lllinois Horsemen Well-Represented in Claiming Crown

December 2, 2023

Southern Illinois-based trainer Jim Watkins at the Fair Grounds Friday morning with Faithful Ruler, who runs in Saturday’s $100,000 Rapid Transit Starter. (Photo courtesy Jim Watkins)

Hartman Has Option of Rapid Transit or Jewel for All West

Jennie Rees/National HBPA

NEW ORLEANS, La. — Trainer Jim Watkins, president of the Illinois HBPA, will make his Claiming Crown debut with Dennis Pohl’s Faithful Ruler in the $100,000 Rapid Transit Starter for horses that have raced for $16,000 or less in 2022-2023. 

“The Claiming Crown is really a neat deal,” said Watkins, who grew up around horses and owned racehorses for about 30 years before retiring as a schoolteacher and taking up training full time. “It’s claiming horses’ day in the sun.”

Watkins considers Faithful Ruler – a son of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and whom he claimed in May 2022 for $30,000 – a very live play at 10-1 and coming off an allowance victory at Horseshoe Indianapolis.

Faithful Ruler is one of a handful of Claiming Crown entrants based at FanDuel Sportsbook and Racing (the track near St. Louis formerly known as Fairmount Park). Jose Rodriguez owns and trains Samarita, the favorite in the $100,000 Glass Slipper, and also has Richiesonaroll in the Rapid Transit.

Heather Irion’s homebred Indicia could be tough if the $150,000 Tiara comes off the turf, which seems quite likely after considerable rain Friday and more expected. Indicia enters the race off an off-the-turf allowance victory at Horseshoe Indy and is 3-for-7 over wet tracks.

“It’s certainly not by accident,” Watkins said of the southern Illinois track’s representation in Saturday’s races. “There are some good horsemen at FanDuel, some very solid trainers. The purses aren’t great, but the competition is. Illinois horses had a really good meet at Keeneland. I just won a race at Churchill Downs with a horse that had been getting beat at Hawthorne (in Chicago) and FanDuel.”

Hartman Has Option of Rapid Transit or Jewel for All West

Trainer Chris Hartman has All West entered in both the $100,000 Rapid Transit Starter and the $200,000 Jewel. A $10,000 claim 15 months ago, All West has won at both the Rapid Transit’s six-furlong distance and the Jewel’s 1 1/8 miles for owners JD Thoroughbreds and Joey Keith Davis. He comes into either race very fresh, having been off six months before finishing fourth in a Nov. 4 starter-allowance race at Churchill Downs.

“I’m not exactly sure which race to run him,” Hartman said. “I’m leaning toward the mile and an eighth, especially if it’s wet…. I think that horse would be more competitive on a wet track going a mile and an eighth. He can run on anything, that horse. He’s just a good horse, tries hard every time he runs. He’s a little difficult to train, but outside of that, he’s awesome.” 

Hartman also is sending out Xylophone and My Good Fortune in the $100,000 Glass Slipper and Enchanted Nile in the $150,000 Tiara scheduled for turf. Enchanted Nile has more experience and wins on dirt (8-for-22) than turf (a second in four starts), including going 2-for-4 on off tracks. So, Hartman handicapped the weather by entering in the Tiara.  

“It’s supposed to rain, so if there comes a big storm (and the Tiara comes off the turf) I think we’ll be in a little better position with her on the wet,” he said. “That was sort of the game plan.”

@Jonathanstettin Very well written article. The sport will be missed by many...The time is now

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