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Submitted by Noel Michaels on Monday, December 4, 2017 at 12:22 PM

Yes, the winter racing season is here, and the best winter race meet is ready to roll at Gulfstream Park, with the 2017-18 Gulfstream Champions meet running from Dec. 2 to April 1.  As always, Gulfstream will feature the best trainers, jockeys, grass horses and stakes races in action at this time of year, making it a must-bet track for all serious horseplayers and handicappers for the next several months.

The Gulfstream Park winter meet begins with the Claiming Crown, continues with the Sunshine Millions, contains several key 3-year-old prep races leading up to the Florida Derby, and also features the $16 million Pegasus World Cup, the world's richest horse race, scheduled for Jan. 27.

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 ("GP West") 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. This is especially true early in the Gulfstream meet throughout the month of December, when many of the snowbirds are coming off layoffs and are still shipping in and getting acclimated to the Gulfstream track and to Florida's warm winter climate.

The middle part of the Gulfstream Park meet is when the premier action really happens. January ushers in the time when the out-of-town barns 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 the New Year until the Florida Derby. Gulfstream's season will encompass a total of nearly 100 stakes races.

Here are some of the key dates of Gulfstream's 2017-18 Championship meet:

• Jan. 20: The Florida Sunshine Millions, which was re-formatted six years ago to a Florida-only event, will be run in its entirety again this year at Gulfstream Park.  The Florida Sunshine Millions will be made up of six stakes races worth $900k, topped by the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Classic.

• Jan. 27: Pegasus World Cup Day revolves around the world's richest race worth $16 million, which is expected to feature a rematch between the top three finishers from the Breeders' Cup Classic, Gun Runner, Collected, and West Coast, plus many more international superstars.  Six undercard stakes worth a combined $1 million fill-out the winter's premier race card.

• March 3: The $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) anchors a nine-stakes race card. The last major prep for the Florida Derby will headline Gulfstream's mega-stakes day with purses exceeding $1.5 million.

• March 31: Florida Derby Day. The $1 million Florida Derby (G1) headlines Gulfstream's signature stakes blow-out to conclude the winter Championship meet. The Florida Derby will be one of nine stakes races (six Graded) worth $2.45 million.

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 handicapping tips and angles, and winning trends at Gulfstream Park based on the track's prevailing biases and running style preferences. This handicapping information can help you gain an edge on the betting public and turn a profit on the races this winter at Gulfstream Park.  Best of luck and enjoy the great Championship meet.

GULFSTREAM PARK HANDICAPPING TIPS:

Gulfstream is not only the winter's most looked-forward-to race meet. It features full fields and excessive wagering opportunities at what is generally regarded as a very difficult meet for handicappers. In other words, it's difficult to cash tickets at this meet, but when you do, you can expect to get paid - a lot - and that fact makes Gulfstream Park a must-play track from December until April.

Here is a look at some categories that a horseplayer could use to help narrow down the choices and find the kinds of good-priced winners you'll need to help you win money and further enjoy the season's best horseracing.

Gulfstream Park's Prevailing Biases
It will pay dividends for any handicapper to know Gulfstream's prevailing biases and to pay attention to trainer trends and certain other meet-specific tips that have proven themselves to be profitable over the recent past, going all the way back to when 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 the building blocks to establish a winning edge at Gulfstream Park, including certain trends focused in the areas of running styles, post positions, and turf racing.

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

1) 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 (i.e. GP one-mile races play much closer to being life the track's 7F races than to the 1 1/16-mile races they run).

2) In terms of favorable post positions, Gulfstream features strong preferences on the main track in both sprints and routes. Two-turn route races favor inside posts, while the one-turn races, especially including one-mile races, give an advantage to outside horses at Gulfstream. Some of the prime golden rules at Gulfstream Park are to stay away from outside posts in main track two-turn routes - anything outside post 6 - and to stay away from far inside posts in dirt miles. Don't bet the rail horse at all any one-turn race at 6 1/2 furlongs or longer because that post shows terrible win percentages and ROIs for the last decade.

