Gulfstream Meeting Ends, Memories Linger
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – The 2011 thoroughbred meeting at Gulfstream Park was undeniably a spectacular artistic success, providing a program of 33 graded stakes that was supported by the most talented fields in memory from beginning to end.
Usually when a venture is labeled an artistic success, it’s used as an excuse to ease the disappointment of weak financial performance, but Gulfstream’s 79-day meeting proved that the adjectives, artistic and financial, are not mutually exclusive when it comes to business.
The operative word for Gulfstream’s winter thoroughbred celebration was action, both on the racetrack and at the mutuel windows.
Betting records tumbled as total handle increased approximately $50 million and on-track handle increased 13.6 percent. Meanwhile, a new standard was set in Gulfstream’s building as attendance went up 11.2 percent over last year.
While setting numerous betting records – fueled by large, competitive fields and innovative wagers, such as the 10-cent Rainbow 6 and 50-cent Pick 5 – Gulfstream played host to the nation’s brightest stars, most notably Dialed In, who will be the likely favorite for the Kentucky Derby (G1)at Churchill Downs on May 7.
The Nick Zito-trained 3-year-old colt stamped himself as a Derby prospect on Jan. 30, when he closed from last to capture the Holy Bull (G3) in only his second lifetime-race. Following an allowance tune-up against older horses, in which he narrowly lost to stablemate Equestrio, Dialed In rolled to victory in Gulfstream’s signature race, the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) on April 3.
With his victories in the Holy Bull and Florida Derby, Dialed In will be eligible for the Preakness 5.5, in which he can reward his connections with $5.5 million in bonuses with a victory in the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico on May 21.
Dialed In was only one of several Kentucky Derby prospects that spent the winter at Palm Meadows. Soldat and Uncle Mo, who are expected to join Dialed In in the Kentucky Derby field, made the trip from Gulfstream’s satellite training facility in Boynton Beach to score stakes victories. Soldat drew off to a powerful victory in the Fountain of Youth (G2) on Feb. 16 and Uncle Mo, the 2010 juvenile champion, made a triumphant 3-year-old debut in the Timely Writer Stakes on March 12.
In the 3-year-old filly division, Todd Pletcher-trained R Heat Lightning established herself as the one to beat in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) on May 6 with a smashing victory in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) on April 2. The 8 ¼-l;ength triumph highlighted Ladies’ Day, which benefited the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Although 3-year-olds are in the spotlight at Gulfstream, brilliant performances certainly weren’t limited to the sophomore class.
Chris Block-trained Giant Oak captured the most prestigious race for older horses with a memorable stretch run in the Donn Handicap (G1) on Feb.5. Tackleberry, though, showed the most versatility among older horses while winning three major stakes: the Sunshine Millions Classic on Jan. 29, the Gulfstream Park Sprint (G2) on Feb. 12 and Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2).
On the sprint side, Big Drama followed up his 2010 Eclipse Award-winning season and victory in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint with a track record-breaking triumph in the Mr. Prospector (G3) on Jan. 15.
On the distaff side, Awesome Maria captured the ruled as the clear leader in the older filly or mare division with victories in the Rampart (G3) on April 2 and Sabin (G3). Stablemate Hilda’s Passion was the top female sprinter with victories in the Inside Information (G3) on March 19 and Hurricane Bertie (G3) on Feb. 13.
Little Mike distinguished himself as the only three-time graded-stakes winner with front-running performances on turf in the Appleton (G3) on April 3, Canadian Turf (G3)on Feb. 27 and the Ft. Lauderdale (G3) on Jan. 9.
While their exploits are now part of Gulfstream history, the above-mentioned horses will give the fans of the Hallandale Beach track many rooting interests through the racing year until they return for a brand-new meeting on Dec. 3.