By Christine Oser | Courtesy of The BloodHorse

Leitone wins the Claiming Crown Jewel at Gulfstream Park

Claiming Crown program set record handle Dec. 7 at Gulfstream Park.

Leitone, a multiple group 1 winner in Chile, was the star of the 21st Claiming Crown Dec. 7 at Gulfstream Park, a program that set a record handle of $13.84 million.

The 2018 Claiming Crown held the previous record handle of $13.61 million.

“It’s extremely gratifying to see the Claiming Crown set a new wagering record,” said Dan Metzger, president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. “The Claiming Crown is improving every year, and it’s become a real can’t-miss spot on the calendar for horsemen and fans alike. We appreciate the support of Gulfstream Park, the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, and all the fans and horsemen for their support.”

Saturday’s program featured nine starter stakes for horses who have come out of the claiming ranks. The centerpiece, the $190,000 Claiming Crown Jewel, went to Ara Aprahamian’s Leitone. A 5-year-old son of Dunkirk, Leitone pressed the pace and drove to a 2 1/2-length score in the 1 1/8-mile feature.

Jockey Jose Lezcano was aboard. He also guided the bay to a frontrunning 7 1/4-length score last out Oct. 25 in a 1 1/16-mile claimer at Belmont Park.

“This is the kind of horse that you keep asking, and he’ll keep running. He’s got a long stride and doesn’t stop. He’s a very nice horse,” Lezcano said. “The other horses in the race were sent early on, and I gave him at least a half a mile before asking him to go, and when I did, he went on to win easy. I had so much horse the whole way and still had some left in the tank.”

Leitone won the Dos Mil Guineas (G1) and El Derby (G1) in his home country before making his first stateside start in August 2018. Trainer Jason Servis and M and A Racing Stable claimed him June 16 at Belmont for $12,500. Leitone won that event by 13 3/4 lengths.

Create Again took the lead in the Jewel and opened with fractions of :22.70, :45.93, and 1:10.40 through six furlongs. Leitone was in second, but when the two came into the straight, Create Again tired off the sharp pace he set. Leitone continued with energy and wrapped up the nine furlongs in 1:49.54 on a fast track. He paid $3.80 for a $2 win ticket as the favorite.

Noble Thought and Holiday Bonus rallied to place second and third, respectively. Third Day got up for fourth.

The Jewel gave Leitone earnings of $469,355 and improved his record to 7-5-2 in 20 starts. Leitone was bred by Haras Sumaya out of Queen Zanobia, by The Mighty Tiger. He is a half brother to group 1-placed Fiery Torpedo and hails from the family of dual group 1 winner Normality.

Servis Connections Find Success

Michael Dubb leads Shekky Shebaz to the winner’s circle at Gulfstream Park

Servis’ day was highlighted by Maximum Security winning the Cigar Mile Handicap (G1) at Aqueduct Racetrack, but the trainer also swept three Claiming Crown races. In addition to Leitone winning the Jewel, Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1T) third Shekky Shebaz won the $103,400 Claiming Crown Canterbury, and Muggsamatic won the $121,250 Claiming Crown Emerald.

Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables, and Madaket Stables own Shekky Shebaz, and Dubb and Bethlehem also own Muggsamatic. Jockey Paco Lopez was aboard for both wins.

Shekky Shebaz was a private purchase after winning his turf debut at Saratoga Race Course at the $25,000 claiming level while beating a Servis trainee owned by Dubb and Bethlehem. He then won the Lucky Coin Stakes on the Spa’s grass debuting for new connections. In the Canterbury, the 4-year-old Cape Blanco gelding got the job done by three-quarters of a length, running a quick five furlongs in :54.25 on firm turf.

“I just get a thrill seeing horses like ‘Shekky’, somebody who came from humble beginnings, and watch him develop,” Dubb said.

Muggsamatic closed the card in the Emerald. The 5-year-old Any Given Saturday gelding dropped back to sixth before kicking clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths. He ran 1 1/16 miles on turf in 1:41.02. The Emerald was Muggsamatic’s first start for his current connections. He was picked up for a $25,000 tag in an Aug. 11 allowance optional claimer at Monmouth Park. The Emerald extended his win streak to three.

Lopez also won the $103,400 Claiming Crown Rapid Transit on Imaginary Stables and Glenn Ellis’ Royal Squeeze, trained by Elizabeth Dobles, and the $122,500 Claiming Crown Tiara on Robert Slack’s Lucky Long, trained by Rohan Crichton.

Royal Squeeze wins the Claiming Crown Rapid Transit

“I was fortunate to have some great horses today, who were favored,” Lopez said. “Whether it’s the Claiming Crown or a $5,000 race, it’s no different for me. I always try for a win.”

Royal Squeeze, who won the Big Drama Stakes in May, won the seven-furlong Rapid Transit by 1 3/4 lengths in 1:23.63. Lucky Long rallied to win the Tiara by three-quarters of a length. She completed 1 1/16 miles on turf in 1:40.39.

Ron Paolucci Racing and trainer Peter Welder also teamed for two wins. Liza Star made every step a winning one in the $104,500 Claiming Crown Glass Slipper, running one mile in 1:36.62 under Ricardo Santana Jr. Yes I See later pulled off a 66-1 upset in the $107,800 Claiming Crown Iron Horse, in which he completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.80. Jockey Rajiv Maragh was aboard for the neck victory.

Also on the card, Kacey K Racing Stable and Michael Day’s Brother Chub rallied under Jorge Vargas Jr. to a nose victory in the $104,500 Claiming Crown Express, a race in which the Michael Moore trainee was second a year ago. He ran six furlongs in 1:10.09. Averill Racing, Matties Racing Stable, and ATM Racing’s Thinkin Cowtown, trained by Georgina Baxter, made her second start for current connections in the $104,500 Claiming Crown Distaff Dash. The mare completed the five-furlong turf race in :55.48 with Tyler Gaffalione in the irons.