Gulfstream Park’s Middle Name on Dirt Is Speed

by Greg Melikov

posted on December 7, 2011 in General Discussion, Handicapping, Horse Racing | No Comments >>

Gulfstream ParkGulfstream Park has always been considered a speed track since I first visited the South Florida facility many, many years ago when I was a young man.

Even after Gulfstream extended its main track to 1 1/8 miles while refurbishing the dirt surface, it continues to favor the swift. Horses with early speed always do well, especially at the beginning of the meeting.

For example, 38 percent of the 32 winners at six furlongs in 2010 from Jan. 3 through Jan. 23 led at every call, according to Brisnet.com. The winning number for 112 races in ’09 was 35 percent.

During the previous meeting earlier this year, which ran from Jan. 5 through April 24, 37 percent of the 133 winners at six furlongs were wire jobs. The 35 races at seven furlongs were captured on the front end 34 percent of the time.

In ’04, 36 percent of the winners in 209 races at six furlongs led at every call. After Gulfstream was renovated in time for the ’05 season, the figure increased to 38 percent.

The main track remains as fast as ever. On the opening afternoon of the 87-day meeting, Discrete Dancer broke the track record for 5 ½ furlongs. The 2-year-old, trained by Todd Pletcher, covered the distance in 1:02 1/5 in his racing debut on Saturday. And he won by 9 ¾ lengths, ridden out in a field of nine.

“He does it so easy,” his rider Javier Castellano told BloodHorse.com. “He galloped out great past the wire. I didn’t ask him at all today.”

Gulfstream’s newest change involving racing conditions is installation of a second finish line at what would otherwise be the sixteenth pole on the main track. It allows resumption of races at 1 1/16 miles, which were discontinued after the re-configuration six years ago.

There are drawbacks – a brief run to the first turn and a shortened stretch for those contests. However, many trainers like the change when it pertains to 3-year-olds.

Pletcher, the leading conditioner at Gulfstream the past eight straight seasons, is overjoyed because it presents the opportunity to fulfill the need to run developing horses around two turns.

Among major stakes returning to their long-time distance is the 66th Fountain of Youth (FOY), which has been staged from one mile to 1 1/8 miles since ’05.

The Grade 2 FOY, Gulfstream’s second oldest stakes race and leading prep at 1 1/16 miles for the 61st Florida Derby on March 31, is scheduled for Feb. 26.

Both contests are among 53 stakes, including 33 graded, worth more than $9 million. Back in ’06 there were 47 stakes, including 31 graded, worth $8 million.

Three of the past FOY winners in the 21st Century triumphed in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby: Quality Road, ’09; Scat Daddy, ’07; and High Fly, ’05.

Longer dirt races over the years have usually gone to runners coming off the pace. In ’05, front-runners at 1 1/8 miles won 29 percent of 65 races. However, only 14 percent of 42 winners led all the way in ’06.

Of the 159 races at a mile during the past meeting, 21 percent were captured by frontrunners.

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