Blue-collar race horses share the spotlight with a pair of stakes Wednesday on the fourth of five days of all-grass racing at Kentucky Downs.
The Wednesday card was originally scheduled to take place on Sunday, day 4 of the meet. Rain forced the postponement.
In addition to the $400,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby and $300,000 Fifth Third Insurance Dueling Grounds Oaks, Kentucky Downs’ racing program includes a quartet of $100,000 starter-allowance races created as launching pads to the Dec. 1 Claiming Crown Championships at Gulfstream Park.
The Claiming Crown was created by the National Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association to stage a Breeders’ Cup-style championship. The nine races, offering a total $1.1 million in purses, are for horses that have raced at a designated claiming level in 2017 or 2018.
The four Kentucky Downs races are for horses who have raced for a claiming price of $25,000 or less. The winner will be receive an automatic spot in the corresponding race at the Claiming Crown, as well as a travel stipend of up to $1,000. The Claiming Crown prep starter races are:
Claiming Crown Canterbury Stakes Prep, 6 1/2 furlongs
Claiming Crown Emerald Stakes Prep, mile and 70 yards
Claiming Crown Tiara Stakes Prep, fillies and mares, mile and 70 yards
Claiming Crown Distaff Dash Stakes Prep, fillies and mares, 6 1/2 furlongs
“The establishment of the Claiming Crown was to showcase what many term the blue-collar races and those equine participants that are the backbone of the industry,” said Eric Hamelback, CEO of the National HBPA. “Since its inception in 1999, the progression and importance of the Claiming Crown is now being seen literally coast to coast.
“Mended, our Claiming Crown Horse of the Year for 2017, primarily raced in California. She was a tremendous filly and subsequently a graded-stakes horse. You see races that are qualifiers at Laurel in Maryland, Indiana Grand and now three years in a row with Kentucky Downs. The importance of the Claiming Crown to the racing calendar is getting more and more significant. It is a true tip of the hat to the backbone of this industry and to those who work day to day in the claiming ranks, and really gives them a chance to showcase their talents.”
Last year, Skychai Racing's Special Ops won the Kentucky Downs prep and then won the Claiming Crown Emerald at Gulfstream Park.
“It’s attractive to prospective owners to claim a horse, explain some of the risks but also some of the excitement about the Claiming Crown and getting into that race and covering their expenses to go down there,” said Mike Maker, the all-time winningest Claiming Crown trainer, including Special Ops.
“While we stage only a few claiming races during our 50-race meet, we recognize that American horse racing could not survive without these hard-knocking mainstays that fill out the cards at the majority of racetracks and make it possible to have stakes horses,” said Kentucky Downs president Corey Johnsen. “Kentucky Downs is thrilled to be able to offer big-purse races for these war horses, which give the participants an opportunity to be part of our unique meet. It gives their owners a chance to make some money and hopefully also set them up for a big effort at Gulfstream Park.”