11/29/2012 4:42PM

Byron King: Claiming Crown bountiful buffet for bettors


After last year’s Claiming Crown was contested at Fair Grounds in New Orleans and only 37 horses ran in five races, critics all but wrote the obituary for the event.

And now here it is, a year later, resurrected – essentially brought back from the dead by the Florida sunshine, richer purses, and from a streamlining of the nomination process.

[CLAIMING CROWN: Get PPs, watch Saturday's Gulfstream card live]

Forget the feel-good nature of the Claiming Crown, a series of restricted stakes races for former claiming horses, these are just flat-out good betting races. The seven Claiming Crown races drew 89 entries, not counting also-eligibles.

Here’s a look at three of my preferred plays among the Claiming Crown races Saturday.

Jewel: Private Tale going long

Private Tale, fourth in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler Stakes on Oct. 27 at Belmont, is the class of the day’s feature, the $200,000 Jewel.

Yet despite his class drop to face easier in the Jewel, a race for horses that raced for a claiming price of $35,000 or less in 2011-12, my suspicion is that many handicappers will try to beat him, reasoning that he doesn’t have the stamina to go the race’s 1 1/8-mile distance.

Don’t buy it. Although by a speed sire in Tale of the Cat, Private Tale draws stamina from a stakes-placed dam, Taint, a half-sister to Santa Anita Handicap winner Mr Purple.

Besides, the ability to go a distance is always relative. I recall asking a trainer once if his horse could go 1 1/16 miles. His answer: against the right opponents.

To put it in those terms, Private Tale has found the right opponents. He isn’t facing true $200,000 horses here, but former claimers. Even if he takes a small step back at 1 1/8 miles, in the end it might not matter.

He also is well drawn in post 2 with a short run to the first turn in route races at Gulfstream, leaving him well situated to work out a favorable stalking trip in a speed-laden field under Javier Castellano.

Rapid Transit: Peb Hughes all prepped

Castellano is on another live mount in Peb Hughes in the Rapid Transit, a seven-furlong sprint that goes as the sixth race.

A one-time $10,000 claimer, this is a horse who freaked June 14 at Calder, winning a first-level allowance by 11 lengths and posting a 99 Beyer Speed Figure.

Sent north to trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., he didn’t reappear until Oct. 15 at Parx Racing, and although beaten there, he lost little in defeat by running second. He simply ran into a top-class horse in Hello Lover, a Parx track specialist.

The race was nothing more than a prep, coming 6 1/2 weeks before the Claiming Crown – the kind of timing Dutrow likes to give his horses before stakes engagements.

And now, Dennis Narlinger, a graded-stakes-winning owner with a 12-for-57 record this year, shows up as the new owner of record for Peb Hughes.

By anteing up to own this one, Narlinger is betting on Peb Hughes, and this horseplayer will be, too.

Just don’t expect him to stick to his 6-1 morning line. Odds around 4-1 seem more likely.

Iron Horse: Follow the Leader a value play

The value play of the day is likely Follow the Leader, who sits at 10-1 odds in the Iron Horse, a 1 1/16-mile race for horses that have raced for $7,500 or less in 2011-12.

A win machine, he has overcome wide trips to win two straight and capitalized at the draw for the Iron Horse by getting the fence.

This leaves him in position to save ground into the first turn and grab a suitable racing position – a key in a 14-horse field where more than a few horses will be compromised by wide trips.

Some of his chief foes weren’t so lucky at the draw, with 6-1 Brother Bird and 5-1 Starship Truffles landing in posts 13 and 14, respectively.

Although Follow the Leader hasn’t faced the quality of opposition of a few others in the lineup, his will to win jumps out of the past performances. He is 9 for 16 on dirt and rarely comes out on the losing end of a photo.

He’s also quite versatile, having won from seven furlongs to 1 1/8 miles this year alone.

He is unraced at Gulfstream and hasn’t worked locally, but that’s less of a drawback than the local record of favored He’s Spectacular, who is unplaced in three starts over the Gulfstream main track.