12/03/2015 3:20PM

Claiming Crown Emerald appears wide open

Lauren King/Coglianese Photos
Golden Rifle, winner of the Eight Miles East in August, is among a half-dozen contenders in the Claiming Crown Emerald.

After months of plotting and preparation, horsemen with turf specialists in the $125,000 Claiming Crown Emerald probably would hate hearing the race has to be moved to the main track because of prevailing course conditions Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

But with rain in the forecast for late this week in south Florida, that’s a distinct possibility. Clearly the Emerald would hold up much better if the 1 1/16-mile race can remain on grass, and if not, it’s difficult to say who might rate an edge.

Assuming it stays on grass, however, the Emerald is a real beauty. Horses convening from a variety of circuits make it a handicapper’s delight, with nothing stronger than lukewarm favorites amid the 14-horse limit.

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Golden Rifle, winner of an ungraded stakes over the Gulf turf in August, is one of many viable options in the Emerald, along with Roman Approval, Ghost Hunter, Uncle Dave, Key to Power, Purely Boy, and Laythatpistoldown. In addition, there are longer shots whose connections aren’t making the trip just for the warmer weather.

“Whoever wins is going to be bona fide,” said Rob O’Connor, who is sending 3-year-old Flashy Chelsey across the peninsula from Tampa Bay Downs.


◗ Like its male counterpart, the Emerald, the quality of the $125,000 Claiming Crown Tiara will be directly tied to whether the race stays on turf.

If so, bravo. The first of the nine straight Claiming Crown events, the Tiara has drawn 12 fillies and mares from a variety of racing jurisdictions, with trainer Mike Maker playing a more prominent role than anyone.

Maker not only has three of the Tiara entries in Jester and Me, St. Borealis, and Rock Me Mama, but two other legitimate contenders – Wild Swava and Seneca Destiny – were claimed from his barn last month.

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Seneca Destiny was claimed for $40,000 by trainer Brad Cox, who has enjoyed a career-best year in 2015 while based primarily in Kentucky. The 4-year-old Texas-bred Seneca Destiny will race with blinkers off and will have Luis Saez aboard from post 11.

Other threats include Be Playful, who adds John Velazquez when she stretches back out from a sprint tightener, and Quiet Kitten, second as the favorite in a Gulfstream West stakes five Saturdays ago.

Claiming Crown Emerald, Race 10


Golden Rifle (Last 3 Beyers: 88-95-89)

◗ Locally based with high-percentage trainer Marty Wolfson, this tractable chestnut will break from an outside post and will be ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, who has developed into a top jockey on the year-round south Florida circuit.

Key to Power (Last 3 Beyers: 94-95-91)

◗ Regally bred 6-year-old really found his stride this year for Brendan Walsh, and would seem to benefit from a rapid pace in here, given his late-running style.

Purely Boy (Last 3 Beyers: 70-86-89)

◗ His Beyers might be a tad light, but you can’t knock the way he has amassed a four-race win streak. He is owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey and trained by Maker, the all-time leaders in Claiming Crown history.

Claiming Crown Tiara, Race 3


Jester and Me (Last 3 Beyers: 82-81-95)

◗ Perhaps the best of the Maker trio, this Freddy Lewis homebred has run a few huge races this year and will be ridden by Julien Leparoux, who ended the Churchill Downs fall meet last weekend on a high note.

Wild Swava (Last 3 Beyers: 81-83-85)

◗ Claimed for $62,500 last out by Scooter Dickey, this gray Indiana-bred has been a win machine, capturing 14 of 27 lifetime starts while often taking advantage of starter conditions.

Quiet Kitten (Last 3 Beyers: 84-93-79)

◗ A five-time winner this year, this 3-year-old was an impressive two-back winner over the Gulf course when earning a lifetime high Beyer. She is trained by Marcus Vitali, who is amid a career-best season.