11/29/2012 3:23PM

Gulfstream Park: King David, King Kreesa rematch in Claiming Crown Emerald

King David (left) and King Kreesa finish 1-2 in the Jamaica Handicap.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Can two Kings beat a full house in Saturday’s $125,000 Claiming Crown Emerald Stakes at Gulfstream Park?

The two Kings are King David and King Kreesa, who finished first and second, respectively, in the Grade 1 Jamaica Handicap at Belmont Park on Oct. 6. They’ll be favored in a bulky 14-horse field entered to go 1 1/16 miles on the turf in the Emerald, the most attractive of the seven Claiming Crown races on Saturday’s card.

King David returned quick dividends for the Scarlet Stable and trainer Mike Maker, becoming a Grade 1 winner with his half-length triumph over King Kreesa in the Jamaica just 23 days after being claimed for $35,000 out of a winning effort at Belmont Park. King David has made one start since the Jamaica, finishing a troubled second in the Grade 3 Commonwealth Turf on Nov. 17 at Churchill Downs.

Maker said he only entered King David in the Jamaica because a starter-allowance race he was pointing to failed to fill, although he was not totally surprised the former claimer was able to jump right up and win a Grade 1 race.

“He’s a horse who obviously knows how to win,” Maker said. “It was a short field racing over a softer turf course that day, and horses like him somehow find ways to get it done. He didn’t have the greatest of trips in his last start. He got out late and just ran out of ground.”

King David is one of three horses Maker will run in the Emerald along with Major Marvel and Cantonic. Major Marvel was claimed for $10,000 at Keeneland in April and won a stakes at Mountaineer earlier this summer. Cantonic has captured four of nine starts this season and was third, beaten 1 1/2 lengths, under allowance conditions at Keeneland in his last outing.

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“He was unlucky to lose his last race,” Maker said of Major Marvel, who finished second in a high-priced optional claimer at Churchill on Nov. 4. “We’d freshened him up prior to that start, and while he didn’t win, he was able to get a race under his belt, which should make him tough on Saturday.”

King Kreesa, a New York-bred, won his maiden under a $25,000 claiming tag in April at Aqueduct. A 3-year-old son of King Cugat, King Kreesa finished fourth after racing rankly during the early stages of the Grade 3 Saranac prior to his big effort in the Jamaica. He, too, has had one start since the Jamaica, finishing fourth following an unlucky beginning in an overnight stakes at Aqueduct.

Nikki’s Sandcastle, a familiar face locally, is coming off a series of hard-luck second-place finishes in stakes races for trainer David Kassen. Nikki’s Sandcastle, who won once in five tries here a year ago, was beaten a head at Remington Park in the DeBartolo Memorial Handicap, a neck at Hawthorne in the Robert F. Carey Memorial, and most recently two lengths by Newsdad in Keeneland’s Grade 2 Fayette.

“It’s been kind of frustrating the last few times. I think he could have won a couple of those races, and he just ran into a real nice horse last out at Keeneland,” Kassen said. “It’s funny, but my horse just seems to run a little green sometimes. I don’t know why. I’ve almost threatened to put a pair of blinkers on him, but you hate to make a change because he’s such an honest horse who runs well all the time.”

Kassen said being in post 1 in a 14-horse field may force his hand a little right from the start.

“He’s going to have to come out of there running from the rail, but he has tactical speed and there seems to be a lot of speed in this lineup,” Kassen said. “He’s doing great, I just hope he can get a decent trip in this big field.”

Livingston Street, who has posted three wins and two seconds since being claimed for $25,000 by Peter Walder here last winter, also figures to be a major player in the Emerald along with Exclusive Strike and Screenplay, both of whom are in top form at the present time.