A Guide to the Season of Change in Horse Racing

A seasonal highlight is Santa Anita's traditional Dec. 26 Opening Day card. (Casey Phillips/Eclipse Sportswire)

This is a season of change in horse racing, and we’re not just talking about the weather. Handicappers will certainly notice that change is in the air on several racing circuits around the country as many high-profile race meets come to an end just as new ones are getting started. Here is what’s happening in horse racing with Thanksgiving over and calendars ready to flip to December.

Southern California

The Del Mar fall meet will wrap up on Dec. 4 and there will be a three-week gap in-between Del Mar and Santa Anita's anxiously awaited traditional opening day on Dec. 26. SoCal racing will go on hiatus the holiday week from Dec. 19-25. Thankfully we will have the short-but-sweet Los Alamitos December meet from Dec. 9-18 to help bridge the gap. The brief six-day Los Al Thoroughbred racing stand will contain four stakes races for 2-year-olds, including the $300,000, Grade 1 Starlet Stakes on Dec. 10 and the $200,000, Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity on Dec. 17.

Gulfstream Park

Pegasus Day at Gulfstream Park. (Meg Griffin/Eclipse Sportswire)

There has been no turf racing at Gulfstream Park since June but much to everyone’s appreciation, grass racing is returning on Dec. 1. Also beginning in December, Gulfstream will return to a five-day-a-week schedule Wednesdays through Sundays. The winter “championship meet” will start Dec. 26 and run until the beginning of April. The turf course has been renovated and thankfully turf racing is now ready to return with a vengeance. Gulfstream will run the championship meet as a three-surface facility (dirt main track, turf course, Tapeta Footings synthetic track). Some big days to look forward to include the $3 million Pegasus World Cup day card with eight stakes races to be run on Jan. 28 and Curlin Florida Derby day on April 1, which will feature 10 stakes.


New York’s biggest weekend of fall racing revolves around Aqueduct’s four graded stakes on Saturday, Dec. 3 featuring the $750,000, Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap Presented by NYRA Bets as well as the $200,000, Grade 3 Go For Wand Handicap, the $250,000, Grade 2 Remsen Stakes, and the $250,000, Grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes. Aqueduct will shut down turf racing around the time its winter meet begins on Dec. 8. NYRA will take a 10-day holiday break from Dec. 19-28.

Oaklawn Park

The 2022-’23 Oaklawn Park racing season begins Dec. 9. The racetrack will race two weekends and then take a holiday break and begin racing again on Dec. 30. The five-month, dirt track-only racing season will continue until Kentucky Derby day, May 6. Racing will be run mostly on a Friday-through-Sunday basis, plus holidays. Thursdays will be added in the heart of the meet in March. Oaklawn features a prominent 3-year-old stakes schedule that leads right up to the Grade 1 $1.25 million Arkansas Derby on April 1.

Fair Grounds

The 2022-’23 Fair Grounds meet is off and running for what will be the historic track’s 151st racing season. Racing started Nov. 18 and will continue until closing day, March 26. The highlight day of the 80-day meet comes on March 25 with the 110th running of the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby headlining a card loaded with eight stakes races. The Louisiana Derby will be run at the distance of 1 3/16 miles. In all, the New Orleans area track will host 65 stakes this season worth a total of $8.5 million.


The 2022 Woodbine racing season officially comes to an end with closing day on Sunday, Dec. 11. Trainer Mark Casse and jockey Kazushi Kimora are again running away with their respective meet titles, both in terms of purse earnings and winners. Racing at Woodbine is expected to resume in April 2023.


The Churchill Downs fall meet ended on Nov. 27, and Kentucky racing will continue at Turfway Park, which opens its season on Nov. 30. Live racing will be hosted on a mostly Wednesday-through-Saturday basis through April 1. Turfway has completed a new “racino” facility at the northern Kentucky, Cincinnati-area track. They’ve demolished the old grandstand and built a new gaming building and installed in 2020 an all-new Tapeta Footings synthetic racing surface.

Tampa Bay Downs

Tampa Bay Downs opened its 2022-’23 racing season on Nov. 23 and will host a 90-day race meet that will last until Kentucky Derby day, May 6. Racing will be conducted on a mostly Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday basis, with Sundays being added beginning on Jan. 1. The meet’s signature race, the $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, will be run on Saturday, March 11.

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