NOTE: Prior to the scheduled posting of this article, Gulfstream Park on Saturday morning announced that because of wet conditions, it was moving the day’s five scheduled for turf races to the main track that is listed as sloppy)
By Jim Freer
The multitudes who follow Gulfstream Park’s stakes races for three-year-olds will get some previews Dec. 10, the second Saturday of the track’s 2016-2017 championship meet.
And Gulfstream management is hoping that the meet will continue its string of days with dry conditions.
The Hallandale Beach, Fla., track will hold a Juvenile Showcase with all eleven races for two-year-olds, and first post of 12:00 p.m. Eastern.
Six of the races are stakes, each with $75,000 purse.
Gulfstream anticipates that many trainers will use those races as preps for Jan. 7, when it will begin its established series of stakes for newly turned three-year-olds, said P.J. Campo, the track’s general manager. Campo also is vice president of racing operations for The Stronach Group, Gulfstream’s Aurora, Ont.-based parent company.
Gulfstream held an identical Juvenile day, with the same names for the stakes races, on Nov. 28, 2015—a Saturday that was the closing day of the Gulfstream Park West meet at Calder Casino in Miami Gardens, Fla.
All-sources handle for eleven races on a rain-free day was $5,310,465, a number that is very good for GP West. There were 61 starters in the six stakes races.
“We did well with the Juvenile Showcase at Calder, and we knew it was a day when we could better over here (Gulfstream),” Campo said.
The six stakes have 64 entries, including three also eligibles. Todd Pletcher, Mike Maker, Antonio Sano, David Fawkes and Eddie Plesa Jr. are among prominent trainers with multiple entries.
And if skies are clear and races stay on the turf, the Juvenile Showcase should help build on some strong early numbers for the winter meet.
Through Dec. 9, the meet’s first five days, daily average all sources handle is up 9.6 percent and the average field sizes is up from 9.5 to 10.4 compared with the same period in 2015-2016, according to a review of Equibase charts by HorseRacingFLA.
Daily average all-sources handle rose from $6.15 million to $6.75 million for the five-day period. In both years, that racing was for a Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday—with 51 races.
One big difference was the weather. In the last meet’s first five days, 25 races were scheduled for turf and 18 were moved off that surface due to rain or other wet conditions. This year, there were 24 turf races scheduled the first five days and all stayed on that surface.
Campo said Gulfstream plans to run four or five turf races per day during the current meet.
The turf course is 180-feet wide, and has 12 lanes for which Gulfstream can set up portable rails. The lanes are often changed overnight, to limit wear and tear on any parts of the course.
Weather is always a factor in turf racing—and those races are a major attraction for Gulfstream’s simulcast audience
Last winter, especially January, was wetter than usual in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area. Our review of Equibase charts shows that Gulfstream had 478 races scheduled for turf in the 2015-2016 meet and took 58 of them off that surface.
Still, for that meet Gulfstream had $9.5 million in daily average all-sources handle—its all-time record for any meet. The average field size for that meet was 9.1, large but down from 9.5 in 2014-2015.
Campo won’t predict if Gulfstream will break any records this meet. But he feels that the meet’s schedule could generate even stronger interest among fans and horsemen.
The Juvenile Showcase is a new piece in what he calls Gulfstream’s “amazing four-month stretch, from the Claiming Crown to the Florida Derby.”
Gulfstream began its 88-day championship meet on Dec. 3 with the Claiming Crown. which it held for the fifth straight year.
The $1 million Florida Derby (gr. 1) will be on April 1 and will head a card with nine stakes, six of them graded. The championship meet will end April 2, to be followed by Gulfstream’s three-month long summer meet.
The Inaugural Pegasus World Cup, with a $12 million purse, and its undercard that has three graded stakes will be on Jan. 28—right in the middle of the championship meet.
Campo noted that by adding a day with six new stakes in early December, Gulfstream has been able to move several graded stakes to other Saturdays and thus provide depth for those days.
For example, Gulfstream has moved the W.L. McKnight (gr. IIIT) and the La Prevoyante (gr. IIIT) from their regular December spots to the Pegasus undercard on Jan. 28.