Horse Racing

Lawn ‘Transformation’ Debuts Dec 1 at Gulfstream

Leif Dickinson wants to correct anyone who believes a “new” pitch will be announced on December 1 at Gulfstream Park.

“It’s not a new course,” said Dickinson, racing director for Gulfstream’s parent company, 1/ST Racing. “It’s the same grass. Same distance.”

Instead, Dickinson sees the fruit of six months of work on the course as a “complete transformation”.

“It’s the same track but it will be managed differently and we’ve seen huge differences in that,” he said.

To the naked eye of the riders at the south Florida race track, Gulfstream’s turf is certainly a huge improvement over the shabby oval turf they last used at the end of May before Dickinson and the team. His mission began the task of overhauling every aspect of its development and maintenance.

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“We’ve changed almost everything. The way we move, the way we water. The lawnmower is different. The way we aerate it. We’ve changed everything related to how the track is maintained. is the same track. We just changed the way we maintain it. Let’s put it that way.”

Unlike Churchill Downs and Fair Grounds Racecourse & Slots Having struggled a lot with their turf in recent months, Gulfstream’s “transformed” turf looks great and has received rave reviews from the riders.

“We have grass. The grass is thick, lush. It will be more resilient. We have overseen it to shelter it,” said Dickinson, who has 35 years of experience in his field including work at Santa Anita . Park and Del Mar.

Before grass racing returns on Thursday, coach Saffie Joseph Jr. based in Florida trained a pair of horses, lick and Bella midnight on November 28th and left quite satisfied.

“We drove two horses and they got through it really well. You can’t really hear them, so the track has good cushioning,” Joseph said on Monday. “It’s a good piece of land to work on. The track is in very good condition. On the surface it looks fine. Running on a track like this will be very refreshing and enjoyable for the horses.”

Saffie Joseph Jr.  coverage of Preakness at Pimlico Racecourse on May 19, 2022.
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

Saffie Joseph Jr.

The writings confirmed Joseph’s initial thoughts on the course.

“It looks as good as any course in the country, if not the best in the country. It’s in great shape,” Joseph said the day before work. “It’s been very well rested and that’s key to any course. Looks like they’ve drained the water properly inside. It’s no longer steep.”

Mike Lakow, Gulfstream’s vice president of racing operations, and the track’s racing office were excited about the possibility of once again adding grass racing to the five-day-a-week pass at Hallandale race track. Beach.

“The expectations are phenomenal. It’s another course this year. It looks spectacular,” said Lakow, whose track gave a youtube videos to introduce the course. “Last year, the track was safe. It wasn’t pretty, but there was a root system. Now, going on the track, for me, it’s super fun. I think riders will be overwhelmed by it. How beautiful it has been compared to the last few years. The company spared no expense. They let us do what we needed to do and I think it pays dividends.”

Gulfstream Park Lawn
Photo: Coglianese Photos/Ryan Thompson

Gulfstream Park Lawn

The importance of turf during the winter months at Gulfstream is already reflected in the upcoming four cards. In addition to three on-court races out of nine on Thursday, there will be three races on December 2, followed by six races on the 10-race program on December 3, and five races from 10. race on December 4. In addition, included in those 38 races, 10 people will compete on Gulfstream’s synthetic Tapeta track.

“We’re going to have about four races on the grass a day, and on big Saturdays maybe seven or eight races with two tracks,” Lakow said.

The list of 17 grass-court races in those four days also reflects a big question mark for grass-court racing at Gulfstream. Due to heavy use, the pitch often wears out during the four-month winter championship meeting, and some coaches don’t want to run on the pitch late in the meeting. The course also anticipates larger courts soon with the Fair Grounds canceling turf races through the end of December, leaving Gulfstream and Tampa . Bay as the eastern picks for grass-court racing.

Coach Christophe Clement said: “In March and April, should you worry about whether you should run your deposit horse in March and April at the end of the meeting when the turf is really down. beat or not. “So if they can give us a better product, especially at the end of the race, I’m sure we’ll be ready to run more horses. Anything makes the surface. A better track is a great thing.”

Phantom Currency Wins 2022 Appleton Staking at Gulfstream Park
Photo: Coglianese Photos

Horses take their first turn on the grass at Gulfstream Park

Seven-time Eclipse Award winner and 18-time Gulfstream Championship meet-up coach Todd Pletcher also said he’s eager to see how the course goes over the winter.

“On television, it looks good. Hopefully it’s as good as it looks. The proof will be in the race,” said Pletcher, who won the last two editions of the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational Stakes (G1T). ) of Gulfstream said Colonel Liam .

Colonels Liam and Irad Ortiz Win the G1 Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park, Coached by Todd Pletcher, Hallandale Beach FL, 29-1-22, Mathea Kelley
Photo: Mathea Kelley

Colonel Liam (gray) wins the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park

To address that, Dickinson modified the way the track is maintained and the equipment used throughout the meeting and the rest of 2023 at the year-round track.

“We’re going to do the best we can with the track. We’re going to maintain it every day,” said Dickinson. “We’re going to work on it every day. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure this track is a success in the future. That’s the long and short term.”

Dickinson said the track positions have been changed to seven-foot intervals and that will play a key role in preventing excessive wear on part of the track.

“The rails will be integral to what we are doing. There will be many rail moves. There will be more rail moves but shorter moves. The rails will be moved twice. a week with a larger setting for Wednesday through Friday, such as 63 feet, and a shorter one for Saturday and Sunday, perhaps 0 or 7,” he said. “You want to use the whole track. You can’t do anything with horses that run 50 feet wide. But if you can defend seven-eighths and three-eighths of turns, that helps. Very helpful in determining how much we can race on this track and how it will sustain before we have to close. at some point and grow again.”

The Tapeta course also helps. In general, because turf horses can treat all-weather surfaces, it allows the racing office to cancel grass races due to wet conditions without scratching and disrupting the race schedule. of trainers and owners.

“What we’re going to do for us at Tapeta. We’re not going to push it if we’re not sure about the state of the pitch,” Lakow said. “At least we have something for the owners who are paying the bills. They don’t have to regroup if their horse is ready to go and wait three more weeks for the next race. When he We haven’t had a field since June, the riders really stepped up. They understood the situation and they supported Tapeta quite well. It was a superior course. It was a very forgivable course. I’ve run reports and favorites win on Tapeta more often than on land or grass.”

Joseph said about 70% of his turf horses control Tapeta and welcomed the additional turf, which is about 60 feet wide.

“I’ve noticed 70 percent of my horses have converted their grass to Tapeta,” said Joseph, top coach at the track’s 2021-22 championship meeting. “That makes it manageable. I don’t mind Tapeta because every day, I know it’s going to be a stable surface. You don’t have to worry about slipping or losing a race on the grass. You I know what I’ll get.”

Of course, for all of Dickinson’s meticulous work and planning, the unalterable X-factor is Mother Nature, in southern Florida, giving followers headaches with a series of brief showers but sometimes strong continuously.

“Rain is something I’m going to have to deal with,” Dickinson said. “Southern California doesn’t rain. In Florida it rains all the time. You can send humidity information every day in Del Mar. That never changes. But in Florida, you get rain every 20 minutes. One side of the world. The track can be wet and the track can be dry. It’s a new experience for me.”

After all, guess what there’s really something “new” about Gulfstream Park’s turf.


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