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Submitted by Noel Michaels on Wednesday, December 18, 2013 at 12:00 AM


By Noel Michaels

Winter racing season is here, and the best winter race meet anywhere is at Gulfstream Park, which kicked-off its annual premier winter race meet on Saturday, Nov. 30.  The meet will feature the best trainers, jockeys, stakes horses and stakes races in action at this time of year, making Gulfstream a must-bet track for all serious horseplayers and handicappers for the next several months.

For the third straight year, the annual winter Gulfstream Park meet begins with along with the beginning of December - a change from the old calendar that began after New Year’s.  Of course, the big change this year in Florida racing is that racing at Gulfstream has been running all along since summer, along with the summer and fall racing that is usually run at those times of year at nearby Calder.  Nevertheless, even though this December will not usher in a traditional "grand opening" of winter racing at Gulfstream, this new winter meet at Gulfstream is truly different than the months before.

The Gulfstream park meet will change along with the calendar this season, moving from run-of-the-mill daily racing thru the summer and fall to the premier meet that is will become this winter, featuring the best horses, jockeys, trainers, and wagering in the East.

For the third year now, Gulfstream will again be carding main track route races at the 1 1/16-mile two-turn distance. This was an important change made two years ago, by adding an alternate mid-stretch finish line - necessitated after two-turn route racing had been conducted exclusively at 1 1/8 miles for the previous six years since the main track was renovated to its current layout much to the dismay of horsemen and bettors, alike.

The Gulfstream meet customarily begins with horses shipping to Florida from all over the East and Midwest to join the cream of the local crop that has been competing at Gulfstream and Calder during the rest of the year. Generally speaking, the shippers from places like Kentucky and New York often have a class edge on the local horses, but that is not always automatically the case anymore with competitive horses at nearly all levels being sent out by several local trainers, especially early in the meet (formerly in January, but now in December) when many of the snowbirds are coming off layoffs and are still shipping in, and getting acclimated to Florida’s climate.

The middle part of the Gulfstream Park meet is when the action really starts to happen. January ushers in the time when the out-of-town barns really come to life as the quality of racing elevates to its highest level of the year in South Florida. This is usually the three months from January until the end of March.

Gulfstream’s season will encompass a total of 90 racing days and will include 63 stakes races - 34 graded - worth more than $10.7 million. Total purses for the meet will be well in excess of $30 million. Just some of the key dates of Gulfstream’s 2013-2014 Winter meet will include:

• Jan. 1: The third annual running of the $100,000 Gulfstream Park Derby, the first derby in the country for 3-year-olds.

• Jan. 18: The Florida Sunshine Millions, which was re-formatted two years ago to a Florida-only event, will be run in its entirety again this year at Gulfstream Park.  The Florida Sunshine Millions will again be made up of six stakes races worth $1.30 million topped by the $400,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Classic.

• Jan. 25: The $400,000 Holy Bull (G3) attracts some of the most promising 3-year-olds, while the top 3-year-old fillies run in the $200,000 Forward Gal (G2).

• Feb. 1: Gulfstream Park’s 75-year anniversary celebration.

• Feb. 8: The afternoon includes four graded-stakes races, including two Grade I events: The $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1) for older horses on the dirt, and the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1) for older horses on the turf.  These races serve as preps for the Dubai World Cup card, and could attract some of the country’s top runners.

• Feb. 22: The $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2), the last major prep for the Florida Derby, will be one of three graded-stakes races for the day, including the $250,000 (G2) Davona Dale for 3-year-old fillies.

• March 30: Florida Derby Day. The $1 million Florida Derby (G1) will be one of seven stakes races (six graded) worth over $2 million. Other races include the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) for 3-year-old fillies, the $100,000 Skip Away (G3) for older horses on the dirt, the $150,000 Rampart (G3) for older fillies on the dirt, and the $150,000 Orchid (G3) and $100,000 Appleton, both contested on the turf.

Of course, the Gulfstream Park meet, or any other meet for that matter, will be a lot more enjoyable if you win races and cash tickets.  Please read-on for some handicapping tips and angles and trends at Gulfstream Park based on the track’s prevailing biases and running style preferences that can help you gain an edge on the public and make a profit on the races this winter at Gulfstream Park.  Best of luck and enjoy the meet.

Gulfstream is not only the winter’s most looked-forward-to race meet, it is also the most important meet of the season for horseplayers, who will invariably need to handicap well at Gulfstream if they hope to have a chance to win any serious money at what is regarded as a very difficult meet for handicappers.  Here is a look at some categories that a horseplayer could use to help narrow down the choices and find the good-priced winners you’ll need to help you win money and further enjoy the season’s best horseracing.

