Gulfstream Ponders Florida Derby Date Switch

In a move that could have significant implications for the slate of Triple Crown prep races, Gulfstream Park may revamp its schedule of 3-year-old stakes and delay by three weeks the 2005 Florida Derby (gr. I).

Contributing factors include the reconstruction of the main track from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/8 miles, and the expansion of the meet until the end of April, Gulfstream president Scott Savin said.

"The way the new track is situated, races at a mile and a sixteenth have been eliminated," Savin said. "So we've had to make some changes to try to put together the best progression of races to the Florida Derby."

The $1-million, 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby, Gulfstream's signature race, has traditionally been run on the second Saturday in March, which has allowed Kentucky Derby (gr. I) hopefuls the opportunity to make one additional start before the Churchill Downs fixture. But Savin said the traditional placement of the Florida Derby was primarily a function of Gulfstream's racing calendar, which until 2002 ended about March 16.

Savin indicated Gulfstream is considering April 2 for the Florida Derby. "We're trying to eliminate the need for a trainer having to go from Florida to New York or Arkansas then to Kentucky," he said.

Gulfstream likely would change the distance and placement of its 3-year-old stakes leading up to the Florida Derby as well, because its major two-turn preps, the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) and Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II), were both contested at 1 1/16-miles.

Additionally, since Gulfstream expanded its meet into dates previously operated by dormant Hialeah Park in 2002, it has scheduled the $250,000 Aventura Stakes in early April. But, because the race has not earned graded status, some horsemen avoided it.

"It didn't seem like the (American Graded Stakes Committee) was going to give the Aventura any help, so you couldn't use it for the Derby," said trainer Rick Violette, who noted Kentucky Derby eligibility is based upon earnings in graded stakes. "Doing it this way might keep people there longer."

"It would give you another option," said trainer Todd Pletcher, whose vast stable of 3-year-olds frequently travel far from their bases to avoid competing head-to-head. "At that time of year, there are plenty of 3-year-old races all around the country."

Savin said no firm decisions would be made until Gulfstream officials conclude conversations with parent company Magna Entertainment Corp. The official 2005 stakes schedule will be released by early September.