By Ed Gray For GulfstreamPark.com
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Gulfstream Park will inaugurate its 2011 Thoroughbred racing season Wednesday with a nine-race program highlighted by the $100,000 Old Hat (G3).
A 12:55 p.m. first-race post time has been set for the 79-card meeting that is scheduled through April 24 and offers free admission and parking.
The 69th meeting at South Florida’s premiere racing venue will be marked by many changes and improvements to the day-at-the-races experience of its patrons, including an attractive betting menu with bettor-friendly pari-mutuel takeouts. Among the most exciting betting options are the Rainbow 6, a pick-6 wager with a 10-cent minimum wager; a Pick-5 with a 50-cent minimum bet and a record low 15-percent takeout; and early and late Pick-4s with a 50-cent minimum wager and a 20-percent takeout.
New menus will also be in vogue in Ten Palms and the Tiki Hut with dining options for every appetite.
“We’re looking forward to a memorable and historic meeting,” said Steve Calabro, President and GM at Gulfstream Park. “We have the top Kentucky Derby contenders stabled at Gulfstream and our Palm Meadows training facility as well as seven Breeders’ Cup champions. We’ve not only increased the purses of our major 3-year-old races, but they will be part of the Preakness 5.5 and Black-Eyed Susan 2.2 bonus programs.
“We’ve listened to our fans in regards to our wagering menus, and we have the finest jockeys and trainers in the country. And while other tracks across the country are cutting their purses, we’ve increased our stakes program and overnights.”
The record $9 million stakes schedule for the 2011 racing season will also appeal to the appetites of bettors. The 60th running of the Florida Derby (G1) will offer a $1 million purse, boosted from $750,000, for Triple Crown hopefuls on Sunday, April 3. The purses for the two major prep races for the Florida Derby – the Holy Bull (G3) on Jan. 19 and the Fountain of Youth (G2) on Feb. 26 – have each been raised to $400,000.
All three stakes for 3-year-olds are included in the newly instituted Preakness 5.5 bonus program. The owner of a 3-year-old able to win either the Holy Bull or Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby will be eligible to collect a $5 million bonus if that horse goes on to capture the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 21. A $500,000 bonus will be available to the trainer of a Preakness 5.5 winner.
The Black-Eyed Susan 2.2 will be offered to 3-year-old fillies with a $2.2 million in bonuses going to the connections ($2 million to the owner and $200,000 to the trainer) of a filly able to sweep the Forward Gal (Jan.29), Davona Dale (Feb. 26) and Gulfstream Park Oaks (April 2) before going on to win the Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico Race Course on May 20.
Gulfstream will play host to the Sunshine Millions, the annual series of stakes pitting the mightiest Florida-bred horses against best California-bred horses, on Jan. 29. The $500,000 Classic, the $300,000 Filly and Mare Turf Stakes and the $200,000 Filly and Mare Sprint Stakes will be run at Gulfstream, while three other stakes will be run at Santa Anita the same day.
The 53rd running of the $500,000 Donn Handicap, the first major stakes in the country for older horses, will be featured on Feb. 5.
Gulfstream will host ‘Breakfast At Gulfstream.’ The public is invited to attend Saturday morning workouts throughout the meeting between 7-10 a.m., while having a breakfast buffet and meeting many of the sport’s biggest stars.
In Wednesday’s featured Old Hat, Roxy Gap will seek her fourth straight victory in as many starts in the six-furlong sprint for 3-year-old fillies. The Mark Casse-trained filly, who’ll be ridden by Julien Leparoux, will be making her first start on a conventional dirt track after winning her first two starts on Woodbine’s synthetic main track and her most recent score on the Canadian track’s turf course. The daughter of Indian Charlie, who is rated as the 9-5 favorite in a field of six, should receive stern challenges from Final Mesa and Quantum Miss.
Final Mesa, owned and trained by Wesley Ward, captured her first three races before fading to sixth in a Del Mar stakes last August in her most recent start. Joel Rosario is slated to travel from Southern California to ride the daughter of Sky Mesa. Quantum Miss, trained by Anthony Dutrow, won a $75,000 stakes at Penn National by 16 lengths in her most recent start on Nov. 24.