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They're Off and Running at Gulfstream Park

by Johnny D

December 6, 2017

Racing at Gulfstream Park began Saturday with a bang as Ms Peintour, a 2-year-old rookie making her first lifetime afternoon appearance for trainer Lilli Kurtinecz and jockey Emisael Jaramillo, promptly returned the opening kickoff for an explosive, coast-to-coast touchdown. The filly crossed the goal line nearly seven lengths clear of the nearest of 11 pursuers. The actual final number was 133—not yards covered but dollars paid per $2 win wager.  

And, as quick as you can say ‘Lilli Kurtinecz,’ my first pick five of the new Gulfstream season was as dead as Julius Caesar! 

“Here we go again,” I muttered to myself. “This is why I hate playing the races at Gulfstream Park.” 

Big fields, longshot winners, inscrutable turf races…wait a minute…that’s also why I love playing the races at Gulfstream Park…big fields, longshot winners, inscrutable turf races! 

I’m confused.

Gulfstream Park racing is popular for many reasons. First, a permanent asphalt Kentucky Derby road originates in South Florida and leads directly to Churchill Downs. It doesn’t always terminate precisely in the winner’s circle on the first Saturday in May, but it routinely directs travelers toward a clear view of the Twin Spires. 

Second, maiden races at Gulfstream are chock-full of well-bred, expensive and talented runners. It’s not Saratoga in August, but it could be the next best arena there is for horseplayers to scout future talent. 

Third, the Florida sunshine is glorious and plentiful. Like Del Mar in California, Gulfstream Park is near the beach. You can’t actually see the sand from the grandstand, but if the Pegasus statue were to turn his head a bit he probably could. Opportunities to periodically escape Old Man Winter’s icy grip enable snowbirds ultimately to tolerate that blowhard’s annual visits.

Saturday’s second race served as the afternoon’s initial Claiming Crown event. Claiming Crown, originated in 1999 at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, MN and now includes nine races under starter allowance conditions for $1.11 million in purses. It’s kind of a poor man’s Breeders’ Cup. While the event has had several different track hosts over the years, Saturday was the sixth consecutive time it has been at Gulfstream Park. Full fields of runners from assorted nationwide tracks make Claiming Crown a challenging hill for horseplayers to climb. However, since I hear God hates a coward, I dug in! 

Mended, a 4-year-old filly based at Golden Gate Fields in Northern California and trained by John Martin, showed her hooves in wire-to-wire fashion to a field of 13 rivals going one mile in the $110k Glass Slipper Stakes. She paid $4.20 for the win and was a fitting filly to pop the cork on the 2017 Claiming Crown. Tagged for $12,500 in January off a fourth-place finish in a ‘non-winners of two’, she now has won 10 consecutive races and nearly $200,000! Without the Claiming Crown’s Glass Slipper how would a non-Golden Gate Fields horseplayer ever know about Mended’s achievements? She deserves attention.

Saturday’s third race featured the male version of the day’s opening event—2-year-old maidens going seven furlongs on turf. The results were similar: Eye of a Jedi, trained by Steve Budhoo and ridden by Carlos Montalvo shocked 11 rivals and returned $117.20 to win! Unlike his female counterpart, Eye of a Jedi had raced twice before—finishing sixth on a sloppy track after showing speed in a maiden $50k and fourth against eight other straight maidens going five furlongs on turf. Both races were at Calder…er…Gulfstream Park West.

The fourth race—the $110k Claiming Crown Express at six furlongs--went to Thistledown shipper First Growth at $11.80. In 2017, the Ohio-based invader also had competed at Mahoning Valley in PA and at Mountaineer in WV. To this observer, though, the most interesting entrant in the race was local 4-year-old colt Starship Apollo. Since December 29, 2016, he has been claimed nine…count ‘em…nine times out of 10 starts…by nine different trainers, exclusively at the $6,250 level! 

Blue Bahia, a consistent 4-year-old filly that’s now won eight of 11 turf races—mostly at Gulfstream, Monmouth and Parx—won the Distaff Dash at five furlongs. She looked best going in and paid $5.20.