Gulfstream Park’s Prevailing Biases
Any meet, no matter how good or bad it is, is always a lot better from a horseplayer’s point of view when you are winning races and cashing tickets, and the best way to accomplish that task is to pay attention to trainer trends and certain other meet-specific handicapping tips that have proven themselves to be profitable over the recent past since Gulfstream Park’s main track was reconfigured to a mile-and-an-eighth oval prior to the 2005 meet.

There are a variety of good tips to give handicappers so they can establish a winning edge at Gulfstream Park, including certain trends focused in the areas of running styles, post positions, and turf racing, which are all designed to give handicappers their best chance to win at Gulfstream from start to finish.

Here are some Gulfstream handicapping tips that should come in handy for the entirety of the Gulfstream meet.

When handicapping at Gulfstream, always be acutely aware that one-mile races on the main track are one-turn races. This makes a big difference, because the one-mile races at Gulfstream play much more like sprints than like other routes races at Gulfstream that are run around two turns. Two-turn races, understandably, favor inside posts, while the one-turn races, especially including one-mile races, give an advantage to outside horses.

Some of the prime golden rules at Gulfstream Park are to stay away from outside posts in main track two-turn routes, and to stay away from far inside posts in dirt miles. Don’t bet the rail horse in any sprint at 6 1/2 furlongs or longer, and stack your bets against front-runners on the turf (unless the turf rails are out - the further the better).  These axioms cannot be repeated often enough, because these elements, when added together with winning running styles and trainer trends, can provide you the framework of everything you’ll need to win money at Gulfstream Park.

In two-turn routes run at 1 1/8 miles, once again this season, you probably will need an inside post to have an optimal chance to win one of Gulfstream’s two-turn routes.  The inside post position favoritism is present at the newer 1 1/16-mile distance on the Gulfstream main track, but it is not as dramatic as at 1 1/8 miles.

Running Style Preferences
The prevailing running style preference in Gulfstream dirt races tends to favor horses with early speed, or at least tactical speed, at all distances. Stalkers and mid-pack horses sometimes run well, but deep closers are generally not good bets at Gulfstream, except on days when a temporary anti-speed bias develops to help-out closers.

Since deep closers generally don’t do well on this main track, and inside posts and rail-skimming trips are usually not an advantage, the two prevailing track biases on Gulfstream Park’s main track are, 1) Gulfstream’s dirt track favors horses with speed and tactical speed, and; 2) Gulfstream one-turn dirt races favor outside paths, while Gulfstream two-turn races favor inside posts - except for, perhaps, the far inside rail post.

Turf Racing
Now let’s move to the grass, where a large part of the action takes place each winter at Gulfstream. Like many turf courses, the Gulfstream turf usually favors horses with good turn-of-foot acceleration in the stretch.  Much more-so than elsewhere, however, it is difficult to go wire-to-wire on the Gulfstream turf course, and Gulfstream’s turf course is definitely not friendly to early speed horses of any kind.  Through the last few years, the Gulftsream grass course has became one of the most difficult courses in the country on which to win going wire-to-wire in routes.

If you must bet a Gulfstream turf front-runner, try to make sure 1) The horse is the lone speed in the race, preferably from an inside post, 2) The turf rails are moved out from the hedge a considerable distance (outer turf course).  The further out the turf rails are, the more advantage there may be for front-runners.  Turf rails are always publicly announced before every racing day.

The position of the turf rails on the Gulfstream grass course, which has been divided into inner and outer turf courses to help the condition of the course stay good throughout the long meet, is key for the chances of an early speed grass horse.  Since they are always moving the turf rail around, always be aware of where the turf rail is before you consider a front-runner’s chances on turf.

At Gulfstream on the grass, unlike on the dirt, a horse’s chances of success are based more on running style than post draw.  Running style has been a key determining factor how well a horse is expected to run on the Gulfstream lawn with pressers and stalkers having the best chances overall.

In Gulfstream’s increasing number of short turf sprints, it is very much unlike turf sprints at other tracks where the inside posts are strong detriments to a horse’s chances, however, very much like turf sprints at many other tracks, the rail post 1 itself is still a bad proposition.  In GP turf sprints, the best posts have been posts 2-4, while the rail Post 1 is often dismal.

Have a great meet at Gulfstream this season, and good luck just being a racing fan this winter. Put Gulfstream Park at or near the top of your wagering menu from now until the spring, and you are bound to do well by following these simple tips and trends to help you win at the winter’s best race meet.

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