07/24/2012 9:37AM

Gulfstream Park to offer richest stakes schedule in track history this winter

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Tom Keyser
Gulfstream's stakes schedule will be topped by the $1 million Florida Derby on March 30.

Gulfstream Park will offer the biggest and richest stakes schedule in the track’s storied history during the 2012-2013 Sseason which opens on Dec. 1 and continues through April 8, 2013, track officials announced on Tuesday.

Gulfstream will offer 61 stakes, 33 of which are graded, valued at more than $10.1 million. The schedule will be highlighted by the $1 million, Grade 1 Florida Derby, a key Kentucky Derby prep, to be run on March 30 as the main event on a stellar program that will include five other graded stakes.

The meeting will kick off with a bang. Opening day will feature the 14th running of the Claiming Crown to be held at Gulfstream for the first time this year, offering seven stakes worth $850,000.

As usual, 3-year-olds will be the focus of the Gulfstream meet. The series begins on New Year’s Day with the inaugural Sophomore Soiree, which will feature four stakes races exclusively for newly turned 3-year-olds that includes the second running of the $100,000 Gulfstream Park Derby and the Grade 3 Old Hat for 3-year-old fillies.

Other important events for 3-year-olds during the session are the Grade 3, $400,000 Holy Bull at 1 1/16 mile on Jan. 26 and the Grade 2, $400,000 Fountain of Youth, also at a mile and one-sixteenth, on Feb. 23.

The $1.3 million Florida Sunshine Millions, historically run on the final weekend of January, has been advanced to Jan. 17 and serves as a prelude to the Eclipse Award ceremonies, which will be held at Gulfstream Park later that evening.

“We believe the stakes schedule for the 2012-13 meeting is the most varied and valuable we have ever offered,” said Gulfstream president and general manager Timothy Ritvo. “Because of the commitment to Thoroughbred racing by our Chairman, Mr. Frank Stronach, we have been able to work with our industry partners to bring the prestigious Eclipse Awards to Gulfstream and we are also extremely excited about bringing the Claiming Crown to south Florida for the first time this year.

“We have made some slight adjustments to our stakes schedule, but we believe our horsemen, who have been incredible partners of ours, will find the changes beneficial and rewarding.”