06/26/2013 1:14PM

Gulfstream Park: Tesher, Zayas were highlights of summer card


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Trainer Howie Tesher became a tiny piece of Gulfstream Park history Tuesday when he sent out Justanoceanaway to capture the final race on the first summer card ever held at the track. Twenty years earlier, Tesher wrote a larger piece of track history by saddling the 29-1 Bull Inthe Heather to upset the 1993 Florida Derby.

Tesher stood in the winner’s circle, in front of a nearly deserted grandstand, following Justanoceanaway’s easy win Tuesday and mused about both the past and present at Gulfstream.

“This is the best track surface right now,” Tesher said. “I can’t believe how good it is. Whoever managed this thing, it’s terrific. The last time I was around this area in the summer, prior to today, was when I was a lifeguard down at the beach while going to college. We would come over to the dog track across the street because there was no racing here at that time.”

Tesher said things have changed dramatically on the circuit over the years, especially now, with Gulfstream and Calder possibly going head-to-head on weekends during the summer, beginning July 6.

“You wish they can get together, but it’s just not the same anymore,” Tesher said. “The first thing I remember about Gulfstream racing is how you’d come over here just to meet everybody. I think the most fun was opening day each winter, when you’d see the same guys sitting in the same seats in the same boxes, year after year. The racing was enjoyable back then.

“Now it’s just a business, and it’s certainly not a good business, especially for the horsemen. I’d hate to be starting out in the game right now. For me, it’s the end here. I have nothing else to do. I just wish I had more horses. But it’s really a shame what’s happening.”

Tesher, 73, looked back 20 years to Bull Inthe Heather’s improbable triumph in the Florida Derby. The son of Ferdinand, racing for owner by Craig Singer, rallied from near the rear of the field over a sloppy track under jockey Wigberto Ramos to register a two-length victory over Storm Tower. Three weeks later, he finished second as the odds-on favorite in Hialeah’s legendary Flamingo Stakes before checking home a distant 11th behind Sea Hero in the Kentucky Derby.

Bull Inthe Heather won only once more after the Florida Derby, an allowance race at Belmont Park almost two years later.

“He was just an okay horse, but he was good that day, the track suited him, and he won the Florida Derby,” Tesher said. “The real story about this horse was the owner. He was quite a character. I won a lot bigger stakes with a lot better horses over the years, but to win a race like the Florida Derby, at this track, at that time, was terrific.”

Gulfstream handled just under $2 million from all sources on Tuesday’s card, which officially closed the books on the 2012-13 meet. Apprentice Edgar Zayas was the star of the show, along with the veteran starter-allowance horse Double Judge. Zayas won three races on the card, including a pair for trainer Kirk Ziadie. Double Judge ran seven furlongs in 1:22.21 over the fast track to dominate starter-allowance company by 8 1/4 lengths in the afternoon’s fourth event.

Gulfstream’s summer meeting officially begins Monday, with the track already announcing a $4,000 purse increase across the board for July. The card will feature five of the leading riders from the 2012-13 session – Javier Castellano, John Velazquez, Joel Rosario, Edgar Prado, and Joe Bravo, each of whom will have mounts on the program and sign autographs for fans while accepting a $20,000 donation from track management to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

Track President Tim Ritvo will not be on hand Monday. Instead, he’ll be in Hong Kong, where he’ll be given tours of the Sha Tin and Happy Valley racetracks. Gulfstream is planning to construct double-decker barns fashioned after those in Hong Kong later this spring.