12/03/2015 1:50PM

Rodriguez uncovers two gems for Claiming Crown Jewel

Tom Keyser
Mr Palmer, one of two horses entered by trainer Rudy Rodriguez, must work out a trip from post 12 in the Claiming Crown Jewel.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Trainer Rudy Rodriguez may not have claimed the New York-bred Royal Posse or stakes winner Mr Palmer with the Claiming Crown specifically in mind. But both figure to be major contenders against a dozen rivals in Saturday’s $200,000 Claiming Crown Jewel, the marquee event on the 11-race opening-day program of the 2015-16 Gulfstream Park Championship Meet.

The Claiming Crown is being held at Gulfstream for the fourth time, and with nine races and $1.1 million in purse money, it is the richest in the history of the event. The Claiming Crown races attracted 121 entries. Four of the races are scheduled to be run on turf, but their status is in jeopardy due to a weather forecast that calls for nearly a 100 percent chance of rain during the 48 hours leading up to opening day. P.J. Campo, director of racing for track operator The Stronach Group and general manager of Gulfstream Park, said every effort will be made to keep those races on the grass.

Royal Posse has posted two wins and two seconds since being haltered by Rodriguez for $20,000 at Belmont Park on May 31. In his last two starts, both against New York-bred stakes company, Royal Posse won the Evan Shipman by a nose at Saratoga on Sept. 4 and lost a three-quarter-length decision to the multiple stakes winner Empire Dreams in the Empire Classic seven weeks later.


“We were just looking to win some races at Saratoga with him, even for $20,000 or $25,000, and he’s ended up to be a real bargain because he’s ended up doing so much more than we asked of him,” said Rodriguez. “He’s got no physical issues. He’s got good size. His last race was very, very good. I think we got lucky.”

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Mr Palmer won the Private Terms at Laurel and ran fourth in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct during the spring of his 3-year-old campaign in 2013. More recently he has become a popular item at the claim box, changing hands five times already this season, the last time when haltered for $20,000 by Rodriguez on closing day at Saratoga. He, too, has returned quick dividends for his new connections, beating $20,000 claimers by six lengths on Oct. 16 before finishing second, beaten a head by Indycott following a near-race-long battle, under $35,000 starter allowance conditions at Laurel on Nov. 1.

Indycott, claimed by trainer Danny Gargan for $50,000 at Saratoga in August, earned an all-expenses paid berth into the Jewel by virtue of his victory last month at Laurel. Lieutenant Seany O, whose trainer, Mike Maker, has won a record 14 Claiming Crown races, was third in that same Nov. 1 race, finishing another neck behind Mr Palmer. And like the majority of Maker’s Claiming Crown starters on Saturday, Lieutenant Seany O was claimed this summer at Saratoga with this race specifically in mind.

Trainer Todd Pletcher, a rare participant in the Claiming Crown, sends out the improving 3-year-old African Fighter, who has won his last two starts, both at a mile, by a combined margin of nearly nine lengths.

Mal Guapo is also on a roll, having won all three starts since being haltered by trainer Brad Cox for $40,000 at Churchill Downs in May. His last two wins came against $25,000 starter opposition during the recently concluded Keeneland meet.

Claiming Crown Jewel, Race 11


Royal Posse (Last 3 Beyers: 93-91-88)

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◗ Has shown marked improvement since moving into Rodriguez’s barn, especially from a Beyer Speed Figure standpoint, and he has finished first or second in five of six starts at 1 1/8 miles.

◗ Barring any scratches, he will have to overcome post 11 .

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 11 Royal Posse and No. 12 Mr Palmer. Trainer Rudy Rodriguez is 24-1-6-1 with a $0.33 ROI over the past five years at Gulfstream Park. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

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Mr Palmer (Last 3 Beyers: 92-89-73)

◗ Like Royal Posse, he will have to overcome a tough post (12) with a short run to the first turn, and he may be up against it on a wet racetrack, having failed to win while hitting the board just once in four starts on anything other than a fast main track.

Indycott (Last 3 Beyers: 92-91-90)

◗ A model of consistency from a Beyer standpoint, and distance should not be any issue for this horse, coming off a series of big races at distances ranging from nine to 13 furlongs.

African Fighter (Last 3 Beyers: 88-82-78)

◗ He has improved dramatically since Pletcher removed the blinkers this summer, and should have plenty of pace to run at considering the make-up of this lineup.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 3 African Fighter. Trainer Todd Pletcher is 21-11-0-2 with a $2.59 ROI over the past five years in dirt routes at Gulfstream Park with last-out winners in the second start following a layoff. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

Padilla (Last 3 Beyers: 80-87-92)

◗ Although all his recent success has been on turf, he has the look of a sleeper coming off a couple of very strong main-track works, notably a six- furlong bullet on Nov. 21 without blinkers. He will race with blinkers off in the Jewel.