Trainers Eddie Plesa Jr. and Billy Croll took their customary position at the head of the line Monday morning as the horse vans rolled in and Gulfstream Park’s stable gates swung open in anticipation of the 2009 meeting.

Gulfstream Park will be celebrating its 70th birthday when its live meet opens Jan. 3, or 54 days from today.

“All systems are ‘go’” for a fantastic meet in 2009,” said Gulfstream President and General Manager Bill Murphy.

Plesa and Croll are the sons of horsemen and for more than 50 years their family names have been associated with the best that the sport has to offer.

Plesa, annually among the leading trainers at Gulfstream Park, won the first running of the Sunshine Millions Classic – the $1 million centerpiece to the $3.6 million Sunshine Millions races – here with Bea Oxenberg’s Best of the Rest in 2003.

Monday’s arrival provided a bittersweet moment for Croll: While comfortable to be out of New Jersey’s mid-autumn chill, this will be the first Gulfstream meeting he will have without his father, Hall of Fame trainer Jimmy Croll, who passed away at age 88 in June.

The elder Croll trained several of the nation’s top horses, three of whom have had stakes races named for them at Gulfstream Park: Forward Gal, Mr. Prospector and, one of America’s most popular horses, Holy Bull.

Both the Plesa and Croll barns expressed confidence that their good showings in New Jersey over the summer and fall will lead to frequent paydays during Gulfstream Park’s 79-day meet, which concludes April 23.

Croll won eight races at Monmouth and the Meadowlands, a challenging feat with only five horses. He brought three to Gulfstream Monday.

With a larger stable, Plesa won 26 races in New Jersey. His assistant, Frank Perez, said the stable would have 20 horses on the grounds by the end of the day, with more coming the next few days.

Several vans rolled in Monday but it’s only a trickle compared to the post-Thanksgiving rush that comes when vans delivering horses from New York, New Jersey, Chicago and Kentucky pull through the Hallandale Beach Boulevard stable gate.

Horses campaigning at Gulfstream Park will be stabled here; at Magna Entertainment Corp.’s magnificent satellite training facility, Palm Meadows, in Boynton Beach; and throughout South Florida, from Indiantown in Palm Beach County to Miami Gardens in Upper Dade.

Gulfstream Park Racing Secretary Doug Bredar expects the stable areas at Gulfstream Park (which has stalls for 1,026 horses) and at Palm Meadows (which has room for 1,426) to be operating at full capacity this winter.

Palm Meadows opened for stabling Oct. 27.

In the days to come, large contingents from Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers such as Bobby Frankel, Shug McGaughey, Kiaran McLaughlin, Bill Mott, Carl Nafzger, Todd Pletcher and Nick Zito will be arriving at Gulfstream and/or Palm Meadows.

All will have designs on such major contests as the Sunshine Millions races Jan. 24, the Donn Handicap Jan. 31, the Fountain of Youth Feb. 28 and the Florida Derby March 28.

Photos from Monday’s opening, 2009 stakes schedule and barn assignments are attached.