Twocubanbrothers, a 7-year-old gelding trained by John Rigattieri and ridden by Daniel Centeno, took the Iron Horse field on a merry chase around the Gulfstream oval as the 4-1 second choice. Conditions of this race spotlighted 3-year-olds and up which have started for a claiming price of $8k or less lifetime. Those are pretty liberal restrictions, so a runner like Twocubanbrothers, whose lowest claiming price start of the year was in a beaten race for $25k, fit well. Race favorite and runner-up Rich Daddy had won an optional claiming race with a $62k tag last out at Churchill.

Another 7-year-old gelding, Pay any Price, took the $110k Canterbury at five furlongs on turf as a very heavy favorite. He utilized a distinct home-field advantage to record his eighth win in 10 tries over the Gulfstream Park turf course! Billy the Bull, in town from Maryland, saw his streak of favoritism in at least 12 consecutive starts end. He was 38-1 and finished eighth.

Jockey Emisael Jaramillo registered his second win of the afternoon and second in a row aboard 6-year-old gelding Cautious Giant in the $110k Rapid Transit at seven furlongs. The all-time leading rider in Venezuela, Jaramillo began riding regularly in the US in 2015. He recently dethroned two-time defending champion Edgard Zayas to capture the jockey’s title for the Fall Turf Festival at Gulfstream Park West. Jaramillo also won the riding title at the 2016 Gulfstream Park Spring Meet.  

Back in July, Martini Glass, a nearly 22-1 longshot, threw a legitimate scare into heavily-favored Songbird in the Delaware Cap when she came within one-length of upsetting the champ. Winless since April, under Paco Lopez Saturday for trainer Keith Nations, she finally won as 2-1 second choice in the $125k Tiara at a 1 1/16-miles ont he lawn.

Mike Maker-trained runners finished first and second in the $125k Emerald Stakes at a mile and one-sixteenth on turf. The victory marked the trainer’s seventh tally in the Emerald and 16th Claiming Crown score overall. He won the race last year with Keystoneforvictory, for Ken and Sarah Ramsey, bill-payers for this year’s Emerald runner-up Bingo Kitten. Julien Leparoux rode the winner at just over 7-1 odds. The $2 ‘Maker Exacta’ returned a hefty $251.40.

Alive in the late pick five to a trio of runners yours truly approached the day’s finale with interest. While ‘Will Pays’ informed that none of the payoffs would resuscitate the patient-- bring him back to life for the afternoon—cashing a winning pick five opening day at Gulfstream would be considered, at least, a harbinger of good things. 

Flowers for Lisa went to the front in the $200k Jewel and never looked back. In fact, he’s probably still running. My pick five ticket evaporated into cyberspace along with my money. ‘Lisa is trained by Jorge Navarro, a 31% winner in 2017 and nominee as best supporting actor for his role in the infamous ‘Juiceman Video.’ The winner was ridden by Paco Lopez, a notoriously accomplished ‘speed’ rider that has scored at 18% in 2017. Additionally, Navarro and Lopez combine to win races at a 40% clip. 40%! Can you believe it? For Secretariatsake, I don’t even shave my face at a 40% rate!

Inexplicably, despite all that stat-power, Flowers for Lisa went off at nearly 17-1! How does this happen? More importantly, how was this horse not on my ticket?

Have I mentioned that I hate playing the races at Gulfstream Park?

Naturally, I was alive in the pick five to Chunnmel, second choice at 4-1 and Navarro’s ‘other horse’ in the race. He finished tenth, taking Seinfeld-fan hunch money with him. No doubt I discounted Flowers for Lisa’s chances because he had to break from the impossible 12-hole going a mile and one-eighth at Gulfstream. To ‘discount’ is OK. To ‘eliminate,’ is foolish.

Perhaps, I committed this $1,861 error of omission ($50-cent pick five payoff) because by the time I got around to examining Flowers for Lisa’s past performance lines I was dizzy. Head spinning. Eyes crossed. 

Flowers for Lisa was number 13 in the afternoon’s 11th and final race--the last of 141 starters included in 47 pages of Daily Racing Form past performances! 

No wonder I missed him.

Anyway, that’s my alibi and I’m sticking to it! 

Race On!