12/03/2016 7:02PM

Royal Posse repeats in Claiming Crown Jewel

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Leslie Martin/Coglianese Photos
Royal Posse, the heavy favorite under Luis Saez, defeats 38-1 outsider Diamond Bachelor by a half-length in the Claiming Crown Jewel.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -  Royal Posse gave his myriad of backers some anxious moments as the 3-5 favorite in Saturday’s $200,000 Claiming Crown Jewel before ultimately grinding out a well-deserved but hard-earned half-length victory over the 38-1 Diamond Bachelor in the main event on opening day of the 2016-17 Gulfstream Park championship meet.

The Jewel was the richest of the nine Claiming Crown races decided on Saturday’s card. 

With Luis Saez aboard, Royal Posse raced mid-pack off the early pace set by Homespun Hero and pressed from the outset by Diamond Bachelor in the nine-furlong Jewel. Royal Posse appeared to be struggling some as the field left the backstretch, swung five wide while commencing his bid into the stretch before finishing determinedly down the center of the track to run down Diamond Bachelor in late stretch to win the Jewel for the second year in a row.                                                                       

The victory was the fourth in succession, all stakes, and fifth in nine starts on the year for Royal Posse, a former $20,000 claimer who is trained by Rudy Rodriguez for the partnership of Michael Dubb, Gary Aisquith, and Bethlehem Stables. The $110,000 first-place prize pushed Royal Posse’s career earnings beyond the $1 million mark.

Diamond Bachelor, who has never won a race on dirt, opened a clear lead in early stretch before succumbing to the odds-on favorite in the shadow of the wire. John Jones raced within easy striking distance of the early leaders but could not muster the necessary closing response, finishing another 1 1/2 lengths farther back in third.

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Royal Posse, a New York bred son of Posse, completed the distance over a fast track in 1:49.84 and paid $3.40.

“He is just a very, very game horse,” said Rodriguez. “I know the stretch is not as long as Saratoga and Belmont but he did it, so we’re very happy and very proud of him. He’s a once in a lifetime horse. We got lucky to get him at the right time. He’s like an ATM, he just keeps giving back to you. He’s a dream horse.”

Rodriguez said he didn’t have much doubt that Royal Posse would eventually catch the leaders, despite appearing to be treading water a bit midway through the race.

“I know when he gets outside, he’s a runner,” said Rodriguez. “I was a little concerned down the backside when he was inside, but once he got to the outside, I knew he was good.”