HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, January 12, 2014—The timing could not have been better. The escape from New York was delayed but went along as planned. After a few miserable weeks in the Northeast, golden sunshine proved good for the soul.

So is being back on the “good horse circuit” and, in that context, our arrival in South Florida could not have been better-timed. I found this out when Phil Janack, formerly of the Schenectady Gazette and now a member of Gulfstream’s publicity staff, informed me that Saturday's card was the best card of the season.

Christophe Clement
Photo by Toni Pricci
Christophe Clement reminds Joe Bravo that Summer Front needs patient handling
Janack was not making use of hyperbole here, just simply telling it like it is and proved to be. Special-weight maidens were everywhere, going long on turf, going short on dirt, including a not-so-secret Todd Pletcher first-timer.

There were allowance races galore, two graded stakes, one on each surface, and a NW3 allowances featuring the 4-year-old debuts of two 2013 Kentucky Derby runners, including also-ran Falling Sky show and show finisher Revolutionary, the latter earning his way to the big dance via scores in the Withers and Louisiana Derby.

They ran 1-2, Revolutionary’s win more impressive than his half-length winning margin suggests. And either he was showing his freshness or he's a lot handier now than he was on the 2013 Triple Crown trail. If that’s the case, the War Pass colt will be a tough out in the G1 Donn next month.

Two races later, after the Ramsey’s Charming Kitten, equipped with his new blinkers, made his successful 4-year-old debut, Pletcher completed a personal Pick 3 with the highly touted newcomer Constitution, owned by the WinStar people of Revolutionary fame, along with Twin Creeks Racing.

Constitution broke very slowly from the gate, pulled Javier Castellano through the field, lucky to get through unencumbered by traffic while moving up on the fence. But then things got tougher as he engaged a fast, experienced Juba that gave no quarter, keeping Constitution in close quarters through the long stretch run.

The final time of 1:23.36 was very solid off a half-mile in :44.82, the final eighth in an understandably pedestrian :13.65. But the takeaway was that he impressed by passing the eyeball test, showing class in the process.

Three races later, another 2013 Triple Crown trail-er, Elnaawi, made a successful 4-year-old debut against a field of preliminary allowance types, setting a controlled pace beneath Joel Rosario before coming away with a 1-1/4 length win that can be described as a useful return for To Honor And Serve’s half-brother.

Parenthetically, this gave Kiaran McLaughlin a very good day, who also saddled promising turf runner Macaroon to victory, all after 3-year-old Cairo Prince had an excellent company work with an older horse. It was his second consecutive five-eighths in :59.80. A soft half-mile breeze next weekend should have him set for the following week’s Holy Bull.

Summer Front proudly returns
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Summer Front proudly returns to Gulfstream winner's circle
Christophe Clement had Summer Front ready for his 5-year-old debut after suffering a nose defeat in Hollywood’s G2 Citation last tine out. Joe Bravo gave him the patient, covered-up handling to show his best as he won the G2 Ft. Lauderdale.

Meanwhile, in his first start for Bill Mott, Lea was a revelation in taking the G3 Hal’s Hope, attending the pace of defending Hal’s Hope champion Csaba, opening ground quickly beneath Luis Saez soon after entering the straight, separating himself from the competition in what should be an ideal prep for he and several of his rivals, notably tough-tripping third Neck n’ Neck and wide-tripping fourth, Uncaptured.

Last year, we wrote glowingly of Saez after it was learned the Calder regular would switch his tack to New York. Saez gained national prominence as the partner of certain-to-be 2013 3-year-old champion Will Take Charge and took the Hal’s Hope occasion to annex career win #1,000. Fittingly, former Calder president Ken Dunn was on hand to present the trophy to the accomplished 21-year-old.

Lea's first graded dirt win
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Lea's first graded dirt win and Luis Saez's career win 1,000
GULFSTREAM RETURN SOMETHING OF A MIXED BAG: With apologies to Saratoga, Del Mar and Keeneland, Gulfstream Park in recent years has emerged from winter capital of East Coast racing to the best sustained Thoroughbred meet in the country at any time of the year.

Wags will quickly note that now one must include the remaining year-round dates before making that observation, but we don’t think so. Their decision to race year-round was straight economics based gaining on a bigger share of off-season simulcast revenue, at that time the exclusive province of Calder Race Course.

Tampa Bay Downs also added to its schedule last year toward that same simulcast end. To us, prime time Florida racing begins when juveniles become 3-year-olds on New Year’s Day and ends when the last Florida Derby entrant crosses the finish line.

To accommodate this schedule--while having the added benefit of attracting horses away from the track in Miami Lakes--Gulfstream built two full-size barns to handle the equine overload. It’s no wonder that, poor early-week weather notwithstanding, there were no fewer than 211 horses on Saturday’s work tab. That’s the good news.

The not-so-good news is that the new barns obstruct from view the start of races out of the 7-furlong and mile chutes. In order to see the break from the gate, fans must watch the track’s closed-circuit monitors. However, present camera angles do not provide pan views.

Hall of Famer Bill Mott
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Hall of Famer Bill Mott's excited about new pupil Lea's future
The start of the one-turn mile is viewed head on, great for seeing the occasional stumble or rough-and-tumble start of colliding equines, but poor for establishing depth perception. Did your horse break 2-lengths or 4-lengths slowly away from the barrier? This makes answering the question very difficult if not impossible.

The 7-furlong view is a bit better with a quasi-head-on view that provides some pan context. But in both cases there is an abrupt switch to the traditional view. Horses race more than a furlong out of the mile chute before traditional sightlines become available.

Thus far, veteran observers have taken the transition in stride but newcomers—on any given day there are many at the popular destination venue--doubtlessly are scratching their heads. Hopefully, some new technology, short of binoculars that can see through walls, eventually will correct the problem.