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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, November 21, 2021 — It might not be the same level of excitement that lid-lifters at Saratoga or Del Mar or Keeneland opener generate but beginning Wednesday Florida racing will be back in the national conversation.

Today marks the close of the Gulfstream Fall meet and when racing resumes in South Florida, the “Championship Meet” will begin officially on Friday, December 3rd. The following day the first big Saturday of the session, the Claiming Crown card, features huge fields and the promise of pari-mutuel riches.

North Floridians won’t have to wait that long. Entries are out for Wednesday’s opener and with it the renewal of HRI’s popular Tampa Bay Today coverage in which in addition to trying to project winners, there will be plenty of video to assess, especially since the Going Gulfstream feature was recently added.

Stakes notwithstanding, our Tampa focus will be grass racing, conducted over one of the premier turf courses in America. On balance, it ‘s a surface free of built-in bias and the best horse on the day, whether it be a speedy or long-winded type, will have their opportunity to prove it.

Tampa’s reputation of bettor-friendliness is deserved, given takeout rates that are among the best, if not the best, in the country. That and field size makes Tampa very popular with rank and file players. Value seldom is in short supply.

Indeed, last season betting improved to the extent that there were four 10% purse increases at various junctures.

As business has grown incrementally but significantly with each passing year, management has invested some of its net proceeds into improving the facility for live-racing fans. The vibe is that Tampa remains a friendly, country racetrack with a cosmopolitan attitude.

After a personal two-year Covid hiatus, HRI looks forward to our annual weekend visit. We are targeting Sam F Davis weekend FEB 5, the Grade 3 stepping stone to the following month’s G2 Tampa Bay Derby. The Davis rewards 10 Kentucky Derby points to the winner.

Among our favorite races to bet are turf routes for special-weight maidens, where horses from the barns of Chad Brown, or Todd Pletcher or Christophe Clement or Jonathan Thomas, etc., etc., often can be found starting their careers.

Pletcher, of course, has regularly used the Tampa three-year-old route to the big dance in May.

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On site is a wider, more accessible paddock providing an increased level of safety and satisfaction along with improved creature comforts thanks to grandstand and clubhouse refurbishing. Horses got some love, too, with the installation of seven wash-rack stations that offers a little TLC to the horses after racing or training.

In addition to maintaining the turf course throughout the year, the main track received some attention with the addition of sand, something to note in the early days of the meet as to its effect on race dynamics and running style, if any.

Meanwhile, Gulfstream Park will build momentum with its December opener but for most fans the Championship Meet doesn’t really start until the clock strikes 2022.

The DEC 4 Claiming Crown has been a major handle day at Gulfstream since the event arrived in South Florida. Two weeks later comes the first loaded stakes program of the season headed by the G2 Fort Lauderdale and G3 Harlan’s Holiday. In total, five stakes on the day, all graded.

Six listed stakes will be run New Year’s Day, the one significant event being the Mucho Macho Man as Gulfstream launches its road to the Florida and Kentucky Derby series.

The first of three mega-Saturdays leading to the Florida Derby starts JAN 28 featuring the G1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational. It’s the scheduled career finale for protem Horse of the Year champion Knicks Go.

The Pegasus promises a matchup with Dirt Mile winner Life Is Good. For the first time in the Brad Cox-trained Knicks Go era, the grease-lightning gray will get a formidable pace challenge from a horse that might prove his superior on the racetrack. This year the high price of Pegasus admission will look like a fire sale if the matchup is realized.

Pegasus Day features seven stakes, all graded, including the new $500,000 Pegasus World Cup Turf for fillies and mares at nine furlongs. We figure that Chad, Todd, and Christophe will be well represented. Perhaps Charles Appleby is planning another New World invasion. Wouldn’t that be something?

Toni Pricci Photo

The very next weekend includes G3 Holy Bull which always attracts several top three-year-old prospects. The 1-1/16 miles event will have four additional Grade 3s in support.

The penultimate mega-Saturday is Fountain of Youth day, MAR 5. The second open event for three-year-olds at a mile and a sixteenth is one of four Grade 2s on the card along with five supporting Grade 3s–nine graded stakes and a great appetizer for Florida Derby card, APR 2.

There will 10 stakes in all , six graded and four listed. Topped by the G1 Curlin Florida Derby, other major stakes are the G2 Gulfstream Park Oaks and G2 Pan American turf marathon for older horses at a mile and a half.

It all starts this week including the best part, before the races, for early morning interviews and workouts. Add black coffee and serve. I take mine neat.

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