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Dec 31, 2009

American Turf Club Lead

By: Joe Girardi


            Winter racing gets underway by Joe Girardi

 

When the clock turned to 12 am on Friday December 31st we changed over to a brand new year. All the bad things that happened in racing in 2009 hopefully are in the past as we try to move on and we hope that we can build on the good things that happened in the past year. But another thing that happens with the changing to the new year is that the winter tracks are ready to get into full swing.

            Gulfstream Park, the top racetrack in the wintertime opens their doors for racing in 2010 on Sunday January 3rd with a post time of 1 p.m. The meeting runs through April 24th with live racing Wednesday through Sunday (save two Mondays, one in January and one in February) with one less day a week in April as the racing season winds down. All the top trainers and jockeys will ply their trade down in South Florida as they get out of the cold in New York have the opportunity to race over the turf.

            Last year’s leading rider was Jose Lezcano who won 71 races, 16 more than the second place finisher, Elvis Trujillo who had 55. Kent Desormeaux was third with 48 one more than John Velazquez and three more than Julien Leparoux. Those standings however may be a little skewed as most of the top riders leave town at the beginning of April to go back to New York or Kentucky for the Keeneland meeting. However, Lezcano is a top rider in his own right and must be given another chance to win the title again. Eibar Coa, who is leading the Calder meeting has been down in Florida for the last few months to try and jumpstart his career again and he will have something to say about the Gulfstream meeting also. Both of these riders might fly under the radar with all the other big names in town and might offer some value.

            Last year’s leading trainer was Todd Pletcher who held off Ken McPeek 37-33 with Wesley Ward 15 back in third with 22 wins. However, Ward did have a very good winning percentage of 33%. Pletcher, whose barn has been running on all cylinders over the last few months in New York is expected to have another big meeting but his horses are sometimes overbet. McPeek who also had a great meeting should be primed for another solid showing and you may be able to get some value on his horses. One trainer that always does well throughout the year was Martin Wolfson who had 14 wins and his stock maybe overlooked in and amongst the more well known trainers. Good luck!

            There are many top stakes races at Gulfstream with the Grade III Hal’s Hope on opening day but the big race of the meeting is the Florida Derby, a Grade I with a purse of $750,000 for three year olds to be run on March 20th; a week earlier than usual. This race always has an impact on the Kentucky Derby and should be another great race again this year.

            Oaklawn Park is another track that is a home for top barns during the Winter months. They start in the middle of the month on January 15th. Although they don’t have a turf course, Oaklawn has become a home in the winter for many barns that don’t want to travel to Florida. They also have a big race for three year olds in the Arkansas Derby which is to be run on April 10th and carries a purse of $1,000,000. This race is another that has a big impact on the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown races. We saw CURLIN a few years back go on to huge things after racing here at Oaklawn. RACHEL ALEXANDRA, who SHOULD win Horse of the Year 2009 but probably will not, raced here last year on her way to bigger things. SUMMER BIRD, who won the Belmont, the Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2009 finished third in the Arkansas Derby and then also went on to a huge year. In addition to star talent on the equine side of things there are many human stars who should make their presence felt at this meeting.

            Terry Thompson was the leading rider last year by a large margin with 23 more than the second place rider, Quincy Hamilton. Calvin Borel, who is the regular rider for “RACHEL” had 27 wins with only a 13% winning percentage something we expect him to improve on. Corey Nakatani, who has not been riding well over the last few years and has had some problems to deal with will be riding this meeting and expect him to have a good meeting.

            Last year’s leading trainer was Allen Milligan who held off Steve Asmussen by one win 24-23. D. Wayne Lukas will have some horses at this meeting along with W. Bret Calhoun who should also have something to say about the meet ending stats. Calhoun finished with a very solid winning percentage of 22% and should be set for another top meeting. Good luck!



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