Claiming Crown to have a whiff of crabcake in the air
John Jones on Claiming Crown Preview Day. Photo by The Racing Biz.
by Frank Vespe
It’ll still be Gulfstream Park, but there may be a whiff of crabcake In the air.
Saturday’s Claiming Crown figures to have a Maryland flavor to it, as five runners based at Laurel Park are making the trek to south Florida for some fun, sun, and a shot at a big payday.
Four of them – Marabea, John Jones, Music Critik, and It Behooves Me – all won at Laurel on Claiming Crown Preview day, November 6. A fifth, 11-year-old No Brakes, finished third, behind John Jones.
“It’s extremely exciting, especially to come down with not one or two, but three,” said trainer Lacey Gaudet, who will saddle Marabea, John Jones, and Music Critik. That’s a sentiment echoed by Kieron Magee, trainer of It Behooves Me, and No Brakes’s conditioner Wayne Potts.
It’s made perhaps even more special because, though all have enjoyed years with, in some ways, for them unprecedented success, none has much experience as the trainer of record on the bigger stage. John Jones has Gaudet’s only stakes win to date, in the restricted Mr. Diz in August, and her three wins on Claiming Crown Preview day constituted her first-ever three-win day.
Likewise, Magee has a single stakes win to his name, earned when Nicaradalic Rocks won the Maryland Million Sprint. For Potts, In Arrears, in the Maryland Million Nursery, was his first stakes starter.
John Jones, a winner of four straight since Gaudet and owner Matthew Schera claimed him for $25,000 in July, is perhaps the most accomplished of the quintet. The Maryland-bred Smarty Jones gelding has won seven of 18 career starts and earned over $260,000 in his career. He won his Preview race by nearly five lengths.
The $200,000 Claiming Crown Jewel, at 1 1/8 miles, is no easy spot. The field includes four other stakes winners, among them Royal Posse, who’s earned over $900,000, and Bigger Picture, a Grade 3 winner on the turf. But Gaudet is optimistic and will leg up regular pilot Luis Garcia to ride.
“I couldn’t ask for anything to go better,” she said Wednesday from Gulfstream, where she’d galloped all three of her charges in the morning. “The [typically speed-favoring] track will help him. But it’s the toughest race he’s had to face yet.”
Her other pair both are owned by Kip and Suzanne Knelman’s Farfellow Farm. Music Critik is a six-year-old, homebred Aptitude gelding, while Marabea arrived via the claimbox – following an eight-way shake – in September.
Claiming Crown Preview day was Marabea’s first start for her new connections, and she delivered a one-length score, closing from sixth. That win – which came only because other spots they’d targeted did not fill or came off the grass – punched her ticket to the $125,000 Tiara at 1 1/16 miles on the grass. Stakes winners Temple Fur and Seeking Treasure are among the runners who figure to receive a lot of bettors’ attention, but Marabea presents competitive credentials, including a couple of allowance wins and a Group 3 placing in Italy in 2014.
“I really like Marabea,” Gaudet said. “She’s training well.”
Music Critik was the biggest surprise of Gaudet’s trio, going off an 9-1 on Preview day, and he’ll try to reprise that effort in Saturday’s $125,000 Emerald, also at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.
“When he snuck up the rail, I couldn’t even believe that we had won three races that day,” Gaudet recalled.
The six-year-old, making his 26th start overall, but just hisfourth on turf, recorded the highest Beyer speed figure of his career, earning an 89 in the victory. Gaudet said that the rationale behind putting the Unbridled’s Song gelding on the lawn was simple.
“He was a dirt horse getting older in age,” she said. So they tried him on the grass in September, and though he finished fourth, Gaudet said, “I loved the way he went over it.”
Saturday he’ll be tested for class against a rough group that includes Cammack, who saw a six-race win streak snapped last out when fourth in a stakes-quality allowance at Keeneland, and stake winner Keystoneforvictory, among others.
Early in the card, Magee will send out It Behooves Me for T D C B E Stable – the “T” standing for the first initial of owner Tom Freed’s first name, and the subsequent letters standing in for his wife and kids, Magee said. It’ll be the runner’s second start for the group.
“I think the horse is doing great,” Magee said. “He’s ready to go.”
It Behooves Me, a Bluegrass Cat gelding, was a $16,000 claim for the Freeds on September 25, who then sent him to Magee’s Pimlico base. They had earlier done the same with Nicaradalic Rocks, prior to that runner’s Maryland Million victory.
It Behooves Me “comes to me, we have him for about four days, and I said to [Freed], ‘I hate to say this, but I like him better than Rocks,’” Magee recalled.
The horse’s impressive win on Preview day – rider Julian Pimentel told Magee that he “showed him the stick once, and he did it all on his own” – earned him a berth in the $110,000 Rapid Transit at seven furlongs. That wide-open affair includes Tenango, runner-up in the 2014 Grade 3 General George, and Fire Mission, third behind It Behooves Me on Preview day.
The lone Maryland-based runner who enters the Crown off a defeat is No Brakes, but he’s done plenty of winning in his career to earn a shot, in the aptly named, $110,000 Iron Horse.
“If any horse deserves a chance to run in a race like this, he does,” trainer Wayne Potts said of his charge, a 22-time winner who has earned over $435,000 in his career.
No Brakes, the deepest of deep closers, may be up against it on a Gulfstream strip known for holding speed. He’ll have to hope runners like Chepstow, Legacy Danseur, Chiseled, and Racetrack Romance can generate a lively pace to run at.
Jockey Xavier Perez, who has ridden No Brakes dozens of times in his career, has the mount. Of late, Jevian Toledo had supplanted Perez aboard No Brakes, but Toledo opted to remain in Maryland rather than accompany the old-timer to south Florida.
“I wanted a familiar rider who knows him,” Potts said of Perez, and No Brakes. “X-man galloped him today, will work him for the next few days, and ride him Saturday. I know he has confidence in the horse.”
Potts doesn’t know if No Brakes will win Saturday, but he is sure of one thing.
“I expect him to give 150 percent, like he always does,” the trainer said. “If he wins, I’ll be ecstatic. I may retire him after that if he wins this race.”
Meanwhile, Gaudet had other concerns: her sister Gabby’s selections. Maryland racing analyst Gabby Gaudet is serving in that same role at Gulfstream Park for the championship meet. She’ll be picking the ponies on Saturday.
“I hope that she doesn’t pick us to win,” Lacey Gaudet said with a laugh. “We seem to do best she picks us second or third.”
MARYLAND-BASED CLAIMING CROWN RUNNERS
- It Behooves Me — trainer Kieron Magee, jockey Antonio Gallardo, entered in race 4, Claiming Crown Rapid Transit Stakes (7 furlongs), post time 1:30
- No Brakes — trainer Wayne Potts, jockey Xavier Perez, entered in race 7, Claiming Crown Iron Horse Stakes (1 1/16 miles), post time 3:01
- Marabea — trainer Lacey Gaudet, jockey Jose Lezcano, entered in race 9, Claiming Crown Tiara Stakes (1 1/16 miles turf), post time 4:03
- John Jones — trainer Lacey Gaudet, jockey Luis Garcia, entered in race 10, Claiming Crown Jewel Stakes (1 1/8 miles), post time 4:34
- Music Critik — trainer Lacey Gaudet, jockey Antonio Gallardo, entered in race 11, Claiming Crown Emerald Stakes (1 1/16 miles turf), post time 5:05