Derby Season Gets Underway Sunday at Gulfstream Park
By Ed Gray
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Gulfstream Park has traditionally exerted the most influence on the Triple Crown of any racetrack, and that tradition of excellence figures to be even greater in 2012 with the inauguration of another major stakes for 3-year-olds.
The inaugural running of the $100,000 Gulfstream Park Derby will highlight Sunday’s New Year’s Day program, offering a lucrative first step on the Road to the Kentucky Derby for 11 newly turned 3-year-olds.
As the first derby of the calendar year, the Gulfstream Derby will provide perfect opportunities for late-developing colts to play catch-up with their more seasoned peers and receive two-turn experience. The new stakes will be run at the 1 1/16-mile distance that has been instituted for the 2011-2012 meeting to help in the development of 3-year-olds being pointed to the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) on March 31 and beyond.
Trainer Graham Motion, who saddled Animal Kingdom for a triumph in the 2011 Kentucky Derby after launching his 3-year-old season in a turf allowance race at Gulfstream, will be represented in the Gulfstream Derby by Gold Megillah, a colt that broke his maiden in his fourth start by more than 18 lengths in a race taken off the turf at Churchill Downs last time out.
“We’re looking forward to testing him with some of the other 3-year-olds,” Motion said.
Gold Megillah is one of six entrants in the 11-horse field with just a maiden victory, including the Nick Zito-trained Casual Trick, who also broke through with his first triumph in his most recent start at Churchill Downs.
Zito, who saddled Dialed In for a victory in the 2011 Florida Derby (G1) and Holy Bull (G3), is confident that Casual Trick will fit well in stakes company in only his third career start.
“The Gulfstream Park Derby is a two turn race, a mile and a sixteenth. I thought right off the bat to see how good he is. I think he’s really, really good,” Zito said. “Hopefully, his pedigree jumps up. I know it’s quick. I’m asking him to do something unusual, but sometimes we do that. These are the horses that take us to the promised land, not us. Hopefully, he can do it.”
In addition to the six entrants with only one victory, the Gulfstream Park Derby field will be filled out with five that have won two races, including Ancient Rome, who captured the six-furlong Spectacular Bid Stakes on the opening-day card of the 2011-2012 meeting. The only stakes winner in the field, Ancient Rome will be making his first start around two turns, a crucial test in determining a colt’s credentials for the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Silver Menace, who has won both of his starts, passed that test last time out by winning an allowance race at Hawthorne Park on Nov. 27. His solid front-running score at the Gulfstream Park Derby distance made the son of Silver Wagon an attractive prospect to Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and trainer Kathy Ritvo. The Reeves-Ritvo team, who campaign 2011 Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Mucho Macho Man, recently purchased Silver Menace with high hopes for the spring classics.
Derby Fever is bound to break out Sunday at Gulfstream Park.