High-level claimers are booming at The Meadowlands.
by Debbie Little
In the last few months, The Meadowlands has seen a resurgence in claiming races that once were a staple at the track and owners and trainers alike are happy to see it.
“I love it,” said owner Brian Gordon. “I think it’s been overdue there. The Meadowlands is the premier track in the country and for a while they kind of got away from that. You see across the river [at Yonkers] all the activity in the claiming box. There’s no reason The Meadowlands shouldn’t have that.”
On Dec. 4 of last year, Gordon and his partner Matthew Morrison turned some heads when they made two high-priced claims.
The partnership took Save Me A Dance for $125,000 and Komodo Beach for $142,500. After taxes and fees, the final prices were $133,750 and $151,977, respectively.
Claiming races have allowances for age and sex, which increase the price tag.
“Those two horses were both allowance horses,” said Gordon. “Generally, I think people sometimes get a little more aggressive where they put them in thinking it’s the end of the year and people won’t pay that extra amount with the allowance. We weren’t afraid of that. I think there were two divisions of the [$100,000 claimers] that night and we looked pretty heavily at those horses.
“I know Komodo was going to be entered in the [Tattersalls Winter Mixed] sale [on Jan. 17], and I still believe if he was in the sale, he probably would have sold for more than the claiming price. I think buying him for $150,000, we got a bargain.”
Gordon and Morrison, who were the underbidders on Whichwaytothebeach at $380,000 in this week’s sale at the Meadowlands, have had offers to sell Save Me A Dance for a hefty profit.
“My phone was ringing off the hook after he won in 1:48.4 [his second start for them] at The Meadowlands on that cold night. He beat some pretty good horses. I don’t anticipate either [Save Me A Dance or Komodo Beach] being back in a claimer.”
Komodo Beach is now with Noel Daley while Travis Alexander has Save Me A Dance.
“It wasn’t like they bought him for nothing, but they just figured he’d go for more [in the sale] and the way things went [on Monday] he probably would have,” said Daley. “I think it was good that those guys stepped in and took those couple of high- priced ones. I’m pretty sure Burke didn’t think he’d lose [Save Me A Dance] for $125,000. No one had been claiming horses like that for a long time.”
It’s Daley’s experience that people are currently willing to overpay for a horse that they want.
“I raced one in a [$30,000] claimer, a horse that was just sent to me after Chicago closed [Monday] night at Yonkers and I got a message from someone just before the race: ‘Would you sell that horse after the race?’ I checked with the owners and they said ‘No, they can just take him if they want to take him.’ [Scott] Zeron drove the horse and he called me [Tuesday] morning and he never calls me. He said, ‘That horse you raced in the [$30,000] claimer, I wouldn’t put him back in there.’ He said ‘He goes nice. He fits good there. He drives nice. I think you’d lose him for that and find him hard to replace.’ And I said, fair enough and I put him in for [$40,000].”
Komodo Beach is turned out and will probably not be back to race until May, while Save Me A Dance has been doing well and has already earned $71,250 in four starts.
“When they approached me about claiming him for $125,000, my thought was if he was in the January sale, he brings [$250,000] or more,” said Alexander. “And [Monday] proved it. [Claiming] gives you an option, if you’re not scared to lose your horse, to race them and make high-end money. It’s great. I have one in every class so it works out fantastic for me. I wish they’d fill that $150 to $200 [thousand] because I’d have one for that, too.
“I’m trying to build a high-end boutique type stable. Brett Pelling’s my hero. To me he’s the best. He’s the GOAT, or one of them.”
The Meadowlands’ race secretary Scott Warren typically could fill claimers for $7,500, $10,000 and claiming handicaps from $10,000-$15,000 or $12,500-$15,000, but there was always a struggle for anything past that.
Warren was approached by trainer Ron Burke, who thought if Hoosier Park could fill races for higher priced horses, then The Meadowlands should be able to as well.
So, Warren wrote some high-level claimers in December that filled and even had multiple divisions.
“It exceeded my expectations in the beginning, but I’m not surprised they’re still filling,” said Warren. “If you go back and look at years ago at old, archived charts of The Meadowlands, you’d see all the claiming races that used to be at The Meadowlands. My dad lost a horse at The Meadowlands, his name was Greenwich. He raced him in the $75,000-$100,000. He was first the second week in for [$75,000] and the following week we put him in for [$85,000] and he was second and Peter Pan claimed him.”
Gordon and his partner do a lot of homework before making a claim, including looking at a printout of the horse’s entire racing history.
“We just don’t go in blindly,” said Gordon. “I’ve been claiming horses for 30 years and it’s changed drastically with the purses. It’s much more difficult and it’s become a rent-a-horse game. Eighty per cent of the claiming game is like that because the purses are so high.”
Like Gordon and Morrison, trainer Chubby Stallworth puts in the hours studying to find the right claimer and just took Monty Mono from trainer Carmen Auciello on Dec. 31 for $22,000.
“I like the claiming game,” said Stallworth. “I have people that want to claim horses. And the claimers are going for good money. If I have a guy that’s got $100,000, I’m going to claim five horses. I’d rather have five than one. That’s how I look at it.”
As soon as the sheet comes out on Tuesday, Stallworth’s evaluating the claimers as is Gordon.
“I love The Meadowlands claiming,” said Gordon. “I hope they keep doing it. I hope they write more of them. I would love if they had a [$20,000, $30,000, $50,000, $75,000 and a $100,000]. I’d have one in each class. I think it would fill. I don’t think they’d have an issue.”