Photo: Leslie Martin
Aztec Sense was relentless in victory in Saturday’s $200,000 Jewel at Gulfstream Park, providing trainer Jorge Navarro with his third success in the nine-stakes $1 million Claiming Crown on opening day of the 2018-2019 Championship Meet.
Navarro also notched long-shot victories with Salsa’s Return ($35.60) in the $110,000 Iron Horse and in the Misschief Maas ($30.20) in the $110,000 Glass Slipper.
“Amazing day. I told my wife today, if we can win three races today it’s a touchdown. When we won the first one I said, ‘You know what? One is good.’ Three? Hey, as long as they come, I’m going to take them,” said Navarro following his ninth career Claiming Crown victory.
Gulfstream’s 11-race Claiming Crown program had a record total handle of $13.612 million, breaking the previous mark of $11.925 million set last year.
Aztec Sense, the 3-2 favorite ridden by Emisael Jaramillo, has won eight straight races since last tasting defeat in a troubled fourth-place finish in the Claiming Crown Rapid Transit on opening day last year.
Jaramillo rated the son of Street Sense in fifth along the backstretch as the Navarro trained Flowers for Lisa, the defending Jewel Champion, showed the way past swift fractions of 23.80 and 47.70 seconds for the first half-mile while pressed by Chris and Dave. Aztec Sense moved up to third leaving the backstretch as Chris and Dave turned up the pressure on Flowers for Lisa before poking his nose in front leaving the turn into the homestretch. Chris and Dave held the lead into the stretch but began tiring in mid-stretch, where Aztec Sense to his outside and Rich Daddy to his inside loomed boldly. Aztec Sense outfinished Rich Daddy to prevail by a neck, while Navarro’s third Jewel starter, Zulu, rallied late to finish third, more than five lengths farther back.
“Our plan coming into the race was to not go to lead as usual, because Jorge had three horses in this race and my horse was a better fit to run from behind,” Jaramillo said. “He was looking a little in the beginning, so I had to control him a bit to avoid trouble during the trip, but my horse responded very well down the stretch.”
Aztec Sense was timed in 1:52.75 for the 1 1/8-mile race for horses that have started for a claiming price of $35,000 or lower.
“Going into the race, I kept asking myself and I told my wife, I was worried. It’s always in the back of your head. I don’t know how trainers win 20 times in a row? The time’s going to come when he’s going to lose a race. That was the only thing worrying me,” Navarro said. “I thought he was done. At the quarter pole, I said, ‘We’re done,’ but Jaramillo told me at the half-mile pole he still had plenty of horse.”
Aztec Sense, who was claimed for $12,500 at Parx in August 2017, has won nine of 10 starts for his new connections, his only loss coming in last year’s Claiming Crown for which he certainly made amends Saturday.