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 for what you'll need to make money at Gulfstream.

For the seventh year, Gulfstream will be carding main track route races at the 1 1/16-mile two-turn distance. This was an important change made by adding an alternate mid-stretch finish line. The move was necessitated after two-turn route racing had been conducted at no less than 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.

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

Main Track 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. Deep closers generally don't do well on this main track, and inside posts and rail-skimming trips are usually not an advantage. Gulfstream one-turn dirt races favor outside paths, while Gulfstream two-turn races favor inside posts and paths.

 

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.  More-so than elsewhere, however, it is difficult to go wire-to-wire in Gulfstream turf routes. In sprints it is totally the opposite. Gulfstream runs 5F turf sprints, and in those races you really need to have speed, or at least tactical speed, in order to have a decent chance to win.

One fairly unique thing that is consistent at Gulfstream and different from other places is that outside posts - including far outside posts - are ok at Gulfstream.  Whether it is a turf sprint or a turf route, horses can win from far outside posts and a horse drawing post 12, for example, is not getting a death sentence at Gulfstream.

For many years, the Gulfstream grass course was one of the most difficult courses in the country on which to win in front-running fashion in routes.  While speed is still not an advantage in Gulfstream turf routes, it is no longer the kiss of death it used to be. Prior to the 2015-2016 winter meet, the Gulfstream turf course was resurfaced, and that resurfacing had a major impact on the firmness of the course. The Gulfstream turf course no longer retains water the way it used to before the resurfacing when it was a softer turf course that was brutal for early speed. Formerly, horses on the turf course rarely ever went two turns on the lead and won.  For the last two seasons, however, it is not the same. The fields in turf races are more spread out and less bunched-up, and front runners now have a better chance to extend up on the pace and occasionally go all the way.  As the new root system of the turf course grows and matures, Gulfstream's turf routes might very well return to favoring closers the way they used to, but for now, handicappers must consider all running styles in turf routes - not just the late runners - because speed horses can now win wire-to-wire.

If you must bet a Gulfstream turf front-runner, at least go for either a horse with a chance to be the lone speed in the race, or do so on a day when the turf rails are moved out from the hedge a considerable distance (on the outer turf course).  The further out the turf rails are, the more chance there may be for front-running winners.  The turf rails are always publicly announced 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, you need to 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. Far outside posts are pretty much as good as inside posts, so therefore it is running style that turns out to be more of a key determining factor as to how well a horse is expected to run on the Gulfstream lawn.

One very important key distinction horseplayers must make in their Gulfstream handicapping has to do with Gulfstream's commonly-run turf distance of 7 1/2F.  Because it is less than a mile, that distance is classified as a sprint in terms of the turf statistics from many outlets. However, all that classification serves to do is to mess up all of Gulfstream's turf stats for turf sprints and routes.  Because these races are around two turns, the 7 1/2F turf races must be lumped into the route category, not the sprint category.  The 7 1/2F races run like short routes, NOT like long sprints.  They have absolutely nothing to do with Gulfstream's true dirt sprints, which are all run at 5F.

In Gulfstream's ever- increasing number of short turf sprints (5F), again it is running style and not post position that plays the greatest role in the results, and in the chances of success or failure for different horses in the races. Instead of focusing on post position in 5F turf sprints, you must instead focus on running style. The 5F Gulfstream turf sprints are dominated by speed horses, or at least horses that can stay within a couple lengths of the early lead. It is extremely difficult for horses to have any success in these turf dashes from far off the pace from the back half of the field.  In terms of posts, the rail Post 1 is not great at 5F on the turf, but the other inside posts 2-4, as well as pretty much any post position in the gate, are all ok.  If you do bet a horse from the rail in these races, make sure the horse has early speed. Otherwise the chances are dim for any turf sprinter from Post 1 at Gulfstream.

WRAP-UP
Have a great meet at Gulfstream this season, and enjoy 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.  Best of luck, and enjoy!

By Noel Michaels

 

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