12/01/2016 1:26PM

Gulfstream: $12 million Pegasus just one piece of high-quality championship meet

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Barbara D. Livingston
Gulfstream Park will feature 39 graded stakes races in addition to the $12 million Pegasus World Cup at its 2016-17 championship meet.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Just as the imposing Pegasus statue towers over the Gulfstream Park landscape, so too will the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational dominate any discussions when it comes to the 2016-17 Gulfstream Park championship meet, which opens with the first of 87 programs on Saturday.

The world’s richest race will highlight a stakes schedule that will disperse in excess of $25 million in purses and features 39 graded races, among them the $1 million Florida Derby and its two key preps for 3-year-olds, the Grade 2 Holy Bull and Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. The meet again kicks off with the popular $1.1 million Claiming Crown on Saturday.

P.J. Campo, Gulfstream’s general manager and The Stronach Group’s vice president of racing, is eagerly anticipating the winter session while emphasizing that the championship meet is not just about the Pegasus World Cup.

“Everything you hear right now is Pegasus, Pegasus, Pegasus, but I’m a big believer that when you talk about the Gulfstream Park championship meet, it’s got to be about the whole product, not just one big race,” said Campo. “We have a very strong [stakes] schedule that starts on Dec. 3 and goes all the way through April 1, and we’ll be offering four full months of exciting racing here. It’s not just about Pegasus.”

Despite Campo’s protestations, it’s hard not to begin the conversation with the historic and uniquely designed Pegasus and the potential it has to bring about a rematch between Arrogate and California Chrome following their epic battle in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“I think it’s a great concept. I love the idea,” said Campo. “Anything new and innovative such as an event like this is great for racing. The California Chrome people have already informed me they’ll be here the first week of January. Hopefully, Juddmonte decides to come with Arrogate and we’ll get the rematch everyone wants to see.

“As we’re getting a little closer to the race, I’ve also been receiving some phone calls from other people with horses interested to participate in the event, and trying to point them in the right direction to do so. We’ve also moved some of our other stakes around to complement the big race. It’s really going to be an exciting day.”

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The addition of the Pegasus to the schedule has taken some of the focus away from the Florida Derby, which will be the marquee race among eight stakes April 1. Last spring, Nyquist used his impressive victory in the Florida Derby as a springboard to winning the Kentucky Derby.

“Once again, we should have another great crop of 3-year-olds training in the area this winter, led by the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner,” said Campo, referring to Classic Empire. “Unfortunately, we lost the Juvenile runner-up [Not This Time] to injury, but if I’m confident about one thing, it’s that Dale Romans will come up with another good one before the meet is over. And our overall 3-year-old program, that includes the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth, speaks for itself.”

Todd Pletcher will be back in quest of a record 14th consecutive training title, while Chad Brown’s powerhouse stable is expected to consist of approximately 125 horses bedded down once again this winter at the Palm Meadows training center. Most of the top outfits from New York and the recently concluded Churchill Downs meet who winter here regularly are slowly making their way south as well. Among the trainers who will be stabled in the local area regularly for the first time this winter are Brad Cox, Bobby Barbara, and Dale Capuano, while Rudy Rodriguez has returned after a two-years absence and taken 30 stalls at Palm Meadows.

“Every stall is full throughout the entire area, and I could probably fill about 200 more without any problem if I had them,” said Campo.

Field sizes averaged nearly nine horses a race last winter, and Campo said he is hopeful he can duplicate or perhaps even exceed that number this season.

“Field sizes and handle go hand in hand, and both are at the mercy of the weather,” said Campo. “Anything over 8.5 starters a race is a good number. We were fortunate to do 8.9 last year, and I think nine is doable, as long as the weather cooperates.”