Gulfstream Park Championship Meet Opens With No Fans, Rich Stakes

Gulfstream Park opens its 2020-21 Championship Meet Wednesday without spectators, but with a stakes schedule that – aside from several stops on the Road to the Kentucky Derby – offers one of North America’s richest races.

Gulfstream Park 20-21 Opener
The $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational is one of 36 graded stakes on Gulfstream Park’s 2020-21 Championship Meet schedule. The south Florida track opens its 84-day meet Wednesday. (Image: Getty)

Headlining Gulfstream’s 75 stakes races – 36 graded – is the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational. That Grade 1, 1 1/8-mile race, with Tiz the Law, Knicks Go, Code of Honor and recent Clark Stakes upset winner Bodexpress expected, is a “Win and In” event for the $20 million Saudi Cup. Defending Pegasus champion Mucho Gusto could run again. His victory there vaulted him into the Saudi Cup, where he finished fourth.

The Pegasus and $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational are Jan. 23. They’re the spotlight races on a card featuring seven graded stakes. They’re also the most lucrative races on a stakes plate offering $13.06 million in purses.

As for those 3-year-olds, they’ll begin racing toward the March 27 Florida Derby on Dec. 12, with the Mucho Macho Man Stakes. The Grade 3 Holy Bull – won by Tiz the Law this year – headlines a Jan. 30 card offering five graded stakes. The Grade 2 Fountain of Youth follows a month later, serving as the headliner on a nine-graded stakes card and as the final Florida Derby prep.

Gulfstream Park Meet Closes With a Florida Derby Flourish

The Grade 1 Florida Derby is typically one of the best Derby preps of the year. The $800,000 race produced 60 Triple Crown winners, including eventual Belmont Stakes champion and Florida Derby winner Tiz the Law this year. That March 27 card offers 10 stakes – six graded – including the Gulfstream Park Oaks, a prep for the Kentucky Oaks. Swiss Skydiver won that race, jump-starting her season toward an eventual Preakness Stakes title.

One of the more intriguing stakes programs is Saturday’s Claiming Crown. The nine-race stakes series offers spots to horses who have started for a claiming price at least once in the last two years. The $150,000 Jewel Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up who once started for a claiming tag of $35,000 or lower, headlines the day.

And Jesus’ Team, who finished third in the Preakness to Swiss Skydiver and Authentic and second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile to Knicks Go, is the expected Jewel Stakes favorite.

Training Title Goes through Todd Pletcher’s Barn

Along with the various stakes during the 84-day meet that closes March 27, Todd Pletcher goes for his 17th championship meet training title. He regained his title last year after now-disgraced trainer Jorge Navarro snapped Pletcher’s 15-year streak in 2018-19.

“You try to just focus on placing your horses properly and hoping they run well,” Pletcher told Gulfstream Park. “I think when the streak was still intact, it was perhaps a little more meaningful because if you have a streak going for that long, the chances of ever duplicating that are pretty remote.”

Pletcher won’t wait long to open his account. He’ll send Ashaar out in Wednesday’s featured eighth race, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and up. The Into Mischief progeny hasn’t run since finishing seventh in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes nearly a year ago.

Gulfstream Bettors Get Juicy 20-Cent Pick-6

Nor will he want for company. Five trainers opened new barns at Gulfstream Park and its satellite training center – Palm Meadows in Palm Beach. Those include the sizzling Brad Cox, along with Jeremiah Englehart, Butch Reid, Brittany Russell and Jack Sisterson.

The riding titles have been far more competitive. Irad Ortiz Jr. angles for his third consecutive meet title, with Luis Saez again nipping at his heels. After winning the previous two seasons, Saez lost the 2018-19 title by one win and the 2019-20 title by two wins.

Should Ortiz win a third consecutive riding title, he’ll join Jorge Chavez (1999-2001) as the only Gulfstream Park riders pulling off the three-peat.

And bettors have their own quarry. The 20-cent Rainbow 6 returns Wednesday with a $50,000 guarantee. Once again, it spans the final six races every day, demanding horseplayers pick the winners of those final six races.

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