Tuesday, November 21, 2017
What promises to be a blockbuster winter racing season in Florida kicks off Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs, followed by the opening of Gulfstream Park one week later. And, as usual, it will be interesting to see if the Ocala Star-Banner deems either event important enough to include a line or two.
Of course, the newspaper that didn't feel the $12 million Pegasus World Cup, hosted by one of Marion County's biggest landowners, and which cut Monday racing columnist Bill Giauque's contribution to every other Monday, can hardly be expected to give a hoot about either opening. We'll soon see. Oh, by the way, I went to check on Sunday's Gulfstream results in the Monday paper . . . there were none.
The Gulfstream opening will be highlighted by the 19th edition of the popular Claiming Crown. This will mark the sixth straight year the event will be held at Gulfstream and it's worth $1.11 million. There are 294 nominations to the nine-race event which is topped off by the $200,000 Jewel at 1 1/8 miles. Ken and Sarah Ramsey are the Claiming Crown leaders with 15 victories, the same number as the trainers' leader, Mike Maker. The Ramseys have seven nominated, while Maker has 29, which include the Ramseys seven.
Handle for Claiming Crown days has been huge - more than $10 million each of the last three years - with a record $11.1 million wagered in 2016. There are four defending champions among the nominations, Super spender in the $110,000 Canterbury at five furlongs on the grass, Tormenta de Oro in the $110,000 Glass Slipper at one mile, Chepstow in the $110,000 Iron Horse at 1 1/16 miles, and Shaft of Light in the $110,000 Rapid Transit at seven furlongs.
The second edition of the Pegasus World Cup will be held on Jan. 27 and the purse has been elevated to $16 million. Among the entrants will be Gun Runner, the Breeders' Cup Classic runaway winner who is a cinch for Horse of the Year honors. Gun Runner is 11-3-2 in 18 starts and his earnings are nearing $9 million. He was slated to campaign again in 2018 at the age of five, but the plans have changed and the Pegasus will be his final race before shipping off to stud at Three Chimneys Farm in Lexington.
Among the other highlights of the Hallandale Beach meeting will be the appearance of Puerto Rico's Triple Crown winner, Justiciero, in the $300,000 Clasico del Caribe on Dec. 9. Gulfstream will be the first track outside Latin Ameridca to host the race which has been contested for more than 50 years. The Puerto Rican-bred son of Coach Billy G. hasn't raced since he won the Gr. II Antonio Mongil Jr. Stakes on Aug. 20, due to Hurricane Maria. He did compete in an exhibition race to keep fit on Oct. 29 at still-shuttered Camarero.
Another winter highlight will be the return of Three Rules, the Gone Astray colt who swept all three divisions of the Florida Sire Stakes last year. Three Rules has earned $939,160 for Shade Tree Farm, Geoff Roy and Tom Fitzgerald and has turned in some super works in preparation for his return, including a bullet 59:95 for five furlongs on Sunday. He's expected to make his return in the $125,000 FTBOA Marion County Florida Sire Stakes at Tampa on Dec. 16.
Not long after Three Rules worked, a player in New York hit Gulfstream's Rainbow Pick 6 for $141,853. The previous hit had come on Nov. 9 when the lone winning ticket paid $52,137.
The training track at Tampa Bay Downs opened for business on Nov. 6 and Saturday's opener will really be the second day of the meeting - the first was July 1.
Tampa will be the host of a new four-race FTBOA Florida Sire Stakes series with $450,000 in purse money up for grabs. The first two $125,000 races - the Marion County FSS for 3-year-old colts and geldings (with Three Rules) and the City of Ocala for 3-year-old fillies - will debut on Dec. 16, Cotillion Festival Day, both at seven furlongs. Also on that program will be the $100,000 Inaugural for 2-year-olds, and the $100,000 Sandpiper for 2-year-old fillies.
The other two races in the series will be run on Kentucky Derby day - May 5. They are the $100,000 Silver Charm for 3-year-old colts and geldings and the $100,000 Ivanavinalot (dam of Songbird) for 3-year-old fillies, both at one mile and 40 yards.
Highlight of the meeting, of course, is the Tampa Bay Derby in March, a race that has been a major contributor as far as sending runners to the Kentucky Derby for more than a decade. The list of quality runners who have come out of the race includes Kentucky Derby winners Street Sense and Super Saver, Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit, and Musket Man, Bluegrass Cat, Brethren, Destin, Golden Ticket, Any Given Saturday, Burning Roma, Verrazano and Carpe Diem. Then there's Always Dreaming, who broke his maiden at Tampa earlier this year, then went on to win the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby.
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