(Edited press release)
The $750,000 Florida Derby (gr. I) for 3-year-olds on March 28 will be the premier event of Gulfstream Park’s 66th meeting, which begins Jan. 3 and concludes April 19.
The 1 1/8 mile Florida Derby was won by dual classic winner Big Brown in 2008 and by Barbaro in 2006. There are 48 stakes races carded for the 2009 meet, with a Gulfstream Park record 42 such races worth $100,000 or more.
There will be a $250,000 purse reduction of the Florida Derby, which had been valued at $1 million since 2001.
“The changing economics, along with our traditional commitment to Florida’s horsemen, demand that we take this step,” said Gulfstream Park president and general manager Bill Murphy.
The addition of four stakes (Tallahassee, Marion County, Sunshine State and Ocala) exclusively for Florida-breds will compliment the sixth edition of the Jan. 24 Sunshine Millions. The Sunshine Millions, a package of eight races worth $3.6 million and exclusively for Florida- and California-breds, is as popular with the wagering public as it is with the breeding industry. Gulfstream Park and sister track Santa Anita co-host four of the eight races on a rotating basis and this year the main event, the $1 million Classic for older horses, will be run at Gulfstream.
In addition to the Florida Derby and Sunshine Millions races, other major events are the grade I Donn Handicap, which shares the marquee on the Jan. 31 card with the Holy Bull (gr. III); the Gulfstream Park Turf (gr. IT), which shares the next day’s card with the Suwannee River (gr. III); the Fountain of Youth (gr. II), which, with the Canadian Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT), will be run Feb. 28; and the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II), which shares the March 14 card with the Palm Beach (gr. III).
Ladies come first every day at Gulfstream, especially on Sundays, when the bulk of the stakes for fillies and mares will be run. Other attractions of special interest to the fairer sex will be announced as the meeting gets closer.
“Horse racing’s appeal is strong with women and we want Sundays to be special not only in terms of the racing product but also in terms of the various attractions Gulfstream offers,” Murphy said.
There were some notable distance changes from past years: the distance of the Holy Bull was shortened from 1 3/16 miles to 1 1/8 miles; the distance of the Gulfstream Park Handicap was shortened from 1 3/16 miles to a mile; the distance of the Fountain of Youth was shortened from 1 1/8 miles to a mile, and the distance of the Gulfstream Park Turf was shortened from 1 3/8 miles to 1 1/8 miles.
A twist in the calendar will feature stakes racing on three Fridays during the meet: The Hutcheson (gr. II) and the Forward Gal (gr. II) on Jan. 30 will usher in Donn weekend; the Sabin will be run Feb. 20, and the Bonnie Miss will be run March 27, the day before the Florida Derby.
Additionally, the Shirley Jones Handicap was renamed to honor 2008 Hall of Fame inductee Inside Information.