01/01/2011 2:45PM

Gulfstream opens a little bit later than usual with Old Hat

Michael Burns
Roxy Gap, winning the Shady Wells on Woodbine's Polytrack, will make her first start on dirt in Wednesday's Old Hat.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Racing on the south Florida circuit switches to Gulfstream Park on Wednesday, two days later than usual but none too soon for horseplayers eager to sink their teeth into another championship-caliber meeting this winter.

Gulfstream Park officials opted to push back the traditional Jan. 3 opening, which would have fallen on Monday, because Mondays and Tuesdays will be dark throughout the season. The 2011 meet runs through April 24.

There will be no waiting for the graded stakes action to begin. Wednesday’s opening-day card will be highlighted by the Grade 3, $100,000 Old Hat Stakes for 3-year-old fillies with four more stakes on tap over the weekend, topped by the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope on Saturday and Grade 3 Fort Lauderdale on Sunday.

As usual, 3-year-olds will be the focus of the 2011 meet with the $1 million dollar Florida Derby again the center of attention. The Grade 1 Florida Derby will also break with tradition from a scheduling standpoint point this season as it will be decided on April 3, the first time the race has ever been run on a Sunday in its long and storied history.

Other events of note on the racing calendar this winter include the Sunshine Millions on Jan. 29, the Grade 1 Donn and Gulfstream Park Turf handicaps, both of which will be decided on Feb. 5, and the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, the key final prep for the Florida Derby, to be run on Feb. 26

The six-furlong Old Hat drew a field of only six but attracted several promising young fillies, led by the undefeated Roxy Gap, who was undefeated and virtually unchallenged in three starts at 2. The big question is whether she can handle dirt as well as she has synthetics or turf.

Roxy Gap’s main competition in the Old Hat figures to come from Final Mesa and Quantum Miss. Final Mesa was well traveled at 2, having started four times at four different tracks for trainer Wesley Ward. Like Roxy Gap, she too was dominant winning her first three outings before getting caught in an early speed duel and finishing a tiring sixth of seven in Del Mar’s Grade 3 Sorrento in her 2-year-old finale on Aug. 6.

Ward will import Joel Rosario, winner of the 2010 fall riding title at Hollywood Park and currently second in the standings at Santa Anita, to ride Final Mesa, who has been training regularly at Gulfstream Park for nearly two months in preparation for her return.

“She’s doing well,” said Ward. “I gave her a little time off after the Sorrento and now she’s ready to go.”

Quantum Miss closed out her 2-year-old campaign with a pair of one-sided victories, including a 16-length romp against fellow Pennsylvania- breds in Penn National’s Blue Mountain Stakes. Quantum Miss is trained by Anthony Dutrow, who has been stabled locally over the past several winters but opted to move his base of operations to Oaklawn Park this season.

Mis Vizcaya, It’s Me Mom, and Pomeroys Pistol complete the Old Hat lineup.