As much as 2019 is winding down to a close, there are some places where things are beginning to heat up.
The starting gates open for Gulfstream Park’s winter meet Friday, kicking off a meet that will bring some of the East’s best horses and horsemen to the South Florida track through late March.
Given the length of the meet and a recurring cast of characters on the human side, there are surely some trends from previous meets that cannot be ignored.
For starters, you can expect trainers Jorge Navarro and Todd Pletcher to dominate the standings. In the last three years, they finished 1-2 in wins, highlighted by the last meet (2018-19) when Navarro had 53 wins to Pletcher’s 47 and he ended Pletcher’s amazing streak of 15 straight winter meet titles at the Hallandale Beach, Fla., track. Given the strength of both trainer’s stables – they are each among the top nine nationally in wins – it promises to be another lively duel for the training title.
Even though Pletcher won 47 races last year, it was a down year for the sport’s all-time leader in earnings as he posted 70 wins in 2017-18 and 58 in 2016-17. He was pretty consistent on turf and dirt at the last meet, winning 25 races at a 28% clip on dirt and 22 on turf at a rate of 22%.
Navarro was much more one dimensional. Of his 53 wins last meet, 42 came on dirt, where he won at a 25% clip. Meanwhile, on turf he had only nine wins at a rate of 16%.
There were some other interesting turf/dirt stats, starting with Chad Brown. Turf was definitely the three-time Eclipse Award winner’s preferred surface as the bulk of his starts and wins came on turf. Overall, he had 26 wins at a 30% rate. Included in those totals were 22 wins on turf from 63 starts for a 35% win percentage. Yet on dirt he only had 24 starters and four wins (17%).
Mike Maker also had an imbalance between turf and dirt wins. On turf he had 17 wins compared to six on dirt. Yet in terms of backing his horses, Maker won at a 13% clip on turf but connected with 22% of his starters on dirt.
Speaking of winning percentages, the trainer to watch is Jason Servis. Servis finished third in the trainer’s standings with 35 wins and won with an incredible 45% of his starters while hitting the board (finishing in top three) 74% of the time. His dirt numbers were even wilder as he won with 22 of 36 starters for a mind-boggling 61% rate. That left him with 13 turf wins at a still impressive 32%.
For all of the New York-New Jersey barns who increase their Florida presence in the winter, several Sunshine State regulars can more than hold their own at the meet.
Saffie Joseph Jr. had a great winter with 27 wins at a 26% clip. On dirt he won 17 races (25%) and on turf he notched 10 wins (29%). Given how he turned Math Wizard from a claimer into a Grade 1 winner this year, he seems poised for another nice Gulfstream meet.
One of the more intriguing stats from last winter involved Florida trainer Rohan Crichton who won nine races on turf from just 21 starters. That’s a 43% winning percentage which isn’t bad at all wherever you bet this winter.