When I perused the entries as Gulfstream Park opened earlier this month, I was thinking, you know, Calder East.
A friend called to ask what I thought about the early opening. “I’m going to pretend the early opening never happened and pick it up January 3, the date it should open.”
Please, pass the salt, my crow is getting cold.
Frankly, I can’t believe how quickly things changed. Yes, I know, you're probably right: Things haven't changed all that much.
Todd Pletcher is well on his way to yet another training title at the South Florida track, having won with half his 22 entrants through December 20.
Chad Brown and Wayne Catalano are a distant second with four winners during that same time frame. Brown is likely to be among the Top 10 trainers wherever he sends a division; Catalano has been enjoying the Florida sunshine for years.
And not to forget Graham Motion, Rick Dutrow, Kiaran McLaughlin and Wesley Ward.
With Johnny Velazquez competing in jockey championships and taking his family on vacation, Javier Castellano has jumped on many of the winning Pletcher horses, as well as winning races for other clients.
With or without competition, the sunshine seems to agree with Castellano as well. Through Tuesday, he was 19-for-60 with 10 seconds. Elvis Trujillo, who always does well this time of year, held a slight lead over Julien Leparoux, eight to seven.
When Velazquez gets back into gear, Johnny, Javier and Julien figure to dominate the proceedings as all three are closely associated with top outfits; no disrespect to Jose Lezcano and Paco Lopez intended.
Owners Frank Calabrese and Ken and Sarah Ramsey have the numbers and horses to fit virtually any condition or class level. They top the owners list at the moment and are likely to duke it out the rest of the season. I wouldn’t bet against it.
So, just like that, the racing turned around and South Florida once again looks like home base for the good-horse circuit during the winter months. And forget the politics; other racing jurisdictions can blame Federico Tesio for this phenomenon.
However, it’s the horses that are making the difference. Rather than waiting, good horses are already starting to emerge, one such as the undefeated Trickmeister who made a mighty return and now looms one of the Donn Handicap favorites.
His more celebrated mate, Boys At Tosconova, goes Friday beneath regular rider Ramon Dominguez and, depending on the results, could give Dutrow a strong Donn hand, indeed, a spot that is supposed to feature the return of the Suburban and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner and Whitney and Woodward runnerup, Flat Out.
If prime time winter racing in South Florida is about anything, it’s about the newly turned 3-year-olds but thanks to Gulfstream’s new schedule that’s meant late developing 2-year-olds, allowance winners and maiden breakers alike.
And did anyone catch the winning debut of the juvenile filly Ciao Bella, breaking maiden at one mile in 1:38.49, coming from well off a half-mile pace of :48.54 going away by 7-1/4 lengths? Divisional leaders, beware.
But the even money Michael Tabor owner favorite clearly was no surprise, not being by Giants Causeway, from the classy Bella Bellucci, and debuting for Team Pletcher/Velazquez.
For Pletcher, it’s been an embarrassment of riches. From Discreet Dancer’s 9-length debut romp in 1:02.34, obliterating the 5-1/2 furlong track record as a son of Discreet Cat and West Side Dancer should.
Off that effort he’s already down to 100-1 in the Kentucky Derby winter book.
Then last week it was Algorithms, returning from a six-month layup to beat the highly regarded Consortium by a length in a very lively 1:15.51 for 6-1/2 furlongs.
By Bernardini, from the Cryptoclearance mare Ava Knowsthecode, distance should not limit his horizons. The Holy Bull, a one turn mile, is up next for Algorithms, a 75-1 winter book chance.
Alpha, the Champagne runnerup and sitting at 75-1 is expected to run at Gulfstream, as might Indian Ambush for Bill Mott (75-1); King Kid for Dale Romans (75-1) and Motor City for Ian Wilkes (75-1).
Add to those O’Prado Again, Romans (28-1); Stat, Pletcher (85-1); Timely Tally, Wilkes (75-1), Union Rags, Michael Matz (10-1) and Hansen, Michael Maker (18-1).
Business-wise, Gulfstream is in uncharted territory, but to say business has been brisk is to understate the case. Average daily handle from all-sources was $6.6 for the first 10 days of the meet that began December 3.
On track, Gulfstream has averaged $440K. Compared to the traditional April dates that it relinquished in exchange for getting the December dates from Calder, that’s a 17% increase.
Really, how wrong can one turf writer be?