KY HBPA Interviews: “Claiming Crown” Coming to Churhcill Downs This Saturday



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From the KY HBPA Media Team / Jennie Rees:

The Claiming Crown was created 24 years ago to serve as a Breeders’ Cup-style event celebrating the blue-collar horses that populate most of America’s racing programs. With the eight-race series coming to Churchill Downs for the first time Saturday, trainer Carl O’Callaghan is hoping the impressive showing by the Irish in last week’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland — where Aidan O’Brien won three races — carries over to 75 miles down the road.
O’Callaghan, who came to America from Ireland when he was 16 and now is based year-round at Penn National, will saddle his first Claiming Crown runner with Moti in the $100,000 Iron Horse Kent Stirling Memorial at 1 1/16 miles. The race is for horses that have run for a claiming price of $8,000 or less in 2021-2022. The 6-year-old gelding is owned by O’Callaghan and his wife, Melanie, and seven of his buddies back in the Emerald Isle. Using the money they’ve made with Moti, O’Callaghan’s lifelong pals from the tiny village of Newmarket-on-Fergus are coming to the United States, most for the first time.
“The race that Moti is going in, the Iron Horse, is really what these claimers are,” said O’Callaghan, who worked for trainers such as John Kimmel, Mike Pino and Todd Pletcher before opening his own stable in 2009. “We’re playing a rich man’s game with nickels and dimes, as one of my clients would say. It’s a fun day out. I’ve been very fortunate. There are seven of us into (ownership of) Moti, seven lads from back home, close friends of mine. They’re all flying into America for the first time and to see Churchill and the Twin Spires.
“I’ve been around the good horses. I used to gallop horses like Scat Daddy for Mr. Pletcher. But the claiming horses are the backbone of the operation. When you turn on the television every day, that’s what’s really running, the claiming horses. A horse like Moti is a hard-knocker. He’s had three wins, two seconds and two thirds for us. He’s coming off a win in 19 days. You wouldn’t be doing that with a horse like Life Is Good or one of them, you know what I mean? But these are the hard-knockers. He’ll work here this (Tuesday) morning. He shipped in on Sunday. I drove him down myself, 12 hours door to door. Stopped a few times and gave him a couple of Guinnesses here and there, and he was happy.”
The Claiming Crown is a joint production of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association (NHBPA), the largest organization representing thoroughbred owners and trainers, and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA). Churchill Downs and the Kentucky HBPA are hosting the 2022 event.
Horses made eligible to run in the Claiming Crown will come from all over the Midwest, East Coast, Mid Atlantic and Florida. The eight races offer total purses of $1.05 million, with Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund supplements ranging from $10,000 to $25,000 available for registered Kentucky-breds. The series culminates in the $175,000 (plus $25,000 KTDF) Claiming Crown Jewel at 1 1/8 miles for horses that have raced for a claiming price of $35,000 or cheaper in 2021-2022.
Entries will be taken Wednesday, with three non-Claiming Crown races on the 11-race card. First post is 1 p.m. ET.
In his first year of training, O’Callaghan was sent eventual $1.5 million-earner Kinsale King, a 4-year-old with terrible feet. He worked through those issues to where Kinsale King won his first four races over synthetic surfaces for O’Callaghan, including graded stakes at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita and Dubai’s $2 million Golden Shaheen in 2010. In his next start, Kinsale King was third in the Group 1 Golden Jubilee at Britain’s Royal Ascot.
“When you’re hanging with those people, it’s a different ballgame, kind of what you had in Kentucky last weekend with the Breeders’ Cup,” O’Callaghan said. “But claimers, they all eat the same as the good horses. The grooms are the same.”
O’Callaghan claimed Moti for $5,000 last June. The gelding races in the name of County Clare Stables, a shout-out to the area where O’Callaghan grew up in Ireland.
“I was in a syndicate last year with a filly back home,” he said. “We were sitting at the pub in April and we said, ‘Look, let’s put a few dollars together, a few Euros.’ Moti showed up in a claiming race, and I took him. There are seven of them, my wife and myself.”
While one partner has seen Moti race in person, “the rest of the lads have only seem him at the pub at 2 o’clock in the morning, with the time difference,” O’Callaghan said. “He’s running for the village back home, Newmarket-on-Fergus. We’re really looking forward to it.
