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Claiming Crown races to give blue-collar horses a day in the sun

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
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Bolshoi Ballet (far left, dark blue), shown winning the 2021 Belmont Derby in New York, returns to action on the Lingfield Park all-weather surface Saturday in England. Photo by Dom Napolitano, courtesy of New York Racing Association
Bolshoi Ballet (far left, dark blue), shown winning the 2021 Belmont Derby in New York, returns to action on the Lingfield Park all-weather surface Saturday in England. Photo by Dom Napolitano, courtesy of New York Racing Association

Nov. 11 (UPI) -- Last weekend, some of the world's best horses were on display in the Breeders' Cup at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. This weekend, the blue-collar horses get their time in the sun in the Claiming Crown races 75 miles to the west at Churchill Downs.

We'll also see if the Twin Spires folks have been able to coax grass to grow, as two of Saturday's Claiming Crown events, as well as Sunday's $300,000 Grade III River City Stakes, are slated for the beleaguered Churchill Downs turf course that has been mostly idle since springtime.

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There are races for 2-year-olds all around North America. Del Mar is back in action and Woodbine has graded stakes on the all-weather course.

Internationally, there's the Queen Elizabeth II Cup in Japan and some top-quality horses making good use of the All-Weather Championships in England.

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And, by the way, if the 6-furlong time of 1:07.98 originally posted for Life Is Good and Flightline in the Breeders' Cup Classic looked too good to be true, even for them -- well, it wasn't true. See "News and Notes" for the explanation and a little history.

Let's saddle up and get into the gate.

The Claiming Crown / Churchill Downs

The Claiming Crown series, put together by the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, is designed as a Breeders' Cup for horses that have run this calendar year or last in a claiming race.

It provides a day in the sun for runners who usually are well under the radar, and the purses provide a nice incentive for owners and trainers. The eight this time around drew 95 entries, including seven also-eligibles, providing some enticing wagering opportunities.

Twelve Volt Man will defend his title against a field of 10 colts and geldings in the $175,000 Claiming Crown Jewel. Beverly Park, a 5-year-old Munnings gelding, is entered to make his 26th start of the year in the $100,000 Claiming Crown Express. He's 12-5-3 from the first 25 outings for trainer Norm Cash.

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Two of Saturday's Claiming Crown events also are on the turf -- another test for the Churchill Downs course that has been used for only two races, the Arlington Million and Beverly D., since it was shut down before the end of the spring meeting because new turf didn't grow satisfactorily.

The series started in 1999 at Canterbury Park and also has been staged at Philadelphia Park, Ellis Park, Fair Grounds and Gulfstream Park, where it spent the past 10 years. This is its first visit to Louisville.

Also on the Churchill Downs weekend schedule, the aforementioned River City Stakes at 1 1/8 miles has a field of 12 plus also-eligibles.

Recognizable names include Pixelate, Set Piece and Beatbox. The latter returns to the dirt after three springtime starts at Turfway Park and a seven-months vacation. Sunday's program also has a pair of $160,000, 6-furlong sprints on the main track.

The 2-year-olds

Saturday's $100,000 Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs, Saturday's $50,000 Golden Nugget at Golden Gate Fields and Saturday's $100,000 James F. Lewis Stakes at Laurel Park are all open affairs. Friday's $75,000 Don C. McNeill Stakes at Remington Park is for Oklahoma-bred juveniles.

Two-year-old fillies are on display in Friday's $100,000 My Trusty Cat Stakes at Delta Downs and Saturday's $100,000 Smart Halo at Laurel. State-bred juvenile fillies go in Friday's $75,000 Slide Show at Remington Park and Saturday's $75,000 Showtime Deb at Hawthorne Race Course.

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Woodbine

Saturday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Bessarabian Stakes at 7 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track drew nine fillies and mares. The $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Maple Leaf Stakes at 1 1/4 miles on the all-weather has a well-matched field of 11.

Around the world, around the clock

Japan

If Sunday's Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Hanshin Racecourse were notable for nothing else, it would be a welcome sign that Japanese racing is reopening to international competition as the pandemic wanes.

Juddmonte Irish Oaks winner Magical Lagoon, a Galileo filly, is set to take her place in a field that also includes the second- and third-place finishers from this year's Grade 1 Shuka Sho or Japanese Oaks, Stunning Rose and Namur.

Those two have progressed nicely since the Oaks run and finished 1-2 last time out in the Grade 1 Shuka Sho over the same Hanshin course.

The field also includes 2020 fillies Triple Crown winner Daring Tact, who will be remembered forever as the third-place finisher in that year's Japan Cup behind Almond Eye and Contrail. She, however, has not quite lived up to the promise of that glorious season.

England

The All-Weather Championships have been attracting high-quality horses for some time now but Saturdays Fast-Track Qualifiers at Lingfield Park stand out.

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The Listed BetUK Churchill Stakes entries, pending declarations, include the Aidan O'Brien-trained Bolshoi Ballet, winner of the 2021 Belmont Derby Invitational, who would start for the first time since last year's Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase.

Also entered are Royal Ascot winner Missed the Cut and last year's Churchill runner-up Harrovian from the Gosden yard. The Gosdens also have Forest of Dean, winner of the 2021 Grade 3 Winter Derby.

The companion FTQ, the Listed BetUK Golden Rose Stakes at 6 furlongs, has 15 entries including former All-Weather champion Summerghand, 2019 winner Judicial, still running well at age 10, and two talented Irish visitors in Logo Hunter and Harry's Bar.

News and Notes

Keeneland originally posted a 6-furlongs time of 1:07.98 for the Breeders' Cup Classic -- which seemed impossible even for pacesetting Life Is Good. It turns out it wasn't right, even though the time finally settled upon was daunting enough.

The track announced Tuesday the timing eye for the three-quarters-mile fraction was inadvertently tripped by an outrider making his way to tend to pulled-up Epicenter.

A back-up time of 1:09.62 was produced on race day for that fraction. As per Equibase policy, the fractional time underwent comprehensive video review to verify its accuracy.

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After that review, it was determined that the three-quarter fractional time for the Classic was 1:09.27. No other times were affected, including the final time of 2:00.05.

The fastest Classic on record was the 1:59.02 turned in by Ghostzapper in 2004. He led all the way while posting a 6-furlong time of 1:11.32 at Lone Star Park.

Speaking of Flightline, Lane's End announced his 2023 stud fee is $200,000. By contrast, Darley announced Dubawi's fee will climb from 250,000 pounds sterling to 350,000. That's on the back of Dubawi's progeny performance this season -- far outstripping the reigning champ, Frankel.

And ... tickets are on sale already for the March 25 Dubai World Cup. General Admission is AED20, or about $5, but ritzier options are available, up to the Royal Enclosure at AED10,000. If you have to do the math ... don't bother.

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