HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Trainer Stan Gold regarded Grande Shores as one of his top 2-year-olds when the Jacks or Better Farm’s homebred launched his career in 2010.

After completing his juvenile season, in which he was stakes-placed, the son of Black Mambo was stricken with a major case of colitis that kept him away from the races for a year. Having recovered sufficiently to resume his racing career, Grande Shores’ performance on the track was clearly compromised by the effects of his illness.

“Other than losing weight drastically, he never looked unhealthy. He kept going. He just fought, fought, fought. Other than being skin and bones, you’d never know. His coat always looked good,” Gold said. “He never got out of his feed tub. He just couldn’t keep weight on.”

Grande Shores gradually made his way into $8,000 claiming company last winter at Tampa Bay Downs before turning the corner physically and performance-wise. Having made his way back to stakes company in his most recent start, Grande Shores has been installed as the 3-1 morning-line favorite in Saturday’s $110,000 Rapid Transit, one of eight stakes in the $1 million Claiming Crown at Gulfstream Park.

“He’s doing excellent. I’ve been looking forward to this race for a long time,” Gold said.

Grande Shores, who finished second in the $100,000 Montbrook Stakes at Gulfstream in his last start, finally looks the part of a stakes performer.

“He’s made very well. His weight is right where you’d want it to be,” Gold said. “He’s a stocky, well made horse and sound. He’s just a good-looking animal.”

Gold, though, must still be careful to keep Grande Shores back on track.

“I think he’s going to be as normal as he’s going to get, but he’s not what you’d call normal. But it is normal for him. He’s as good as he’s going to be. He was ill for a long time and it took a long time for him to get better,” Gold said.

“I’m constantly monitoring what I give him and when I give it to him. He’s not on anything special, but I’m constantly adjusting what he’s doing and when he’s doing it to keep him as normal as I can get him. It’s like if you had an ulcer, you wouldn’t want to eat any spicy food.”

Prior to his runner-up finish behind multiple-stakes winner Black Diamond Cat in the one-turn mile Montbrook, Grande Shores captured back-to-back optional claiming races at six furlongs. Edgard Zayas has the return mount in the seven-furlong Rapid Transit.

“I like my chances. I think race-riding is going to have a lot to do with it. You’ve got to stay out of trouble. There aren’t a lot of places you can go when you’re in a 12 horse field,” Gold said. “I’m not scared of anyone. It’s going to be a good race. I think he fits in real well and I hope he gets a chance to do what he can do.”

Gold and Jacks or Better Farm will also be represented by stakes-winner Alley Oop Oop in the $125,000 Emerald, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for horses that started for a claiming price of $25,000 or lower.

The 5-year-old son of Monsieur Cat captured the $100,000 Armed Forces at Gulfstream in July before coming out of a close second in a turf allowance a month later with an injury.

“The last race he ran on soft turf he wrenched a shoulder and was unable to come back for a long time. It just took time. All of his works have been good. He’s quality enough to belong in there,” Gold said. “He’s probably going to be a little short coming off the layoff, but I’m happy with the way he’s trained and he’s as fit as I can get him without getting a race into him.”

Maker Geared Up for More Claiming Crown Success

Trainer Mike Maker has a special admiration for the Claiming Crown. “It’s like a little Breeders’ Cup,” said Maker, who is scheduled to saddle eight horses for Saturday’s Claiming Crown.

Maker’s appreciation for the eight-race event for Thoroughbred racing’s most enduring competitors has resulted in considerable success. After saddling four winners at Gulfstream in last year’s event, he took over the all-time lead among trainers with 11 trips to the winner’s circle.

“We’re bringing back some of the horses that won last year and hope to have a repeat,” he said. “We’ve have some horses that have had a great year – Brandy’s Secret, Major Marvel, who ran in it last year, Bernie the Maestro and Brother Bird’s back”

Bernie the Maestro, who captured the seven-furlong Rapid Transit last year, will return in the $200,000 Jewel, the 1 1/8-mile finale of the Claiming Crown.

“He ran a mile-and-a-sixteenth starter race here last year and he was very impressive and he won a mile, two-turn stakes at Indiana Downs against a pretty good field,” said Maker, whose Jewel starter was installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite. “Not that he couldn’t handle seven-eighths, obviously, but he gives us our best shot in the big one.”

Brother Bird is the 3-1 morning-line favorite to defend his victory in the $110,000 Iron Horse at 1 1/16 miles.

“Though he hasn’t had a great year, Brother Bird loves Gulfstream Park,” Maker said.

Major Marvel, who lost by a head in last year’s Emerald, is set to return in the $125,000 turf stakes as the 3-1 morning-line favorite.

“I can’t say enough good things about him,” said Maker, who has saddled the 7-year-old gelding for eight victories in his nine starts since last year’s Emerald. “He may not be the best horse in the world, but he shows up every time.

Bernie the Maestro, Brother Bird and Major Marvel are owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who lead all owners with 10 victories in Claiming Crown history. The Ramseys, who owned all four of Maker’s winners in last year’s Claiming Crown, campaign a stable that is well stocked with stakes horses, primarily with offspring of the stallion Kitten’s Joy.

“Ken likes to claim horses, obviously. Whether it’s a $5,000 claimer or a Breeders’ Cup race, you can’t tell any difference from his enthusiasm,” Maker said. “If he can have a big day with his claiming horses, it’s a big deal.”