Looking for Trouble? He’s looking for Claiming Crown repeat

A National HBPA press release (Above: Time for Trouble, outside, winning last year’s Claiming Crown Iron Horse Kent Stirling at Churchill Downs. Gwen Davis/Davis Innovation)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023) — When Paul Parker and trainer and co-owner Jeff Hiles claimed Time for Trouble for $8,000 some 2 1/2 years ago, they did not have huge expectations beyond getting a horse worth his price tag.

Hiles: “We thought we were getting an $8,000 horse that we might be able to improve a little bit with.” Parker: “We were just trying to win some starter races over at Belterra going a mile and a half on turf.”

Since then, Time for Trouble – the only horse Parker currently has in training — has won six races and, by Hiles’ calculation, $330,000 in purses. That includes a $166,000 allowance race on turf last year at Kentucky Downs and a $120,000 second-level allowance race on dirt at Keeneland this spring. (He also won his first start for his new barn at Belterra, setting a course record in an $8,000 starter-race at 1 3/8 miles on grass.)

Saturday, the 6-year-old gelding will attempt to repeat last year’s victory in the $75,000 Claiming Crown Iron Horse Kent Stirling Memorial (race 6, post time 3:15 p.m. CT), this time at the Fair Grounds after being held last year at Churchill Downs. Hiles is going for a personal three-peat in the race, having won in 2021 with Blue Steel at Gulfstream Park for his first Claiming Crown victory.

Also seeking a repeat in the Claiming is National HBPA Claiming Horse of the Year Invaluable, who returns in Glass Slipper, albeit with a new trainer in Joe Sharp.

The Claiming Crown, conceived to be a Breeders’ Cup-style event for claiming horses, was created in 1999 by the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (NHBPA) and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA). The program gives thoroughbred racing’s workhorses, their owners and trainers a day in the spotlight in recognition of their importance to filling out race cards across the nation. This year’s 25th Claiming Crown is being staged with support from the host track and the Louisiana HBPA.

The Claiming Crown races are conducted under starter-allowance conditions, meaning they are restricted to horses that have competed at least once for a certain claiming level or cheaper during a designated time frame. 

June 18, 2021 was the only time that Time for Trouble ran in a claiming race as cheap as $8,000, and he finished fourth. But that race gave him lifetime eligibility for the Ready’s Rocket Express, for horses that have raced for a claiming price of $8,000 or less at any time in their career. 

“You’ve got to get lucky,” Hiles said. “We won a 13-way shake the day we got him. So we got really, really lucky. We thought he could run a lot longer and on the grass. At $4,000 apiece, if you lose out on it, you’re not losing a whole lot. And there seemed a lot of upside.”

Time for Trouble had raced well on turf and dirt, fast or sloppy tracks and at distances from 1 1/16 to 1 3/4 miles.

“I think he’s better on dirt than he is on turf is the weird thing,” Parker said, referencing Time for Trouble’s pedigree, being a son of turf champion English Channel out of a Galileo mare. “He runs on anything. I think he gets that from the Galileo.”

Hiles believes Time for Trouble is better this year than going into last year’s Claiming Crown, when he prevailed by 3 1/4 lengths in the slop. James Graham picks up the mount on the tepid 7-2 favorite in the field of 12.

“He should be the favorite,” Hiles said. “He won a ‘two other than’ at Keeneland this spring. He finished second in a stakes race at Saratoga. But he’s not a heavy favorite. Those Claiming Crown races are tough.”

Time for Trouble flew to California for the Grade 2, $250,000 Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Stakes at 1 5/8 miles on dirt on the Breeders’ Cup undercard. But the gelding wound up scraping a back leg in the stall and had to be scratched so they could treat the wound.

The Claiming Crown is Plan B, Hiles acknowledged. “It probably should have been Plan A,” he said. “We wanted to run in that race in California, and unfortunately he got scratched. This is our next option.”

Parker owns the 1950’s style diner Parker’s Drive-In in Paducah, Ky. Racing as Thorndale Stable, he tends to be a one-horse operation at the track. Parker had the filly Wicked Wish that he raced and then bred. She produced Rated R Superstar, with whom Parker won multiple graded stakes before losing him as a 5-year-old for $62,500. Rated R Superstar wound up earning more than a million for other owners.

“My kids are all over me about being the dumbest guy in the world,” Parker said. “I said, ‘I can play this game.’ That’s when I claimed Trouble. That’s the only horse I ever claimed. And we weren’t the only guys trying to claim him.”

You could say Parker is looking for Trouble Saturday.

“I love the Claiming Crown,” he said. “The longest stretch in the country and it’s looking like rain. It looks like it’s all coming together for Trouble.”

But Parker won’t be there, saying, “I’ve never been to a race he’s won. I hate it, but it’s not going to hurt his feelings if I don’t show up. I’ll take one for the team.”

Jennie Rees is a communications and advocacy specialist in the horse industry who spent 32 years covering horse racing for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal before taking a corporate buyout. In addition to handling communications for the Kentucky HBPA, Rees is Kentucky Downs’ publicity director, manages in-season racing publicity for Ellis Park and serves as a consultant to the National HBPA. Other projects include the Preakness Stakes, Indiana Grand’s Indiana Derby Week and work for various HBPA affiliates and horsemen’s associations.