12/03/2014 3:24PM

Full fields set for opening-day Claiming Crown stakes


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Claiming horses may be the focus of attention on opening day, but the popular Claiming Crown is only a prelude to what promises to be another star-studded winter season that begins Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

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

Entries were drawn Wednesday for Saturday’s 10-race card, and as expected, full fields were the rule rather than the exception, a trend that is expected to continue, weather permitting, throughout the 2014-15 championship meet. Eight of the 10 races on opening day are Claiming Crown stakes, valued between $125,000 and $200,000 apiece. The Claiming Crown, a joint venture between the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, provides a showcase for claiming horses stabled around the country. The event has been held annually since 1999, with the last three renewals at Gulfstream Park.

“I think the Claiming Crown is a great thing,” said trainer Peter Walder, who entered three horses in this year’s event, including King’s Over in the $200,000 Jewel. “It’s a claiming guy’s version of the Breeders’ Cup. I had a great time when it was held at Canterbury, but now that it’s run in our own backyard, you really have to support it.”

King’s Over has won 4 of 6 starts this season but has not raced since Sept. 11. Walder also has Palatine Hill for the seven-furlong Rapid Transit and the recently claimed Frontier Warrior for the six-furlong Express.

“I could have probably run both Palatine Hill and King’s Over in the Jewel,” said Walder. “But I think Palatine Hill is better suited to seven furlongs than a mile and one-eighth. We’ve been pointing him to the Claiming Crown all year long. He had a long and very good summer, so I just decided to back off on him a little and get him fresh again. He’s been working great every Saturday, and the time off has really done him a lot of good.”

Walder also is extremely excited about running Frontier Warrior in the Express, in which he’ll go up against the defending champion and likely odds-on favorite Ribo Bobo. Frontier Warrior was not among the original 23 horses nominated to the Express and, therefore, had to be supplemented into the race at the time of entry.

“We just claimed Frontier Warrior last week, put him on the van, and got him right down here for the Claiming Crown,” said Walder. “He’s won five in a row, ran five and one-half furlongs in 1:02 and change last time, and I’m really looking forward to bringing him over there on Saturday.”

The 1 1/8-mile Jewel, the cornerstone of the Claiming Crown program, drew a full field of 14, including King’s Over.

“I’ve had trouble finding a race for him, so I’ll bring him back in the Jewel as long as it doesn’t look like it’s coming up too tough,” said Walder.

Key contenders in the Jewel include the Maryland-based pair of Page McKenney and Cerro, the recently stakes-placed Dawly, the 7-year-old veteran Cease, and Viramundo, who finished third earlier this year in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap.

Trainer Nick Zito, who sent out Nevada Kid to upset the 2013 edition of the Jewel, sends out two horses in defense of his title, Catholic Cowboy and Sinorice.

Ward suspension ends

Trainer Wesley Ward has not started or even worked a horse since beginning a 30-day suspension immediately after the Breeders’ Cup. With the suspension now over, Ward sent out his first workers in a month here Wednesday morning, breezing five horses three furlongs each during the second renovation break.

Trainer Marty Wolfson was even busier Wednesday, sending out several of his stable stars to work over “good” track, including the once-beaten 3-year-old Atreides, who went an easy half-mile in 49.07 seconds. Simmstown, the winner of the 2013 Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap who has been idle since early January, moved closer to his return after going four furlongs in 48.31, while Flores Island, the runner-up in the Musical Romance here in September, covered the same distance in 47.61.