Discreet Cat’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, and jockey, Javier Castellano, would go on to reach important career milestones while coming out on top in their respective standings. Pletcher, who claimed an unprecedented ninth consecutive training title at Gulfstream with 72 trips to the winner’s circle, recorded his 3,000 career victory when he saddled Spring Hill Farm for a winning performance on Feb. 11. Castellano, who collected his first Gulfstream title by riding a record 112 winners, scored his 3000th career success aboard Virtuously on Feb. 24.
The Patrick Byrne-trained colt punched his ticket for the Kentucky Derby with a sharp front-running victory under Calvin Borel, prevailing over Gulfstream Park Derby winner Reveron by a length. Union Rags finished another neck back in third after lacking running room into the stretch.
The 61st running of the Florida Derby generated record handles for the new state-of-the-art facility, where $2.9 million was wagered on-track for the day. The all-sources Florida Derby Day handle climbed to a record $26.7 million. Bolstered by those strong numbers, Gulfstream’s on-track handle for the 2011-2012 eclipsed $50 million for the first time in the new facility.
Total all-sources handle for the meeting, which began a month earlier than the traditional early-January opener, will be up approximately $80 million from the previous year, or 13 percent. On-track handle has surpassed $50 million for the first time in the history of the new facility, marking an increase over last year of approximately seven percent.
Take Charge Indy captured the centerpiece of Gulfstream’s stakes program for 3-year-olds, but Union Rags was the featured attraction. The Michael Matz-trained Grade1 stakes-winning colt, who had won his first three races before falling a head short of catching Hansen in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), made a splash in his 2012 debut with a dominating four-length win in the $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) on Feb. 26.
The Augustin Bezara-trained Reveron won the inaugural running of the $100,000 Gulfstream Park Derby on Jan. 1, before finishing second in the Florida Derby. The Pletcher trained, Castellano-ridden Algorithms, ran his unbeaten string to three with a commanding five-length victory in the $400,000 Holy Bull on Jan. 29 before being sidelined by an injury.
Although the 3-year-old division gets the most attention, the older horses were particularly successful in getting noticed at Gulfstream Park, including Hymn Book, a 6-year-old Shug McGaughey-trained gelding who has found a new lease on life on dirt, who captured the $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1) on Feb. 11.
Pletcher-trained Awesome Maria established herself as the top older female with a pair of dominating victories in the Sabin (G3) on Feb. 25 and the Rampart (G2) on March 31. Awesome Maria is a homebred 5-year-old owned by Joyce Robsham, whose stable was also well represented by Discreet Dancer and stakes winners, Broadway’s Alibi, R Holiday Mood and Soaring Stocks. Robsham-owned horses won 17 races from just 30 starts and earned more than $900,000, a meeting best. Frank Calabrese led all owners with 32 winners.
The Gulfstream meeting celebrated the return of three champions, most notably 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom. The Graham Motion-trained 2011 Eclipse Award 3-year-old champion returned from a long layoff to capture an allowance race on turf on Feb. 18, only to be sidelined again by injury.
Musical Romance, the 2011 Eclipse Award female sprint champion, and Awesome Feather, the 2010 champion 2-year-old filly, both returned to Gulfstream to take part in the Florida Sunshine Millions program on Jan. 28. Although Musical Romance finished fourth in the Filly & Mare Sprint after suffering a hoof injury, the Bill Kaplan-trained 2011 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) winner returned to her championship form while winning the Inside Information (G2) on March 17. Awesome Feather, the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) winner, remained undefeated in nine career starts with a 5 ¾-length triumph in the Florida Sunshine Millions Distaff.
Mucho Macho Man, who had finished third in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, was the star of Florida Sunshine Millions Day while capturing the 1 1/8-mile Classic by 1 ½ lengths. The Kathy Ritvo-trained 4-year-old turned back to a mile for the Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2) on March 10 and scored by two lengths over Tackleberry, a three-time stakes winner who hadn’t run in nearly 10 months.
Little Mike, who has scored three graded-stakes wins at the 2011 Gulfstream meeting, scored his second victory of this year’s meeting with a front-running score in the Florida Sunshine Millions Turf.
In the sprint division, Force Freeze, who finished a close second in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), made a smashing 2012 debut with a 3 3/4-length victory in the Gulfstream Park Sprint (G2) on Feb. 18. Apriority made a spectacular recovery after nearly falling at the start to capture the Mr. Prospector (G3) on Dec. 31.