Gaudet aims to build on career year at Claiming Crown

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Lacey Gaudet is rolling. The 28-year-old Maryland-based trainer is in the midst of a career year nearly four times over, she’s locked in a battle for leading trainer honors at Laurel Park and she’s preparing to run three horses in Saturday’s Claiming Crown at Gulfstream Park.

Gaudet earned the right to book a sweet spot – maybe not quite South Beach posh, but nice nonetheless – on her trip to Florida this week, but that just didn’t seem right. So she’s bunking up with her younger sister and racing analyst Gabby Gaudet, part for comfort and convenience and part for sanity.

“I’m bumming their extra room,” Lacey Gaudet joked Tuesday morning after Marabea, Music Critik and John Jones trained on the main track at Gulfstream. “I joked with her this morning because she was up bright and early this morning to come watch them train and take a few quotes, watch them get over the track.

“It’s fun. We’ve got a lot going on in Maryland right now and my mom was not able to come down, but thank God Gabby is here to hold me down because I’d very nervous if I had to come down here and do it all by myself.”

Fortunately for Gaudet she’s never really done it by herself.

Growing up in a racing family lends itself to plenty of help and teamwork and Gaudet, the daughter of retired top Maryland trainer Eddie Gaudet and trainer Linda Gaudet, gets both directly from her mother. The two joined forces this winter, realizing it was better to combined their stables and work together, which is really what they’d been doing all along.

“Ever since my dad retired in 2011, the year we ran Concealed Identity in the Preakness, my mom and I were doing our own thing,” Gaudet said. “She had her clients, I had mine and we were half and half. But we worked together. I gallop, she’s on the ground and keeping things going, then at the end of the morning we’d always consult on the whole stable, where to run, what to do, everything.

“Then last year, maybe January, we only had about eight to 10 horses each and actually my mom had a better percentage than me; her horses were running better than mine. I said, ‘look, this is silly, you’re at 10 percent, I’m at 8 percent, it’s not doing either one of us any good trying to gain clients or more horses. We know our jobs aren’t going to change, we’re still going to do our jobs and with the horses, let’s consolidate our jobs.’ So we put all the horses in my name, for the future, and it really worked out.”

Worked out might be an understatement.

Through Wednesday Gaudet won 28 races from 154 starters, nearly three times as many wins as she’s achieved in nearly a decade of holding her license, and racked up purses of $682,807, nearly four times her 2009 total of $178,175 that was a career best prior to this season.

“It’s pretty fun when you get to pull those numbers up and they’re behind your name,” Gaudet said.

She’ll look to add to those numbers Saturday when Gulfstream opens the book on its 2016-’17 Championship Meet that runs through early April. The Claiming Crown is the headline event of the weekend, with nine races worth $1.1 million.

Gaudet’s three starters come in succession in the ninth, 10th and 11th races.

The English-bred Marabea leads off in the $125,000 Claiming Crown Tiara, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares who started for a claiming tag of $25,000 or less since January 1, 2015.

Marabea raced for that exact amount in early September when Gaudet claimed her at Saratoga for Kip and Suzanne Knelman’s Farfellow Farm Ltd. Gaudet and the Knelmans won an eight-way shake for the 4-year-old daughter of Archipenko, who finished second to fellow Tiara entrant Luckystrikedelcoco. Marabea earned her way to the Claiming Crown with a victory in the $50,000 Tiara Preview Nov. 6 at Laurel.

“She’s been great to have in the barn,” Gaudet said. “She’s not the sweetest thing to be around. She’s a very opinionated filly, a typical mare, but we deal with her and we try and make her happy. Her bark is much worse than her bite, but she likes to be the one in charge.

“She trained great up to her last race; we hadn’t planned on not running her until then but it was the same thing, the Knelmans liked her for her broodmare value so we wanted to pick our spots carefully. There were eight claims for her in Saratoga. We got rained off the grass at Parx and said, ‘we could run her somewhere she doesn’t belong, so let’s just prep her and train her up to that race, the Claiming Crown Preview race and it worked out well.”

The Knelmans and Farfellow will also be represented in the $125,000 Claiming Crown Emerald with Music Critik, a 6-year-old Unbridled’s Song homebred who won his preview race coming up the rail against a big field at nearly 10-1.

“The Knelmans’ son called me, Jak, I guess he was watching on his phone and it broke out while he was watching and he didn’t get to see the finish. It was so close,” Gaudet said. “He called me a few minutes later and said, “did we just win two races?” I said yep. It was a great day. He ran a big race that day.”

Music Critik will try to win his third straight in the Emerald, a 1 1/16-mile grass race for older horses who started for $25,000 or less since January 1, 2015, after winning for a $15,000 tag nine days before the Emerald Preview.

“He came in in the spring. The Knelmans do a great job, they like to give them the winter off so he was a fresh horse in the spring,” Gaudet said. “He’d run on the Poly and had some nice races in Ohio on the dirt. We initially got him in the barn as your typical dirt horse, maybe a little older and I mentioned to them, ‘let’s try to get him back on the grass. He’s bred for it.’ When we did finally get him back on it he ran a huge race, he was fourth but only got beat three quarters of a length and I loved the way he ran on it.

“He’s a horse that has always trained very forward. Loves his job. Now that the stable has grown I’ve kind of backed off getting on as many horses in the morning as I used to but he’s one I won’t give up. I like to keep him for myself every morning.”

Gaudet admitted that Music Critik would most likely be the longest price of her three Claiming Crown runners and possibly the biggest price for the Emerald.

The same cannot be said for John Jones (left), who might be the favorite for the $200,000 Claiming Crown Jewel. The 4-year-old Maryland-bred son of Smarty Jones brings a four-race win streak into the Jewel and figures to be one of the favorites in the field of nine entered for the 1 1/8-mile feature.

Gaudet claimed John Jones for owner Matt Schera for $25,000 in mid-July at Laurel. He finished fourth that day, beaten 1 ¼ lengths, and hasn’t lost since. He won the restricted Mister Diz Stakes going 6 furlongs on the turf, at the expense of a field led by Maryland legend Ben’s Cat, followed by back-to-back wins going 1 mile out of the chute before a dominating performance in the Jewel Preview as the 3-5 favorite.

The Preview was a big test for John Jones, who was 0-for-2 in two-turn dirt races prior to the Jewel Preview, including a dismal seventh in an allowance race on Black-Eyed Susan Day when he was trained by Woodberry Paine.

“The main concern was him stretching to the mile and an eighth,” Gaudet said. “That’s why it was great to have that Preview Day. It was hard (finding a spot for John Jones). After he won the two other than and the three other than in Maryland, you have to … if we didn’t have that Preview Day we’d be looking and hoping for a four other than to fill, on the dirt in late fall in Maryland, going a mile and an eighth, that’s almost non existent.

“I don’t know if we would have had the confidence to come down here and go a mile and an eighth if he didn’t stretch out last time last month.”

The Claiming Crown is the first of several major events on the Gulfstream’s Championship Meet slate for 2016-’17. The signature race of the season is the Grade 1 Florida Derby, set for April 1, and undoubtedly the most intriguing event of the season is the $12 million Pegasus World Cup and its accompanying seven-stakes undercard January 28.

The 97-day meet, runs for the most part on a Wednesday to Sunday schedule, also includes the Jan. 21 Sunshine Millions and March 4 Fountain of Youth Stakes cards.