For Blue-Collar Claimers, Black-Type Thanksgiving Feast

Greeley and BenCoglianese

The Week in Review by T.D. Thornton

The annual Claiming Crown races were two weeks ago. But a surprise black-type feast for blue-collar campaigners took place over Thanksgiving weekend, when horses once claimed for tags as low as $10,000 and $16,000 ran away with three of five stakes at Laurel Park, and an 8-year-old gelding bought last year for $10,000 topped a blanket-finish trifecta of previously claimed sprinters in the GIII Fall Highweight H. at Aqueduct.

The relic known as the Fall Highweight–in which nominees are assigned weights scaled several notches above today's norms–is very much a throwback concept. So it was only fitting that the 109th edition of this six-furlong sprint was won by an old-school, powerhouse grinder under a 130-pound impost.

Greeley and Ben (Greeley's Conquest), who tied for second-winningest horse in North America in 2021 with 11 trips to the winner's circle, scored his seventh win this season Nov. 26. That runs his lifetime record to a hefty 23-7-2 from 39 starts.

This earner of $882,698 has been an overachiever since the outset. Written off at 94-1 odds in his Oct. 15, 2016 debut at Keeneland, Greeley and Ben just missed, running second, beaten a head.

Proving the effort was no fluke, he won start number two, and even though he didn't progress to stakes as a juvenile or sophomore, he kept company at allowance levels against contemporaries who eventually ran in the 2017 GI Kentucky Debry and future editions of the Breeders' Cup.

Although Greeley and Ben was a six-time winner by the start of 2021, there were no takers the first two times the strapping bay showed up for a $10,000 tag at Oaklawn Park. This was likely because of the gelding's precipitous drop out of a $32,000 claiming win at Churchill Downs. Was the downward plunge in class by then-trainer John Ortiz a red flag or a bluff?

Trainer Karl Broberg was willing to gamble $10,000 to find out, and when he dropped a slip on behalf of his own outfit (End Zone Athletics) the third time Greeley and Ben was entered at that level (after previously winning and running second), he had no idea the gelding would blossom into a three-time stakes winner for him, bankrolling roughly 45 times that initial claiming investment in purses at Oaklawn, Prairie Meadows, Remington Park, Delta Downs, Fair Grounds, and Sam Houston.

Broberg's stunning run with Greeley and Ben would last until Apr. 24, 2022, when he dropped the gelding from Grade III sprint company into a $62,500 optional-claimer at Oaklawn. Pounded to 2-5 favoritism, Greeley and Ben won again that afternoon at Oaklawn, but was claimed by trainer Melton Wilson.

After running second and fourth in stakes this past spring and summer at Monmouth and Delaware for trainer Bonnie Lucas, Greeley and Ben was auctioned for $80,000 at July's Fasig-Tipton sale for horses of racing age.

The gelding spent time in the barns of David Jacobson and Jeffrey Englehart through the fall, and while Greeley and Ben had to get used to new surroundings every few weeks, his output remained consistent: Claimed for $40,000 out of a win at Saratoga Sept. 4, he then ran second while not entered for a tag in an optional $55,000 claimer at Laurel Oct. 8.

It is the last four weeks, though, that are emblematic of what Greeley and Ben is all about. On Oct. 29, he finished a very credible fourth–beaten only three-quarters of a length at 20-1 odds–in the GIII Bold Ruler S. at Aqueduct, coming off Lasix (as required in New York stakes races) for the first time in his career after making all previous 36 starts on it.

Twelve days later, on Nov. 10, Greeley and Ben got wheeled back in a $10,000 starter allowance, also at Aqueduct, and won as the crushing 1.5-to-10 fave.

Then on Saturday, firing back in 16 days, the gelding was more or less dismissed by bettors at 7-1 odds in the Fall Highweight. Jockey Manny Franco patiently saved ground at the fence, and when Greeley and Ben cut the corner for home, he was full of run.

The competition counter-punched, though, and Greeley and Ben tenaciously had to reclaim the lead not once, but twice in deep stretch after getting headed. He prevailed by a neck in a furious photo finish with the two favorites right behind him, separated by head bobs. The 98 Beyer Speed Figure for the no-Lasix stakes score represented a career best for the 8-year-old.