“About three months ago, the Claiming Crown came on my radar. He just started getting really good. I’d mentioned to (his partners) about the Claiming Crown, explaining what this is, that it’s really like a Breeders’ Cup for claiming horses. It’s over 40 or 50 grand that he’s made for them, so they said, ‘Let’s rock and roll.’ Moti paid for the trip, for the hotel, car rental, flight tickets.
“I think it’s important we get these people involved. This is a very small version of (the nationally prominent syndicate) West Point Thoroughbreds. But it works for us. It only takes one horse to take you on a journey. It’s a fairytale, really, to bring these lads from the small village I come from. I bet our village is no bigger than Churchill Downs. There are 16 or 20 pubs, a a church and a school. He’ll be carrying the whole village on his shoulders. They’ll all be watching on the television.”
“I’m super excited. When you come to these things, you want to come with a chance. The competition is going to be stiff, but I know my horse will give 110 percent.”
With O’Callaghan aboard, Moti worked three-eighths of a mile Tuesday morning in 36.60 seconds at Churchill Downs.
“I went to the pole, and he just felt awesome,” O’Callaghan said. “There was a horse in front of me, about four or five lengths, so he kind of zoned in on it. He just carried me over the track, felt really good and hitting on cylinders. But he’s a cool character himself. When he’s retired, we’ll probably keep him in the backyard with the other 10 we have there that we shouldn’t have but we do. It’s a tough business, because you fall in love with them.”
Desormeaux’s Bourbonette Oaks upset winner Candy Raid in Tiara
(Candy Raid winning the Bourbonette Oaks at 52-1 odds under Rafael Bejarano last April 2 at Turfway Park. Coady Photography)
While claiming horses so often fill out the programs for the stakes horses, those making it to the Claiming Crown can be stakes horses themselves.
A prime example is the Keith Desormeaux-trained Bourbonette Oaks winner Candy Raid, who is running in the $150,000 Claiming Crown Tiara for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on turf. Under the race’s starter conditions, the entrants must have raced for a claiming price of $25,000 or less in 2022 or 2021.
Candy Raid became eligible for Saturday’s race at Churchill Downs in her fifth start last year, when she finished fourth at Horseshoe Indianapolis in a $25,000 claiming race for horses that had not won two races. But then she began turning things around.
“She started getting good at the Fair Grounds,” Desormeaux said by phone from Louisiana. “One of the races that convinced me she was going forward was on the grass, so I know she can run on the turf. I just prefer not to. But, with such enviable conditions as are in this race, how can I not run? I know she can perform on the turf, and with those conditions, I just have to run.”
Off a Delta Downs allowance win, Candy Raid finished fourth in the Fair Grounds’ Silverbulletday Stakes. Though no factor in the subsequent Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra, she won Turfway Park’s $250,000 Bourbonette at 52-1 odds to earn a spot in the Kentucky Oaks. Candy Raid came in fifth that day, but only seven lengths behind victorious Secret Oath and five behind runner-up Nest, the favorite to be voted 3-year-old filly champion.
In two starts since, Candy Raid was well-beaten in Churchill’s Grade 3 Regret and the G3 Iowa Oaks.
“She was training phenomenally,” Desormeaux said. “After the Iowa Oaks, I wasn’t smart enough to figure it out but Stewart Elliott said, ‘Keith, you need to ’scope her; she’s stopping too quickly, and I thought I heard some noise.’ Maybe it wasn’t showing up before, but after that race, we ’scoped her and she was displacing (a breathing obstruction). So we did the surgery with the legend over there in Lexington, Dr. Rolf Embertson, and she’s trained great since then. So we’re very excited — and we haven’t rushed — about this and for next year, because she’s a very nice filly.”
Still, Desormeaux has some reservations about Saturday’s race. Candy Raid is a 3-year-old taking on older fillies and mares for the first time. Also, he said: “I don’t know if she’s at her best on the turf. I know she doesn’t dislike it, but I think she’s better on dirt.”
Corey Lanerie will have the mount, with James Graham committed to Conor Murphy-trained 4-year-old Sunny One, a third-level allowance winner at Keeneland in her last start. “That’s going to be the favorite,” Desormeaux predicted.
