By Jim Freer
Gulfstream Park will open its 2015-2016 championship meet on Saturday, with the extra attraction of thoroughbred racing’s annual Claiming Crown and the downside prospect of soggy conditions.
The 11-race card will have nine Claiming Crown stakes races. Total purses will be $1.1 million in the Claiming Crown, which is being held at Gulfstream in Hallandale Beach for the fourth consecutive year.
First post will be at 12:05 p.m. The Claiming Crown races, known as thoroughbred racing’s “blue collar” championships, will be races three through eleven starting at 1:05 p.m. with the Tiara at 1 1/16 miles on turf for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up.
The nine Claiming Crown races are open only to horses that at least once since Jan. 1, 2014 have run in a claiming race at or below a specific claiming price. That varies by race, from $7,000 to $35,000. Horses cannot be claimed in a Claiming Crown race.
The Claiming Crown features horses that ran in claiming races as recently as early this year, but have since improved and are running in stakes races.
One example of that is Royal Posse, the likely favorite in the $200,000 Jewel. It is 1 1/8 miles on dirt and is the 11th race with scheduled post of 5:05 p.m.
Many other horses in Claiming Crown races are still running in claiming and optional claiming races. Their owners and trainers are giving them shot in stakes with six-figure purses.
A preview of the Jewel and the other Claiming Crown races can be found in this GUlfstream Park news release.
The Claiming Crown has the makings of a festive Saturday. The only damper, literally, is the heavy rain that fell in South Florida on Thursday and Friday.
Rain fell on and off this morning in Hallandale Beach and elsewhere in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area. The forecast has at least a 50 percent chance of rain from late morning through early evening today.
Four of the Claiming Crown races are scheduled for the turf. On Saturday morning, Gulfstream officials will face a difficult decision on whether to keep any races on that surface.
We will monitor the situation and when we learn if races are on the turf we will report that news on our blog where we also will have reports during the afternoon.
It is probable that the dirt track will be listed as sloppy, and if races are on the turf that surface will be listed as yielding or perhaps good.
One advantage for Gulfstream is that it put new grass on its turf course and refurbished it in October and November. During those two months, racing was at neighboring Calder, for the Gulfstream Park West meet that Gulfstream held under a lease agreement.
Gulfstream’s turf course is wide–at 180 feet on the first turn. Track announcer Larry Collmus once described it as looking like three football fields.
Gulfstream has lanes on the course, enabling it to in effect have two turf courses.
At a Wednesday meeting with media, Gulfstream vice president and general manager P.J. Campo said track officials were making plans for Saturday with weather in mind.
He said that would include having turf races on higher ground away from the permanent rail. For Saturday, the portable rail will be at either 36 feet or 108 feet.
In any case, the surface conditions will add to the challenge of handicapping races with large fields of horses that have been shipped in from all around the United States and from Woodbine in Etobicoke, Ont.
The nine Claiming Crown races have 121 entrants, including also eligibles. Those horses had their last races at 19 different tracks.
But the fields have some familiarity for fans who follow South Florida racing.
For 44 horses, the last race was at Calder during the GP West meet. Ten horses had their last race at Gulfstream during that track’s summer meet.
The Claiming Crown has been run annually since 1999. It was held at tracks in Minnesota, Louisiana and Pennsylvania before moving to Gulfstream in 2012.
Gulfstream would like to become the permanent site of the Claiming Crown, Campo said on Wednesday.
The event adds excitement for Gulfstream’s opening day and trainers and owners like the time of year and location, he said.
Last year the Claiming Crown day, also the opening day for Gulfstream’s championship meet, had all-sources handle of $10,060,845 for ten races including the eight Claiming Crown races on a clear day. That was the biggest handle day in Claiming Crown history.
The Claiming Crown is sponsored by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and by the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.
Since the move in 2012, Gulfstream has raised Claiming Crown purses. The attraction of Gulfstream’s name has helped bring in more simulcast and advance deposit wagering bettors.
Schedule of Races
Here is the Claiming Crown schedule. All nine races are for 3-year-olds and up. The Jewel has a $200,000 purse. The Emerald and Tiara have $125,000 purses.
The other Claiming Crown races have $110,000 purses.
*Third (1:05 p.m.) — Tiara, 1 1/16 miles, turf, fillies and mares
* Fourth (1:35 p.m.) — Iron Horse, 1 1/16 miles, dirt, males
* Fifth (2:05 p.m.) — Distaff Dash, 5 furlongs, turf, fillies and mares
* Sixth (2:35 p.m.) — Rapid Transit, 7 furlongs dirt, males
* Seventh (3:05 p.m.) — Glass Slipper, 1 mile dirt, fillies and mares
* Eighth (3:35 p.m.) — Canterbury, 5 furlongs turf. males
* Ninth (4:05 p.m.) — Express, six furlongs, dirt males
* Tenth (4:35 p.m.) — Emerald, 1 1/16 miles turf, males
* Eleventh (5:05 p.m.) Jewel, 1 1/8 miles dirt, males
— Photo on home page by Barry Unterbrink