Action Abounds During Gulfstream Park Meeting
The buzzword at Gulfstream Park during the 2012-2013 meeting was: Action! Whether on the racetrack, where the racing was heated and heart pounding, or at the mutuel windows, where the betting was fast and furious, the action continued unabated between Dec. 1 and April 5.
From opening day, when the 14th Claiming Crown kicked off a 63-races stakes program, to closing day, when a record $5.2 million was wagered on the 10-cent Rainbow 6, Gulfstream Park provided unrivaled action for its patrons and simulcast bettors.
The undisputed star on the track was Orb, the Shug McGaughey-trained colt who captured the $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (G1) on March 30, while the popular 10-cent Rainbow 6 generated heightened interest at the betting windows throughout the meeting.
The unprecedented quality of horses competing at Gulfstream during its 90-day meeting, as well as an innovative menu of pari-mutuel opportunities, produced significant increases in wagering, including a 22-percent boost in on-track betting.
The positive energy of the 2012-2013 meeting will be very much in evidence at Gulfstream Park when live racing resumes in July.
Gulfstream’s state-of-the art facility, which played host to the 42nd annual Eclipse Awards, was especially teeming with action on Florida Derby Day, when a record 20,382 watched and wagered on the live program with seven stakes that generated an all-sources handle of nearly $25 million. While the day was marked by several stunning performances, including Dreaming of Julia’s breathtaking 21 ¾-length victory in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2), Orb carried the day with a dominating 2 ¾-length victory in a star-studded 62nd running of the Florida Derby. The Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable homebred, who had previously captured an allowance race and the $400,000 Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (G2), is certain to be among the favorites to win the Kentucky Derby (G1) on May 4.
The Florida Derby, which has produced 56 winners of Triple Crown events, has always been well represented in the Kentucky Derby, and Itsmyluckyday also earned the right to represent Gulfstream in the first leg of the Triple Crown with his runner-up finish in the Florida Derby. The Eddie Plesa Jr.-trained colt captured the $100,000 Gulfstream Park Derby on Jan. 1 and the $400,000 Holy Bull (G3) on Jan. 19 before his second-place finish in the Florida Derby.
While Shanghai Bobby, the 2012 Eclipse Award-winning juvenile champion, was knocked out of Kentucky Derby consideration with a disappointing fifth-place finish in the Florida Derby, trainer Todd Pletcher unveiled an exciting 3-year-old prospect, Verrazano, during the Gulfstream meeting. The son of More Than Ready dazzled the New Year’s Day crowd while capturing his career debut by 7 ¾ lengths. He came right back to capture his next start by 16 ¼ lengths before going out of town earn a Kentucky Derby berth with a win in the Tampa Bay Derby (G3).
Pletcher also dominated his competition during the meeting, capturing his unprecedented 10th straight Gulfstream Park training title by saddling winners at a 30-percent strike rate.
Javier Castellano has started his own string of consecutive riding titles, successfully defending his record-breaking season last winter. Castellano, who rode an unprecedented 112 winners last season, prevailed over a more contentious group of jockeys this season.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey were the leading owners after getting off to a quick start by visiting the winner’s circle with four of the seven winners of Claiming Crown races on opening day.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who finished third behind Castellano and newcomer Joel Rosario in the races-won category, was the leader in purses-won with a total of $4.3 million. “Johnny V” came out on top in the two most high profile races run at Gulfstream. In addition to guiding Orb to victory in the Florida Derby, he rode Point of Entry to an exciting 1 ¼-length triumph over 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1) on Feb. 9. Animal Kingdom, who trained at Palm Meadows for Graham Motion, and Rosario went on to capture the $10 million Dubai World Cup (G1) on March 30. Velazquez led all jockey in stakes victories with 14.
While the 3-year-olds are the main focus of racing fans with an eye toward the Triple Crown, older horses, such as Point of Entry and Animal Kingdom, really put on some great shows this season. Cigar Street, a 4-year-old trained by Bill Mott, has emerged as a major contender in the handicap division while sweeping three races at Gulfstream, including the $100,000 Skip Away (G3) on Florida Derby Day. In 2012, Fort Larned used the Skip Away victory as a launching board for a successful campaign that concluded with a victory in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
Fort Larned was favored to make a winning 2013 debut in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2), only to stumble and fall leaving the starting gate. Thankfully, Fort Larned sustained only a minor injury. The Pletcher-trained Discreet Dancer went on to victory to establish himself among the best older horses in the country. Stablemate Graydar emerged more suddenly to establish himself as a handicap star. After winning an entry-level allowance at Gulfstream on Dec. 6, the son of Unbridled’s Song posted a front-running victory in the $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1) on Feb. 9. Ron the Greek was yet another star of the handicap division to compete at Gulfstream, where he won the $400,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Classic on Jan. 19.