04/13/2017 12:06PM

Championship meet's handle easily sets track record

Barbara D. Livingston
Gulfstream Park's $867 million handle for the 2016-17 meet easily set a new record.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – The 2016-17 Gulfstream Park championship meeting got off to a fast start and never looked back, with the total handle of $867 million for the 87-day session smashing the old mark of $807 million set the previous winter.

The meet began Dec. 3 with a record $11.1 million handle on the opening-day Claiming Crown program and reached its pinnacle Jan. 28 with the inaugural running of the $12 million Pegasus World Cup, which generated $40.2 million in handle, a record for a non-Breeders’ Cup program at Gulfstream. The momentum continued through closing weekend, highlighted by Always Dreaming’s impressive victory in the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby on April 1.

“The championship meet was extraordinary for its mix of world-class racing, events and entertainment,” said P.J. Campo, general manager of Gulfstream Park and vice president of racing for The Stronach Group.

Campo was referring to the many celebrities in attendance on Pegasus Day, including Thomas Rhett, recently named the male vocalist of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards. Rhett performed prior to the main event, along with Grammy nominee Trombone Shorty.

“From the record-setting opening day, with the Claiming Crown, to the Eclipse Awards, to the first running of the Pegasus, to the Florida Derby, Gulfstream was the center of the racing world,” Campo said. “To have horses like Arrogate, California Chrome, Always Dreaming, Gunnevera, Mind Your Biscuits, and so many others here competing was very special.”

Campo thanked the horsemen and fans for supporting the program while also looking ahead.

“While we continue to race through the summer, we’re already preparing and looking forward to another outstanding 2017-18 championship meet that will feature the $16 million Pegasus World Cup, the Eclipse Awards, and, for the first time, the Clasico Internacional del Caribe.”

Trainer Todd Pletcher, who sent out Always Dreaming to a 4 3/4-length triumph in the Florida Derby that might make him the favorite in the Kentucky Derby, won an unprecedented 14th consecutive training title at the Gulfstream championship meet. Luis Saez unseated perennial jockey champion Javier Castellano, capturing his first riding title with 102 victories. He joined Castellano and Paco Lopez as the only jockeys to win 100 races during the winter session.