Winter is just around the corner in North America, and for fans of top-class Thoroughbred racing that means it’s time to think like a vacationer and direct attention to South Florida.
Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach kicks off its Championship Meet Friday, Dec. 3, and the best horses on the East Coast will race under generally perfect weather for the next four months until the meet ends on Sunday, April 3.
Gulfstream Park, owned by The Stronach Group, runs year-round after taking over the remainder of now-closed Calder Race Course’s dates last fall. But the quality level rises to 10 during the aptly named Championship Meet. Locally based owners, trainers, and jockeys are joined by many of the leading horsemen and horsewomen from New York and Kentucky, making for an incredibly competitive season of racing and an enticing buffet of betting options for horseplayers.
Gulfstream’s main dirt track is 1 1/8 miles with a relatively short homestretch of 898 feet. Their turf course is seven furlongs. In September, Gulfstream unveiled an artificial-surface Tapeta track that is 1 mile and 70 yards long. This gives track officials more flexibility in scheduling and will be beneficial as a second option when rain forces races off the turf due to inclement weather.
When They Race
Live racing for the Championship Meet starts Friday, Dec. 3, and then is held from Wednesday to Sunday each week until April 3. First post time at Gulfstream varies during the Championship Meet, usually beginning between noon ET and 1:10 ET. Check Equibase.com for the latest information and entries.
Gulfstream Park offers win, place, show, exacta, quinella, trifecta, superfecta, daily double, Pick 3, Pick 4, and Pick 5 bets. It also offers a super high 5 wager on the last race of each card and the Rainbow Pick 6, a 20-cent bet that Gulfstream introduced several years ago. The wager covers the last six races of a card and the entire pool minus takeout is paid out if there’s one unique ticket with all six winners. If there is no single ticket holding six winners, 70% of the pool is paid out to tickets with the most winners and 30% is carried over. Several times during the meet, including closing day on April 3, Gulfstream will hold a mandatory payout for the Rainbow Pick 6 where the entire pool is distributed to tickets with the most winners.
Gulfstream’s online wagering platform is 1/ST Bet, which offers a multitude of promotions and also is the preferred betting destination for those playing other Stronach Group tracks, such as Santa Anita Park.
Trainers and Jockeys to Watch
Todd Pletcher has dominated the trainer standings at Gulfstream’s Championship Meet, ending up as the leader in wins for 15 years in a row (from 2004 through 2018) and then again in 2020 and 2021. Pletcher usually starts several of his leading Kentucky Derby contenders in Gulfstream’s Triple Crown preps. Two other trainers to keep tabs on are Mike Maker (who finished second in wins last year and first in earnings) and Saffie Joseph Jr.
Joseph has built his stable up over the past four years and will have horses running at all levels during the meet. Top trainers Mark Casse, Bill Mott, Christophe Clement, and Chad Brown also should be regularly represented in the big stakes races. Mott led all trainers with 75 or more starts in winning percentage during the 2021 Championship Meet at a hot 28 percent (27 wins from 95 starts). Pletcher won 58 of his 234 starts (25 percent).
Reigning Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. led the 2021 Championship Meet in wins with a record 140. That was his third straight meet title. Prior to his run, Luis Saez took home two consecutive meet titles (his 137 wins in 2018 set the old mark), and before that, Javier Castellano won five riding titles in a row.
Those elite jockeys will be present during the 2022 Championship Meet, along with standouts Tyler Gaffalione and Paco Lopez. Keep an eye out for jockeys who are based year-round at Gulfstream too, including Edgard Zayas, who won the riding title at the recently completed fall meet that ran from late September to Nov. 21.
Both Gulfstream’s dirt track and its turf course have favored speed horses in prior Championship Meets. The short stretch on the main track is an obstacle for horses coming from behind, and that’s especially true in lower-level races if a lone pacesetter shoots clear early and opens up through the far turn. One-mile dirt races at Gulfstream start in a chute and are held around one turn. The 1 1/16-mile races on dirt, on the other hand, are two-turn route races, and the track configuration puts horses drawn to the outside in the starting gate at a disadvantage with a very short run into to the first turn.
Gulfstream Park’s Championship Meet features stakes races worth more than $14.2 million, many of them grouped together on marquee Saturday cards. The first one is the Claiming Crown this coming Saturday, Dec. 4, which showcases the lunch-pail heroes of the sport who’ve plied their trade in claiming races.
On Jan. 29, the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational anchors a card that also features the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational, the inaugural running of the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf Invitational, and a variety of fan entertainment events surrounding the races.
After that, the focus shifts to Gulfstream’s series of Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve preps. The $250,000 Holy Bull Stakes will be held on Feb. 5, offering Derby points to the top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 basis. Next up is the $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 5, which boosts the points ante to 50-20-10-5. On the second to last day of the Championship Meet, April 2, the 70th running of the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby will be held. Fifteen Florida Derby winners have gone on to wear the garland of roses at Churchill Downs. The race offers points on a 100-40-20-10 distribution.
Where to Watch
TVG is the go-to channel for comprehensive coverage of racing at Gulfstream Park. The network makes a priority of breaking down each race with extensive handicapping and on-site paddock analysis. Big-event races such as the Pegasus World Cup and the Florida Derby have been broadcast by NBC Sports in recent years; NBC’s 2022 horse racing schedule has yet to be announced.