March 3 certainly belonged to Gulfstream Park. With a package of eight graded stakes on the 14-race program, the track had the rest of the country in a headlock in terms of class…and cash.
Gulfstream handled more than $28.5 million on the day (according to figures provided by Equibase), distancing the competition like Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont Stakes (G1) for winter meet racing.
It’s not exactly apples to apples because Santa Anita was the only other track to host a graded stakes on the day—they presented the five-horse field Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3) that had lost its morning-line favorite Dream Tree due to a scratch. However the “Great Race Place” handled more than $10.6 million for its 10-race card.
Aqueduct, where Midnight Disguise won the non-graded Busher Stakes, handled just over $6.8 million, slightly more than Tampa Bay Downs ($6.6 million). Oaklawn Park handled more than $4 million whereas Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots didn’t divulge its handle
figures for the day.
Gulfstream has been killing it of late in terms of handle and has proved it can package the “big stakes day” as well as anyone else. While the rest of the month gets pretty thin—only five stakes are on the calendar between the March 3 card and the March 31 card that features the $1 million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (G1)—the last day of March will likely be another one where Gulfstream outpaces the field.
SHORT PRICES, LONG ON FAITH
The cast assembled for the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) March 3 at Gulfstream featured Good Magic, champion 2-year-old male of 2017. Off a single victory in last year’s Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), e Five Racing Thoroughbreds and Stonestreet Stables’ Good Magic was 7-10 against eight 3-year-olds. Even though the colt was atop or very high on everyone’s Derby list, that was a lot of money on his back based pretty much on faith. While he has every right to improve on his effort—the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) is obviously the main objective—he somewhat disappointed in his third-place finish.
In terms of smart money, history suggests it’s wiser to play against the juvenile champion in his first start of the 3-year-old year.
Classic Empire, the 2016 2-year-old male champion, was 1-2 in his debut in the Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes (G2) and he ran third behind Irish War Cry and Gunnevera. Classic Empire rallied to win the Arkansas Derby (G1) and missed the classic Preakness Stakes (G1) in a photo, but he was none-too-sharp out of the box.
While the two juvenile champions prior to Classic Empire—Nyquist (2015) and American Pharoah (2014) won their first starts at 3, they carried stronger résumés off their 2-year-old years, and in the case of American Pharoah, he was just a dominant figure over his crop.
Shared Belief, the 2013 juvenile champ, won his 2014 debut…but it came after the Derby and Preakness against allowance company at Golden Gate Fields.
Shanghai Bobby, the 2012 champion juvenile male, dropped his 3-year-old bow at even-money in the Holy Bull, and Hansen (2011) fell prey to Algorithms in the 2012 Holy Bull at 9-10.
War Pass (2007) brushed off allowance foes, then dropped the Tampa Bay Derby (G3); Stevie Wonderboy (2005) was second at 3-5 in Santa Anita’s San Rafael Stakes (G2).
The Triple Crown trail is a marathon, and there’s a wide gap early on in the race between showing brilliance at 2 and the major 3-year-old preps of March and April. It’s a game of class…and cash…and a lot of luck.