Gulfstream Park opened for another season of racing on January 3 with some changes. The biggest one facing you is for the first 10 weeks, racing will be conducted six days a week.
What I like about Gulfstream's meet every year are maiden special weight events for three-year-olds, turf racing and stakes races. The day-to-day fare of cheap claimers leaves me and my bankroll cold, so there are weekdays when the pickings are slim.
Maiden races start out extremely strong and then get weaker as the months go by. A January maiden is much tougher than a March maiden since trainers are in a rush to see if their young horses have classic abilities. With time running out, the first month of maiden races are the best and then it tails off.
Turf racing is frequent and, if they are going to fill races six days a week, the course is going to be used hard. Despite everything that the track has been saying, there is still uncertainty about filling all the stalls. If the weather is as good as last year, things should be okay. If they get a rainy winter, it could get ugly.
Gulfstream's turf course is as wide as two turf courses and the position of the temporary rail is critical. On Opening Day, it was set at 84 feet which I have found gives the deep closers a chance to rally wide. When the rail is taken down completely, inside, tactical speed has a big advantage. Otherwise, the rail is placed in 12-foot increments out to 84 feet. Running times are extremely fast.
With the exception of five-furlong, turf sprints, speed does not do that well on Gulfstream's lawn going two turns. According to BRIS's Track Bias Stats -- found at the end of each race in your Ultimate Past Performances -- 29 percent of the five-furlong, turf sprints were won gate to wire and the speed bias was 65%.
However, at the three main distances around two turns, speed does not do as well. Last year, there were 53 races run at a mile on the turf and only 13 percent were won gate to wire. The speed bias for one-mile turf races was 42 percent. Of the 114 races run at 1 1/16 miles on the turf, only 14 percent were won gate to wire and the speed bias was 46 percent. Going 1 1/8 miles on the turf showed no variance. Of the 42 races run at nine furlongs on the turf, only 12 percent were won gate to wire and the speed bias was 45 percent.
The Gulfstream Park main track tells a different story. Of the 164 races run at six furlongs on the main track, 35 percent were won gate to wire and the speed bias was an incredible 80 percent. You have to go to a bull ring like Great Lakes Downs to find a similar speed bias. Of the 82 races run at 6 1/2 furlongs, 29 percent of them were won gate to wire and the speed bias was 73 percent. Of the 31 races run at seven furlongs, 26 percent of them were won gate to wire and the speed bias was 73 percent. And, of the 176 races run at the one-turn, one-mile distance, 30 percent of them were won gate to wire and the speed bias was 74 percent. For all sprint races on the Gulfstream main track, the average distance the winner was behind after the first quarter mile was run was only 1.4 lengths. It pays to be up near the lead.
Can you imagine the outcry if this was a synthetic racing surface and it had such a pronounced bias? Synthetic racing surface critics pounded Del Mar's Polytrack this summer yet where are they with Gulfstream's main track? Just like a speed horse was at a big disadvantage trying to go two turns on Del Mar's main track, horses trying to rally off the pace are at an equal disadvantage in sprint races on Gulfstream's main track.
Two-turn main track races begin at nine furlongs and the speed bias is a bit less. Of the 42 races run at nine furlongs on the main track, only 14 percent of them were won gate to wire but the speed bias was 62 percent. With a short run into the first turn, inside posts have a big advantage.
One tool that BRIS provides that should help you handicap the numerous three-year-old maiden races at Gulfstream is the Ultimate Past Performance file called "Kentucky Derby Only." It has the lifetime past performances of 373 newly-turned three-year-olds, listed in alphabetical order, and serves as a quick reference point when gauging horses that show up in the running lines of horses running now.
For instance, in Friday's third race, OUR HONOR (Double Honor) exits a race at Churchill Downs on November 24 where he ran fourth. The winner that day, Denis of Cork (Harlan's Holiday), was a first-time starter that rallied from far back to win going away while covering the seven furlongs in a very fast 1:22 2/5 and earning a BRIS Speed rating of 95.
The runner-up that day was Stungbythestorm (Vindication), who was a very impressive maiden winner on Tuesday in his two-turn debut at Fair Grounds. Trained by Steve Asmussen, who finished the year with a flourish and wound up the nation's leading trainer by wins, Stungbyastorm broke from post 12 against a very strong group of maidens and dominated despite being wide every step. His final time of 1:46 for the 1 1/16 miles was very good and his win makes Denis of Cork's form look even better and indicates Our Honor has a chance in Friday's 3RD race.
Also in Friday's 3RD race at Gulfstream, RAPID MON (Maria's Mon) was an even third in his well-bet career debut for John Kimmel at Aqueduct last month. The winner that day, Southern Terminus (More Than Ready), was a first time starter that won by five lengths for Todd Pletcher that cost $300K as a yearling.
BRIS updates this file daily and it's worth re-loading to have the latest workouts and early races from this year that will show up. It might not help you pick a Kentucky Derby (G1) winner, but it should enable you to reference who the competitors are as each race is run along the road to the first Saturday in May.
Dick Powell, Brisnet
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