The 2020-2021 championship meet at Gulfstream Park gets under way tomorrow (Wednesday, December 2) for the first of 84 days of Thoroughbred racing.
Racing is set to run through March 27 primarily on a Wednesday-Sunday schedule with a first post set at 12:35 pm. Under coronavirus pandemic protocols, racing will be conducted without spectators.
The Gulfstream championship meet will offer a stakes schedule of 75 stakes, 36 graded, worth US$13.06 million in purses.
The $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) and the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) will be run Jan. 23, co-headlining a program with seven graded stakes. The Pegasus World Cup, won by Mucho Gusto last year, has been designated as a ‘Win and In’ race for the US$20 million Saudi Cup in Riyadh Feb. 20. The Pegasus World Cup Turf will be a qualifier for the $1 million Middle Distance Turf Handicap on the Saudi Cup undercard.
The US$800,000 Florida Derby (G1), which has produced the winners of 60 Triple Crown races, will headline a March 27 programme that will offer 10 stakes, 6 graded, including the US$250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks.
Gulfstream’s program for 3-year-olds kicks off with the US$100,000 Mucho Macho Man Dec. 12, followed by the US$200,000 Holy Bull (G3), which will headline a Jan. 30 program with five graded stakes, including the US$100,000 Swale (G3), a seven-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds.
The US$350,000 Fountain of Youth (G2), the 1 1/16-mile final prep for the Florida Derby, will be featured on a Feb. 27 programme with nine graded stakes.
The Road to the Gulfstream Park Oaks starts with the US$100,000 Forward Gal, a seven-furlong sprint on the Jan. 30 Holy Bull undercard. The US$200,000 Davona Dale, the mile final prep for the Gulfstream Park Oaks, will be contested on the Feb. 27 Fountain of Youth undercard.
The stakes program launches Saturday with the return of the Claiming Crown, a program for horses that have started for a claiming price at least once during the past two years. The US$150,000 Jewel, a 1 1/8-mile stakes for 3-year-olds and up that have started for a claiming price of US$35,000 or lower, is featured among nine Claiming Crown stakes.
Jesus’ Team, who finished third in the Preakness and second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), is expected to headline the field for the Jewel.
Irad Ortiz Jr. will be back to defend the riding titles he won in 2018-2019 and 2019-2020. Luis Saez, who finished second behind Ortiz by just one and two wins, respectively, will seek to regain the title he won the two seasons prior.
Ortiz is looking to become just the second jockey to win three outright riding titles at the championship meet. He would join Jorge Chavez, who accomplished the feat from 1999 to 2001.
Todd Pletcher, who regained his training title last season after missing out in 2018-19, will seek his 17th championship meet title. Prior to being temporarily dethroned in ’18-’19, he had won the previous 16 trainers’ titles.
“You try to just focus on placing your horses properly and hoping they run well,” Pletcher explained of his immense success at Gulfstream. “I think when the streak was still intact it was perhaps a little more meaningful because if you have a streak going for that long the chances of ever duplicating that are pretty remote.
“But, we’ll focus on doing the best we can without being overly concerned about whether or not that ends up leading to a meet title.”
New stables at Gulfstream and its satellite training center Palm Meadows in Palm Beach include Brad Cox, Jack Sisterson, Brittany Russell, Jeremiah Englehart and Butch Reid.
“We’re extremely optimistic for a fantastic championship meet,” said Mike Lakow, Vice President of Racing at Gulfstream. “The barns are full with many of the top trainers, including some wintering here for the first time. We’re also happy with the way our turf course has thrived during the extreme rainy season here this fall.”
The 20-cent Rainbow 6 will again feature prominently on Gulfstream’s wagering menu. The Rainbow 6, which will span the final six races each day, kicks off off Wednesday with a US$50,000 jackpot guarantee.
In the featured eighth race on opening day, Shadwell Stable’s Ashaar is scheduled to make his first start for Pletcher in a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and up. The 3-year-old son of Into Mischief hasn’t seen action since finishing off the board in the Jan. 4 Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream. Ournationonparade, the only stakes winner in the field, will make his first start since finishing fifth in the Sept. 5 Smile Sprint (G3) at Gulfstream.