Candy Raid will be the first Claiming Crown horse for Desormeaux, who owns the daughter of Candy Ride in partnership with Don’t Tell My Wife Stables.
“Any program that can help the regular man, every-day horsemen that are filling those cards, and generating betting handle for the game, anything that can be thrown our way is appreciated,” said Desormeaux, who won the 2016 Preakness with Kentucky Derby runner-up Exaggerator.
Sharp sends out trio in pursuit of first Claiming Crown win
(Photo: Trainer Joe Sharp on Intrepid Heart Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs. Gwen Davis/Davis Innovation)
Joe Sharp will saddle three horses Saturday in pursuit of his first Claiming Crown victory: Intrepid Heart in the $175,000 Jewel at 1 1/8 miles, Spycraft in the $150,000 Tom Metzen Memorial Canterbury at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf and Big Agenda in the $150,000 Emerald at 1 1/16 miles on turf at Churchill Downs.
“It’s the Breeders’ Cup for claiming horses,” said Sharp, the winner of 738 races and more than $32 million in purses in a training career that started in late 2014. “It’s their day. They are hard-knocking horses that grind it out year in and year out. It’s a day to celebrate the horses that show up and suit up and are just ultra-consistent. There’s a lot to be said and respected for those kinds of horses. They might not be at the graded level, but this is their day to celebrate them.”
Jack Wagon Stables’ 6-year-old Intrepid Heart, a son of Tapit and $750,000 2-year-old purchase, was a well-regarded 3-year-old who wound up being claimed five times at ages 4 and 5 before eventually landing in Sharp’s barn early this year at the Fair Grounds. In six races for Sharp, Intrepid Heart has a win in a starter-allowance race and five straight seconds coming into the Claiming Crown. Those runner-up performances include by a head in Churchill Downs’ $200,000 Fort Larned Stakes won by stablemate Twilight Blue.
The Claiming Crown will be staged in Kentucky for only the second time, having been at Ellis Park in 2007. The event has been at Gulfstream Park in Florida for the past 10 years.
“Obviously it makes it a little more appealing being here at our home track at Churchill Downs,” Sharp said Tuesday at Churchill Downs. “Intrepid Heart, he’s been such a cool horse. We acquired him last spring for a new owner. He obviously has the back class. He was on the Derby trail at one point for Todd Pletcher. He’s just a horse that keeps moving forward. He’s running (handicapping) numbers as good at his age as he was a 3-year-old, which is really cool to see – to see a horse re-rally like that.
“He’s got a little bit of seconditis, he’s a touch camera-shy. We’re hoping we can get the trip and turn in the tables in the big one. He’s been an ultra consistent horse, and you wish you had a barn full just like him.”
Tyler Gaffalione, who has won nine Churchill Downs’ riding titles since he began riding regularly in Kentucky three years ago, has the return mount. Gaffalione, the 2015 Eclipse Award-champion apprentice jockey, comes into the Claiming Crown off getting his first and second career Breeders’ Cup victories: the Juvenile Fillies on Wonder Wheel and the Turf Sprint on Caravel.
“He seems to get along with him really well,” Sharp said. “No one is more frustrated with the seconds than Tyler.”
Sharp also picked up Brian Dugan’s Spycraft in the spring, winning an Indiana allowance race right off the bat, followed by a $100,000 stakes in Minnesota. He’s had a pair of sixths in two starts since.
“We tried some deeper water,” Sharp said. “We’re looking forward to getting him back into some starter company here. It’s a race that seems to be coming up a little bit on the tougher side. But he’s a horse that obviously has the back class and is good going 5 1/2 furlongs. I have a lot of confidence in him.”
Big Agenda travels to Churchill Downs from New York and will be made eligible to run with the $1,000 late fee for the $150,000 Emerald.
“We were running out of places on grass to run,” Sharp said. “But he’s a neat horse. He’s a horse we’ve claimed twice, for two different owners, over the course of this year. I looked a little crazy claiming a 7-year-old back this year, but he’s one of those horses I just like. He won last time out. He has some back class. He’ll be a little bit of a price, but if he gets the trip I think he’s going to be super competitive.”
2022-11-09T12:15:19-05:00By |

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