Top Jockeys Ready for Gulfstream's December 3 Opening
By Brian Skirka
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino will be home to quite a few new features throughout its 2011-12 meet, including a Dec. 3 return of live racing, a 12:35 pm first race post time, and a new infield video board.
One thing remaining the same, however, is the overwhelming talent that will call the Gulfstream Park jockey’s room home during the upcoming season.
Headed by Paco Lopez, Gulfstream’s leading rider in each of the last two seasons, the 2011-12 jockey colony will feature many familiar faces to South Florida racing fans, but will also consist of a few new ones.
Three-time Kentucky Derby (G1) winning rider Calvin Borel will make Gulfstream Park his home for the 2011-12 meet. The 45-year-old Borel has experienced a resurgence over the past five years, having guided Street Sense (2007), Mine That Bird (2008), and Super Saver (2009) to victories in the Kentucky Derby, as well as being the regular rider of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra.
One-time Gulfstream Park fixture Chris DeCarlo is returning for the 2011-12 meet after spending the summer at his Monmouth Park home base. Last winter, DeCarlo spent his time in Saudi Arabia as the first-call rider for King Abdullah.
Among the riders returning to Gulfstream Park is John Velazquez, last year’s runner-up in the jockey standings. Just months after completing the local meet with 64 victories, Velazquez captured his first Kentucky Derby a year ago aboard Animal Kingdom.
The 40-year-old Velazquez is looking forward to the start of a new year in south Florida.
“I’m very excited about Gulfstream,” he said. “I think starting in December is a good idea. Unfortunately, I have a couple scheduling conflicts so I won’t be there the first two weeks, but I’ll start riding there on the 15th. I’m looking forward to finding my next Derby horse.”
Javier Castellano, third in the jockey standings last season, returns to Gulfstream after an extremely successful 2011 season which saw him win multiple Grade 1 events and finish as the leading money earner at Saratoga’s summer meet.
The 34-year-old native of Venezuela will once again ride full time at Gulfstream Park beginning on Dec. 3.
“I think starting the meet a month earlier is a great idea,” Castellano said. “Hopefully, a lot of people – horsemen and fans – will come down early and make it a great meet right from the start. I know as a jockey, I’m really looking forward to it. The horses we ride during the winter at Gulfstream will hopefully be the horses we ride throughout the rest of the year. Gulfstream always has great racing which means great horses as well.”
Lopez will be attempting to earn his third consecutive riding title at Gulfstream, a feat previously accomplished by only Jorge Chavez (1998-2000).
Joe Bravo, fourth in the rider standing last year, returns to Gulfstream Park after a very lucrative winter last season in which he guided the speedy Little Mike to a trio of Grade 3 victories.
Gulfstream Park regular Jose Lezcano rounded out the top five in the standings a season ago and will return to south Florida for the 2011-12 meet. The 26-year-old recently captured the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (G1) aboard Royal Delta.
Other household names expected to call the Gulfstream Park jockey’s room home this winter include Jesus Catanon, Manoel Cruz, Alan Garcia, Fernando Jara, Julien Leparoux, Rajiv Maragh, Luis Saez, Alex Solis, Elvis Trujillo, Cornelio Velasquez and Hall of Fame members Kent Desormeaux and Edgar Prado.