Darryl Abramowitz owns Greeley and Ben, and the Fall Highweight was the first graded stakes victory for New Jersey-based conditioner Faith Wilson, who has only been a licensed trainer for 18 months.

Meanwhile, in Maryland…

Friday's 5 3/4-length trouncing of the $75,000 Politely S. for Maryland-breds at Laurel was administered by another on-the-rise claimer once bought for $10,000.

Fille d'Esprit (Great Notion) is now 12-for-23 lifetime, and has won five stakes so far in 2022, including open-company races while winning her division of the MATCH series and the $100,000 Maryland Million Distaff. Since that Aug. 21, 2020, claim, the 6-year-old mare has been trained by John Robb and owned by the partnership of C J I Phoenix Group and No Guts No Glory Farm.

Saturday at Laurel featured three open-company stakes for $100,000, and two them were won by relative bargains at the claim box.

Swayin to and Fro (Straight Talking) captured the Safely Kept S. by 3 1/4 lengths at 6-1 odds for Baxter Racing Stable and trainer Mario Serey, Jr. The win came exactly six months to the date of that outfit claiming the 3-year-old filly for $16,000 out of an 8 1/4-length maiden romp. Including the win on the day she was claimed, Swayin to and Fro is now 6-for-10 on the year, with two stakes victories.

Armando R (Blame) was another runner you could have bought out of a winning effort for $16,000, which is exactly what current owner Ronald E. Cuneo and trainer Damon Dilodovico did a year ago, on Nov. 28, 2021. This 6-year-old gelding has since won through his '2x' allowance condition, and in the span of the past 60 days has won two hundred-grand listed stakes at Laurel, the off-grass Japan Turf Cup S. at 10 furlongs in the slop Oct. 1, and the Richard Small S. over nine furlongs on fast dirt Nov. 26.

Six for the road…

News quiz: Can you name the jockey who won six races in one day of racing over the holiday weekend? In case you need a hint, his last name contains only four letters and ends in a Z.

If you guessed the mid-Atlantic based Angel Cruz, you are correct.

But Cruz is probably not the first jockey you thought of. You'd also be correct if you guessed Luis Saez, whose six wins at Churchill Downs on Saturday rocketed him to the top of the meet standings there and to the top of the national news cycle.

No disrespect to the world-class Saez, but Cruz rarely gets much ink in the press, which is why we're highlighting him here.

Plus, Cruz's feat was a little more unique because he had to hit the road to earn his six-pack.

On Friday afternoon, Cruz, who is currently second in the Laurel standings, won the $75,000 Howard and Sondra Bender Memorial S. aboard Maryland-bred Alwaysinahurry (Great Notion).

Cruz then commuted roughly 90 minutes west to ride under the lights at Charles Town Races, where he swept races two through six (and barely lost the eighth race, running second with his only other mount of the night).

Serving up a fitting moniker for a horse who just completed a six-pack, the name of Cruz's final winner Friday was Always Drinking (Speightster).

Monday walk in the 'Park'

It wouldn't seem right to complete a column about the upward mobility of lower-level claimers without getting in a mention about Beverly Park (Munnings), the continent's winningest horse so far in 2022. The 5-year-old will be aiming for win No. 13 in his 28th start of the year Monday when he goes up against starter-allowance company in the sixth race at Mahoning Valley.

That Nov. 28 race is restricted to horses who have started for a claiming tag of $8,000 or less over the past two calendar years. Beverly Park won a N2L $5,000 claimer by 15 lengths at Belterra Park back on July 8, 2021. Next time out, he was claimed for $12,500 by his current owner/trainer, Norman Lynn Cash, whose horses race under the name Built Wright Stables.

Beverly Park has not started for a tag since being claimed, feasting exclusively on starter allowances, optional claimers in which he was not entered for a tag, and in the $100,000 Ready's Rocket Express on the Claiming Crown card two weekends ago.

In the span between Cash's claiming him and a second-place finish at Charles Town Nov. 19, Beverly Park is 19-for-35 with $453,688 in purse earnings (roughly 36 times that original $12,500 claim investment). His lifetime record stands at 22-7-4 from 44 starts.

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