By Jim Freer and Monique Welch Follow us today on our blog.
Racing fans are waking up to what undoubtedly will be an exciting Saturday at both Florida thoroughbred tracks.
Gulfstream Park will open its 2016-2017 championship meet with eleven races and first post of 12:00 p.m. EST. The third through eleventh races are stakes races for the national Claiming Crown.
Tampa Bay Downs has a ten-race card with first post of 12:35 p.m.
We will have on-site coverage at each track on our blog.
Tampa Bay will have its first two stakes races of its 2016-2017 meet.
The Inaugural is six furlongs on dirt for 2year-old males, and is the seventh race with scheduled post of 3:19 p.m.
Trainer Gerald Bennett will send out two of the top contenders in the eight-horse field. They are Triumphant Joy and Chance of Luck.
The Sandpiper is six furlongs on dirt for 2-year-old fillies. It is the ninth race with scheduled post of 4:20 p.m.
Bennett will send out R Angel Katelyn, who will be ridden by Edwin Gonzalez and is the likely favorite in the ten-horse field.
On Nov. 12, R Angel Katelyn won the Juvenile Fillies Sprint Preview Stakes at the Gulfstream Park West meet which was held at Calder in Miami Gardens. That race was 6 ½ furlongs on dirt.
Rashette and Lu Laura, the third and seventh place finishers in the Nov. 12 race, also are back for the Sandpiper. Both are trained by Kathleen O’Connell.
The speedy Lu Lu Laura was bumped at the start and then forced to steady prior to the turn in that race. She could be a major threat in the Sandpiper if she gets a clean trip.
*The Claiming Crown races are restricted to horses that have raced at or below designated claiming prices at least once in 2015 or 2016.
The nine Claiming Crown races have total purses of $1.1 million.
The tenth and feature race is the $200,000 Claiming Crown Jewel. It is 1 1/8 miles on dirt for 3-year-olds that have started at least once for a claiming price of $35,000 or less since Jan. 1, 2015.
Royal Posse, the winner of the Jewel last year, and Bigger Picture are likely favorites in the nine-horse field.
Royal Posse comes in off a four-race win streak. All were in stakes for New York-breds at tracks in that state. Luis Saez is scheduled to ride for trainer Rudy Rodriguez.
A big question for Bigger Picture will be how well he adjusts to a switch back to dirt, a surface he has not raced on since last year. Trained by Mike Maker, he has won four of seven starts this year.
In his latest race, on Nov. 12 at Aqueduct, Bigger Picture won the Red Smith (Grade 3) at 1 3/8 miles on turf. Jose Ortiz will ride the 5-year-old gelding, who is making his Gulfstream debut.
Another threat is John Jones, who could attempt to take the Jewel field gate to wire. The 4-year-old gelding has used that running style to win his last four races.
All four were on dirt at Laurel Park in Maryland—one stakes, one allowance and two optional claimers.
John Jones, a 4-year-old gelding, is making his Gulfstream debut. His regular jockey Luis Garcia is in from Maryland to ride for trainer Lacey Gaudet.