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GAME ON MONDAY IN HALLANDALE AS JOSEPH JR., SAEZ, SEEK “CHAMPIONSHIP MEET” TITLES

Edited Gulfstream Staff Release – The 2022-2023 Championship Meet at Gulfstream Park will get underway Monday, the first of 71 days of World Class Racing that will be highlighted by the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1), $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (G1), and $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) on the three most prestigious racing days during the elite winter meet.

            Sizeable purse increases for open maiden special weight races and open optional claiming allowance races have been put into effect for the Championship Meet. Open maiden special weight events will be contested for purses of $84,000 (including $14,000 from FTHA-FOA) – an increase of $24,000 over last season. Open optional claiming allowances will carry purses ranging from $86,000 to $88,000 (including $14,000 from FTHA-FOA) – an increase of $25,000).

            Opening Day will be celebrated with a 2023 Gulfstream Park calendar giveaway. The popular annual calendars featuring exquisite photos of memorable races from last season will be available while supplies last between Noon and 3 p.m.

Live racing will be offered five days a week Wednesday through Sunday with a 12:10 p.m. post time. Monday’s Opening Day 10-race program is the only Monday card scheduled.

            Monday’s Opening Day co-headliners, the $100,000 Tropical Park Derby and the $100,000 Tropical Park Oaks, will kick off a stakes schedule featuring a total of 60 stakes, including 35 graded events, worth $13.6 million in purses. Monday’s stakes for 3-year-olds will be among 31 stakes races scheduled for Gulfstream’s new turf course.

The Pegasus World Cup Invitational, a 1 1/8-mile event for 4-year-olds and up, will be renewed on a program with six graded stakes on Saturday, January 28. The Pegasus, won last year by Life Is Good over defending champion and 2021 Horse of the Year Knicks Go, will be supported by the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1), a 1 1/8-mile stakes for 4-year-olds and up on turf, and the $500,000 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf Invitational (G3), a 1 1/16-mile turf race for older fillies and mares. 

The Curlin Florida Derby, a tradition-rich 1 1/8-mile Triple Crown prep for 3-year-olds, will be renewed on an April 1 program with 10 stakes, including six graded stakes and featuring the $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2), a 1 1/16-mile stakes for 3-year-old fillies. 

The Florida Derby will conclude Gulfstream’s Road to the Triple Crown, which will kick off with the $150,000 Mucho Macho Man (mile) January 1, followed by the $250,000 Holy Bull [(G3), 1 1/16 miles on February 4], and the $400,000 Fountain of Youth [(G2), 1 1/16 miles on March 4].

            The Fountain of Youth will be one of eight graded stakes on a program with nine stakes, including the $200,000 Davona Dale, a mile stakes for 3-year-old fillies, the $200,000 WinStar Gulfstream Park Mile (G2), a mile stakes for older horses, the $200,000 Mac Diarmida (G2), a 1 3/8-mile turf stakes for older horses,

Jockey Luis Saez, who topped the 2021-2022 standings with 122 wins, will be back for a title defense against the likes of three-time Championship Meet titlist Irad Ortiz Jr. and five-time Championship Meet hero Javier Castellano among so many other abundantly talented stars. Ortiz led all riders with $5 million in purses-won.

Saffie Joseph Jr., who dethroned perennial training champ Todd Pletcher to claim last year’s training title with 58 trips to the winner’s circle, will defend his first Championship Meet title. His most high-profile victory came with White Abarrio in the Florida Derby.  Hall of Famer and 18-time titlist Pletcher, who saddled Life Is Good for his Pegasus win, led all trainers last season with more than $5 million in purses-won

Having regained his top spot at one of the most prestigious and competitive racing meets in the country, jockey Luis Saez is back in South Florida with sights set on a fourth Championship Meet title at Gulfstream Park.

            The 71-day Championship Meet kicks off Monday, Dec. 26 and runs through Sunday, April 2, 2023. Two $100,000 turf stakes highlight the opening day program – the Tropical Park Derby for 3-year-olds and Tropical Park Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.

            “It feels really good to be here. Wonderful weather, wonderful track,” Saez said. “The people are great. I’m blessed to be back.”

            Saez, 30, captured the 2021-2022 Championship Meet title with 122 winners, banking nearly $5 million in purse earnings from 537 mounts. He also led the standings in 2016-2017 and 2017-2018, the latter with 137 wins that stood as a track record until Irad Ortiz Jr. won 140 in 2020-2021.

            Among Saez’s victories in ending Ortiz’s three-year reign last winter were 14 stakes winners including Fearless in the Harlan’s Holiday (G3) and Ghostzapper (G3), Abaan in the W.L. McKnight (G3) and H. Allen Jerkens, and Girl With a Dream in the Forward Gal (G3).

            A native of Panama, Saez went on to finish third in defense of his 2021 Saratoga riding title this summer before winning the fall meets at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, dethroning Davie, Fla. native and Championship Meet colleague Tyler Gaffalione each time. He also rode his 3,000th career winner June 5 at Belmont Park aboard Funny Joke.

            Saez is one of four jockeys to win seven races on a single card at Gulfstream and the only one to do it twice, achieving the milestone two months apart Jan. 14 and March 29, 2018. Paco Lopez (2020), Gaffalione (2017) and retired Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey (1996) are the others.

            “I’m blessed to be able to do well at every track we go to,” Saez said, “but Gulfstream is a special place. Every time we ride a horse we try to win, no matter what. We’re always trying.”

            Saez began riding professionally in his native country after graduating from the Laffit Pincay Jr. jockey school and enjoyed immediate success after coming to the U.S., landing in South Florida and winding up an Eclipse Award finalist for champion apprentice of 2009.

            Represented by Kiaran McLaughlin, who won 1,577 races as a trainer before retiring in 2020 to become his agent, Saez reached career highs in mounts (1,635), wins (293) and purse earnings ($26.19 million) in 2021. He ranks among the national leaders in all three categories again this year.

            Among this year’s wins are more than 20 graded-stakes including Secret Oath in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Casa Creed in the Fourstardave (G1) and Jaipur (G1) and Shirl’s Speight in the Maker’s Mark Mile (G1).

            “Thank God, we’ve been doing pretty great this year. The horses have been running great and the owners and trainers have been giving us the opportunity to ride them,” Saez said. “My agent works pretty hard trying to get the best horses we can, and it’s working out great.”

            Saez returned to Gulfstream Dec. 4 in the final month of the Sunshine Meet and picked up where he left off last winter, registering four consecutive multi-win days capped by a five-win afternoon Dec. 11. He added another two-win day Dec. 16.

            “I feel grateful to be riding. If I can be riding a lot of horses, that’s great,” Saez said. “That’s why we’re here. Every day we come here we just try to win every race we can.”

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