John C. Horning, a 28-year-old building contractor who built the first grandstand and barns, took over operations after ownership defaulted on their debts and dropped out of the picture. Horning opened his Gulfstream for a four-day run beginning Feb. 1, 1939.
Gulfstream Park has gone through many changes since Horning was at the helm. One of MEC’s major enhancements has been the construction of the Palm Meadows training facility, a 304-acre property in Boynton Beach that features a 1 1/8-mile training track, a seven-furlong jogging trail and 40 state-of-the-art barns. Some of those barns housed the last three Kentucky Derby winners and three of the last four Horses of the Year. Curlin, last year’s Horse of the Year and a strong contender for a repeat this year, was not stabled at Palm Meadows but briefly was stabled at Gulfstream Park at 3 (prior to winning his maiden here) and again at 4 (prior to his successful trip to Dubai for the $6 million World Cup).
Palm Meadows opens its gates for stabling Oct. 27; Gulfstream Park’s stabling area opens Nov. 10.
The bulk of Pletcher, Zito and McPeek’s contingents will be stabled at Palm Meadows, but each will have full barns at Gulfstream.
Pletcher is a can’t-miss Hall of Famer. Zito was enshrined in 2005, and fellow Famers competing with him once again this winter will be Allen Jerkens, Shug McGaughey, Bill Mott, Jonathan Sheppard and Carl Nafzger (this year’s inductee and trainer of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense).
Kiaran McLaughlin, a contemporary of Pletcher’s who trained 2006 Horse of the Year Invasor, will have 68 horses on hand, all at Palm Meadows. Brian Lynch will have the same number in training there.
Barclay Tagg, best known as the trainer of Funny Cide – a fourth Kentucky Derby winner who stabled at Palm Meadows – will have 60 horses at Palm Meadows and Gulfstream Park this winter.
Rick Dutrow, who conditioned the popular Big Brown to victories in this year’s Florida and Kentucky Derbys, will be stabled at Gulfstream with 26 horses.
The names of either Pletcher or Mott have been atop the trainer standings 14 of the last 16 years, Pletcher’s titles coming over the last five years.
Frank Passero, who tied Mott for the championship in 1995 and interrupted his six-year string of titles in 1999, will return with a string of four at Gulfstream.
Other interesting names either returning or coming to Palm Meadows and Gulfstream for the first time include Bill Badgett Jr., trainer of Hall of Fame filly Go for Wand; Billy Turner, trainer of Hall of Famer and Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew; Linda Rice, Bruce Levine and Michael Matz, trainer of Barbaro.
Up-and-comers Seth Benzell and Chad Brown, former assistants, respectively, to Pletcher and Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel, will be heading their own operations at Palm Meadows this year.