Gulfstream Park will begin its 2012-2013 race meet Dec. 1 and the track's president and general manager Tim Ritvo expects the opening day Claiming Crown to help provide a fast start on the track and in wagering.
The Claiming Crown will attract national interest, he said, and remind bettors around the country that the Hallandale Beach, Fla., track is opening in early December for the second straight year. Gulfstream had opened in early January, prior to a 2011 date swap it aggressively arranged with Calder Casino & Race Course.
Ritvo also is hoping that the Claiming Crown will be the start of an active December for trainers to run horses they have shipped to southeast Florida for the winter.
Trainer Michael Maker, who has 11 Claiming Crown entrants, said he plans to keep his stable busy in December.
"It worked out well when they started earlier last year, and I think a lot of people realize that," he said.
On the other hand, Ken McPeek said he feels that his horses need time to adjust from weather in Kentucky to Florida's more humid climate.
"We won't get started until mid-December," he said. "We will get active in January and then more active in February."
The track will have racing on 90 days through April 5, mostly with a Wednesday through Sunday schedule.
The daily first post time will be 12:45 p.m. ET, starting with the opening day 10-race card topped by the Claiming Crown's seven stakes races.
Gulfstream will have average daily purses of $400,000 including stakes in December, Ritvo said. That compares with last December's average of about $350,000.
Gulfstream will have 33 graded stakes. The first will be Dec. 8, the $100,000 Sugar Swirl (gr. III) at six furlongs for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up.
In a change from last season, Gulfstream will add Wednesdays in December and race five days a week rather than four during the month.
The Condition Book shows eight or nine races on weekdays in December.
"We were cautious last year, because December was new for us," Ritvo said.
But Gulfstream surpassed its handle projections for December and went on to set all-sources and live handle records for its still new facility that opened in 2006.
Gulfstream had average daily all-sources handle of $7.9 million and average daily live handle of $582,000 for its 87-day meet.
"This year we know what to expect," Ritvo said. "We will be disappointed if we don't do even better."
Todd Pletcher will be seeking his 10th straight Gulfstream training title. Dale Romans, Bill Mott, Nick Zito, and Kiaran McLaughlin are among the other returning trainers.
David Fawkes, Eddie Plesa Jr. and Bill Kaplan are prominent among trainers who will be vanning horses the eight miles from Calder to race in stakes and other races at Gulfstream.
The jockey colony is headed by defending champion Javier Castellano and former meet leaders John Velazquez and Paco Lopez,
The Pletcher-trained Shanghai Bobby, winner of this year's Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), is at Gulfstream's Palm Meadows affiliate training center and is being pointed toward Gulfstream's series of 3-year-old stakes.
Other 2012 Breeders' Cup winners that are in South Florida and likely will race at Gulfstream include Fort Larned (Classic), Royal Delta (Ladies Classic), Little Mike (Turf), and Trinniberg (XpressBet Sprint).
Gulfstream also will be the site of the Eclipse Awards Jan. 19.
The track's major stakes days will include:
*Jan. 19 - Sunshine Millions, with six stakes for Florida-breds including the $400,000 Sunshine Millions Classic;
*Jan. 20 -- $400,000 Holy Bull (gr. III) for 3-year-olds;
*Feb. 9 -- $500,000 Donn Handicap (gr. I) and $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf (gr. IT);
*Feb. 23 -- $400,000 Fountain of Youth (gr. II) for 3-year-olds and $300,000 Davona Dale (gr. II) for 3-year-old fillies;
*March 30 - $1 million Florida Derby (Grade 1) and five other graded stakes; the day includes the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (gr. II), Gulfstream's biggest race for 3-year-old fillies.