12/01/2016 2:00PM

Royal Posse will be hard to stop in defense of Claiming Crown Jewel

Email
Barbara D. Livingston
Royal Posse comes into the Claiming Crown Jewel with a three-race win streak.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – If there is one standout Saturday in the nine Claiming Crown races that usher in the 2016-17 Championship Meeting at Gulfstream Park, it figures to be Royal Posse, who returns to defend his title in the $200,000 Jewel.

The Claiming Crown has been the centerpiece on opening day of the meet since being moved to Gulfstream Park five years ago. The Claiming Crown provides a showcase for the sport’s blue-collar horses, who help make the industry go on a daily basis throughout the country. The Jewel, which lured nine starters, is the main event on a card that offers big fields in dirt and turf races at distances ranging from five furlongs to 1 1/8 miles.

The New York-bred Royal Posse was claimed by trainer Rudy Rodriguez for a mere $20,000 in May 2015 and since that time has registered seven victories – six in stakes races – and six seconds in 13 starts.

He owns a three-race winning streak that includes easy victories against New York-breds in the Evan Shipman and Empire Classic Handicap, with both of those races, like the Jewel, decided at nine furlongs. Royal Posse defeated 13 rivals over a sloppy track when he rallied to 2 1/2-length triumph as the favorite in the 2015 Jewel.

“He’s been very, very consistent,” said Rodriguez. “I’m blessed having him around. He’s been one of the best horses in the barn for a long time, and we’re just happy to be in the position to be back to Gulfstream.”

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

John Jones hasn’t had the long-term success of Royal Posse, but he’s certainly been quite a claim since trainer Lacey Gaudet haltered him for $25,000 at Laurel on July 17. The versatile John Jones has won all four starts since joining Gaudet’s stable. The first came in a restricted stakes on grass and the last three on the Laurel main track at distances ranging from a mile to 1 1/8 miles, with the smallest margin of victory two lengths. He earned an automatic berth in the Jewel with his 4 3/4-length tally in the Jewel Preview four weeks ago at Laurel in his first start at 1 1/8 miles.

“He did a lot of things going a mile and one-eighth in his last start, including rating great during the early stages of the race,” said Gaudet. “There seems to be some other speed in this field, and in a perfect world, I’d love for him to be able to sit behind the leaders and make a run from just off the pace.”

Bigger Picture is undoubtedly the biggest question mark in the Jewel. He runs on dirt for just the third time, with all eight of his victories having come on grass (7) or synthetic (1). Bigger Picture is trained by Mike Maker, whose 14 Claiming Crown wins are the most by any trainer in the history of the event. Bigger Picture exits the most important and impressive performance of his career, a come-from-behind 1 1/4-length decision in the Grade 3 Red Smith Handicap last month at Aqueduct.

Diamond Bachelor also returns to dirt after two wire-to-wire stakes wins over the Gulfstream turf course during the final month of the summer-fall meet.

We’re All Set rarely runs a poor race, having crossed the wire first or second in all seven of his starts this year. He is a bit of a question mark while stretching out to nine furlongs for the first time.

KEY CONTENDERS

Royal Posse, by Posse

Last 3 Beyers: 100-97-101

◗ Javier Castellano was aboard for his victory last year in the Jewel, and Irad Ortiz has been his regular rider this season, but it will be Luis Saez who will have the mount for the first time on Saturday.

◗ He would become racing’s newest millionaire with a victory in the Jewel, entering the race with $901,245 in career earnings.

John Jones, by Smarty Jones

Last 3 Beyers: 91-96-98

◗ Luis Garcia has been aboard for all four wins during his streak, and he’ll come down to retain the mount.