Gulfstream Park announced that the Florida Derby (gr. I), traditionally a major prep for the Triple Crown, would be run on March 16, 2002: one week later than usual and seven weeks before the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). Additionally, the track has shifted the dates of its Florida Derby preps, the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) and the Fountain of Youth (gr. I) Stakes, to allow four weeks between the each of the track's three major events for 3-year-olds.
"This will allow us to accommodate the horsemen who felt that three-weeks between races was asking too much of young horses," said Gulfstream President Scott Savin, "We think we can expect to see some horses running in all three races and getting ready for the Triple Crown at Gulfstream."
The reshuffled stakes schedule was done in anticipation of Gulfstream running an extended meet in 2002. The track, which begins its meet on Jan. 3, has opted to extend its meet by six weeks – ending on April 24 instead of March 16 -- under the State of Florida deregulation of racing dates slated to begin July 1.
"The new schedule gives us much more flexibility," added Savin, who also indicated he expects his track to add a stakes race for 3-year-olds at some point between the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby.
The Flamingo Stakes (gr. III), run during Hialeah's meet, had traditionally filled that slot, but though it has applied for the dates it appears highly unlikely that Hialeah will operate on its usual March 17 – May 23 calendar next year. Savin did not expect Gulfstream to incorporate the Flamingo into its schedule, saying, "That's Hialeah's race."
The Florida Derby, with a $1 million purse, is the highlight of the Gulfstream meet, and has proven an important stepping-stone for 3-year-olds with Triple Crown aspirations. Included among the 36 different sophomores who have captured 49 Triple Crown races following competing in the Florida Derby are Monarchos, the victor in both the 2001 Florida and Kentucky Derbies.