 miles over the Bowl Game Turf Course. Among the group are Seeking Treasure, winner of the one-mile Dahlia Stakes April 16 at Laurel and Seeing’n’believing, who won Oct. 7 at the same level and distance for trainer Hamilton Smith.
Back for its second year is the $40,000 Distaff Dash, a 5 ½-furlong sprint on the Exceller Turf Course for fillies and mares 3 and older that have started for a claiming price of $25,000 or less since Jan. 1, 2015. Dancing Lucy, a 4-year-old Northern Afleet filly, has hit the board in five of six starts this year, three of them wins topped by a $42,000 Laurel allowance Sept. 17. Entered to make her Maryland debut is Sweetrayofsunshine, winner of Aqueduct’s Xtra Heat Stakes April 2 coming off a Belmont Park claiming victory Sept. 22, while Minnesota-bred Shaboom captured a Laurel claimer at the distance Oct. 15 in her 11th start and first away from Canterbury Downs.
The $40,000 Rapid Transit at seven furlongs for 3-year-olds and up that have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less since Jan. 1, 2015 attracted a field of nine sprinters led by five-time Laurel winner Great Smoke and Kowboy King and Negrito, who each own four victories over the local course.
Blue Streak Stable’s Triple Burner, second by 1 ½ lengths to Mosler in the Laurel Dash Sept. 10 three starts back, drew post 10 of 11 in the $40,000 Canterbury for 3-year-olds and up that have run for a $25,000 tag or less since Jan. 1, 2015, set for 5 ½ furlongs on the Bowl Game layout. Triple Burner, nine-for-12 in the money lifetime at Laurel, bounced back from a poor stakes effort in New York with a front-running third-level optional claiming score Oct. 14.
The most popular race of the day with 15 entries including three also-eligibles was the $50,000 Emerald for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles on the Exceller course for horses that have started for a claiming price of $25,000 or less since Jan. 1, 2015. Among the competition are Tru Greek, sixth in last year’s Jewel Preview; Captain’s Affair, third in the 2013 Pilgrim (G3) in his fourth career start exiting a neck loss in an 8 ½-furlong claiming event Oct. 15 at Laurel; and Adalusite, a winner of two of his last three starts for trainer Kelly Rubley.