Jesus’ Team, the Preakness Stakes third-place runner and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile runner-up, scored his first stakes win Saturday with another big target on the horizon.
The 3-year-old Tapiture colt worked his way past stubborn pace setter Storm Runner down the stretch to win Gulfstream Park’s $150,000 Claiming Crown Jewel. Jockey Luis Saez booted home the winner, who went off a 2-5 favorite and returned $2.80.
Trainer Jose D’Angelo said after the victory that Jesus’ Team will now point to Gulfstream’s signature event, the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) on Jan. 23. That event, like Saturday’s Claiming Crown Jewel, goes 1 1/8 miles over the main track.
Grade 1 winners Bodexpress, Code of Honor and Tiz the Law are among rivals Jesus’ Team will likely battle in the Pegasus.
“I am very sure he’s going to improve because this race worked out very good for him,” D’Angelo said of Jesus' Team. “I can give him some days off and prepare him for the Pegasus World Cup.”
Gulfstream offered the Claiming Crown Jewel for 3-year-olds and up that have started for a claiming price of $35,000 or lower. Jesus’ Team started his career in those ranks, winning a March maiden claiming race on fifth asking and beating fellow claimers again in May in a race that marked his last victory prior to Saturday.
D’Angelo entered Jesus’ Team in more ambitious spots over the second half of 2020, and the colt responded with board-hitting efforts.
Jesus’ Team was third in September at Saratoga in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) and best of the rest behind Swiss Skydiver and Authentic in October’s Preakness at Pimlico. The Grupo 7C Racing Stable runner was then second-best last month at Keeneland in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, finishing behind only Knicks Go as the longest shot on the board at 63-1.
Jesus’ Team enjoyed class relief Saturday as compared to the company he faced this fall, but still had to work for his victory.
Storm Runner, a 5-year-old from trainer Dale Romans’ barn, went out to the lead and set fractions of 23.14, 46.40 and 1:10.21.
Jesus’ Team sat third along the rail in the early going before Saez moved his mount past second-place Leitone along the backstretch. Dack Janiel’s moved up to the outside of Jesus’ Team coming through the far turn, and those two took aim at the leader.
Saez went to a left-handed crop and urged Jesus’ Team by Dack Janiel’s. Storm Runner hung tough at 12-1 odds, but the favorite finally got by and scored by ¾ of a length.
Jesus’ Team covered the nine furlongs in 1:49.30 while improving to 13: 3-4-3 lifetime. Storm Runner and Dack Janiel’s crossed second and third, respectively.