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$1.1 Million Claiming Crown Highlights Saturday’s Championship Meet Opener

Dec 3, 2015
Royal Posse, Mr. Palmer Give Rodriguez 1-2 Punch in $200,000 Jewel
Thoroughbred Racing’s Blue-Collar Horses Featured in Nine Stakes

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – The 2015-2016 Championship Meet at Gulfstream Park will be kicked off Saturday by the $1.1 million Claiming Crown. Hosted for the fourth year in a row by the Hallandale Beach track, the nine-race event attracted full fields with 121 total entries from throughout the East Coast and Midwest Wednesday.
The first-race post time for Saturday’s 11-race Opening Day program, which drew 147 entries overall, is set for 12:05 p.m.
The $200,000 Jewel, the highlight of the special event founded by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association to reward the blue-collar horses that provide the backbone of day-to-day racing programs, drew 14 entries. New York-based trainer Rudy Rodriguez entered a pair of horses in the 1 1/8 event for 3-year-olds and older that have raced for a claiming price of $35,000 or lower since Jan. 1, 2014.
Rodriguez will be represented in the Jewel by Royal Posse, a $20,000 claim who has become a stakes winner, and Mr Palmer, a stakes winner who has improved in two starts since also being claimed for $20,000.
Royal Posse, owned by Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables and Gary Asquith, has proven to be an especially wise claim while winning two of four starts, including the Evan Shipman Stakes for New York-bred horses at Saratoga on Sept. 4. 
“He ended up being a bargain because he ended up doing more than we asked him,” Rodriguez said. “We were just looking to win some races at Saratoga, even for $20,000 or $25,000, but he was training so good in the morning we decided to give him a chance in non-winners-of-2. He raced good in his first two races and then he won the stake. He ran a big, big race in his last race, so he’s been a good claim.”
The 4-year-old gelded son of Posse was claimed at Belmont May 31, meeting with Rodriguez’s approval upon returning to his new barn.
“We were very happy. He’s a good-looking horse and sound. You have to be happy when the horse comes back the next day, walking sound and happy,” said Rodriguez, who ventured from Mexico to the U.S. to pick fruit in Florida before following his brother Jesus, a former jockey, to the racetrack. “He has no physical issues. He’s got good size. I think we got lucky.”
Royal Posse finished a close second in his debut for his new connections nearly two months later at Saratoga, where he came back to win a state-bred optional claiming allowance by nearly three lengths. He subsequently captured the Shipman by a nose and was beaten by less than a length last time out in the $300,000 Empire Classic at Belmont.
Defending Eclipse Award-winning jockey Javier Castellano, who has captured four straight Championship Meet titles, has the return mount on Royal Posse, as well as horses in each of the other eight Claiming Crown races.
Carl Lizza Racing Stables’ Mr. Palmer had earned his stakes credentials in March 2013, when he captured Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park before finishing a troubled fourth behind Verrazano, Normandy and Rodriguez-trained Vyjack in the Wood Memorial (G1) at Aqueduct. The 5-year-old son of Pulpit bounced around a few stables through the claiming box before being claimed by his current connections out of a third-place finish at Saratoga Sept. 7.
Mr. Palmer came right back to win his first start for his new connections by five lengths at Belmont Park a month later. The Kentucky-bred gelding lost a fees-paid trip to the Claiming Crown when he came up short in a second-place finish in a Claiming Crown ‘Win & You’re In’ race at Laurel Nov. 1.
“The last couple races, he’s been improving. We expect him to run another good race, but he has to step up big time, because the race is coming up way tough,” Rodriguez said. 
Midwest Thoroughbred’s Indycott, who edged Mr. Palmer at Laurel, is one of seven winners of the ‘Win & You’re In’ races to be entered for Saturday’s Claiming Crown. The Danny Gargan-trained gelding was claimed for $50,000 out of a victory at Saratoga Aug. 10 before finishing third in the Temperence Hill Invitational at Belmont Sept. 12 and winning his way into the Jewel with his victory at Laurel. The son of A.P. Indy had raced for a claiming price of $15,000 in 2014.
Trainer Michael Maker, who has saddled a record 14 Claiming Crown race winners, will be represented in the Jewel by Lieutenant Seany O. The 4-year-old son of Bluegrass Cat, who was claimed at Saratoga for $32,000 for Three Diamond’s Farm, captured a Belmont Park allowance before finishing a neck and a nose behind Indycott and Mr. Palmer, respectively, at Laurel Nov. 1.
Sumaya U.S. Stable’s African Fighter, who ran once in a claiming race for a $25,000 tag will seek his third-straight victory for trainer Todd Pletcher, who has won an unprecedented 12 straight Championship Meet titles.
Carl Moore’s Freestyler was claimed out of his most recent start specifically with the Jewel in trainer Joe Sharp’s mind.  The 5-year-old gelding was claimed for $62,500 out of a third-place finish in an optional claiming allowance at Belmont Oct. 31. The son of Street Cry, who had raced for a $32,000 claiming tag at Tampa Bay Downs last January, has won 10 of 25 starts and nearly $300,000 in purses.
Brad Cox-trained Mal Guapo, who has won three straight since being claimed for $40,000 at Churchill Downs in May; Jose Garoffalo-trained Rich Daddy, a 6 ½-length optional claiming allowance winner at Gulfstream Park West last time out: and Eddie Colletti Jr.-trained Market Blaster, a Parx invader with two wins in his last three starts; were also entered in the Jewel.
Rizwan, Aces for John, U.S.S. Boxer, Padilla and Second City round out the field.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who have won a record 14 Claiming Crown races, will be represented by five entrants in five races, including St. Borealis, who captured the $125,000 Tiara last year by 1 ¾ lengths.  The 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares that started for a claiming price of $25,000 or lower attracted 12 entries
St. Borealis is one of three 2014 Claiming Crown winners returning for title defenses. Dec. 5. 
Stanley Gold-trained Grande Shores, who captured the $110,000 Rapid Transit by three-quarters of a length last year, is among 11 entered for the seven-furlong sprint for 3-year-old and up that started for a claiming price of $16,000 or lower. The Rapid Transit also attracted Ramon Preciado-trained Trouble Kid, who was disqualified from a victory in the $350,000 De Francis Dash at Laurel Nov. 14.
Jorge Navarro-trained Loverbil, who notched a victory by a neck last year in the $110,000 Express, is among 15 entries (including an also-eligible) for the six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and up that started for a claiming tag of $7,500 or lower.
The $125,000 Emerald, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for 3-year-olds and up that have run for a claiming price no higher than $25,000, attracted a field of 14 and two also-eligibles. The $110,000 Canterbury, a five-furlong turf dash for 3-year-olds and up that have run for a $25,000 claiming tag or lower, also drew a field of 14 and two also-eligibles.  A 13-horse field will contest the $110,000 Glass Slipper, a mile race for fillies and mares that started for a $12,500 claiming price or lower. The newly instituted $110,000 Distaff Dash, a five-sprint for fillies and mares, drew a 13-horse field and a main-track-only entry. The $110,000 Iron Horse, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds and up that started for a claiming price of $7,500 or lower, drew 10 entries.

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