Updated on 09/17/2011 9:40AM

Opening day draws 116 entries

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Does a long, cold winter really lie ahead? Well, maybe for most horseplayers in North America. But for the fortunate souls with the time or resources to avoid winter's wrath, there is one obvious place to escape: Gulfstream Park, which begins its annual meet Friday with a renewed sense of enthusiasm among fans and horsemen.

The 10-race opener is highlighted by the $100,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes, and if field size - an average of 11.6 horses are entered per race - is any indication, then the incessant complaints about short fields that dogged the 2002 meet may become little more than a distant memory.

Likewise, the everyday caliber of racing at Gulfstream, which is owned by the Magna Entertainment Corp., is expected to clearly surpass that of last year. The recent opening of the Palm Meadows training center has afforded racing secretary Dave Bailey and his staff a deeper supply of horses with which to fill races, and a decision to reduce the weekly racing schedule to five days in January and April "is bound to help" increase quality and quantity, said Bailey.

Indeed, Gulfstream president Scott Savin promised that "the quality of horses will be better than any we've had in the past."

In addition, a blockbuster new program, the Jan. 25 Sunshine Millions, and the ever-intriguing series of major prep races for 3-year-olds, are prime reasons that much of the racing world will be riveted on developments at Gulfstream this winter.

The Spectacular Bid, a Grade 3 race named for the superstar colt who dominated at Gulfstream 24 years ago, is the first of 48 stakes at the meet. Rarely a significant prep toward races such as the Fountain of Youth or Florida Derby, the six-furlong Spectacular Bid nevertheless is an interesting race, one that probably will have a locally based colt, Super Fuse, as the favorite in a field of nine 3-year-olds.

Super Fuse, owned by a syndicate headed by Tampa sportscaster Chris Thomas and trained by Richard Ciardullo Jr., won the Birdonthewire Stakes at Calder in October before shipping to Aqueduct and romping in the Huntington Stakes the following month. Unraced in the nearly seven weeks that have passed, Super Fuse will start from post 3 when he goes for his fifth win from six career starts.

Super Fuse is by Lite the Fuse, a young sire whose racing career was highlighted by major sprint victories. Although a win on opening day would not mark Super Fuse as a contender for such major two-turn events as the Feb. 15 Fountain of Youth or March 15 Florida Derby, it would make him a leading prospect for the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes on the Fountain of Youth undercard.

Two other stakes winners in their final starts at 2, Crafty Guy and Coach Jimi Lee, rank as legitimate threats to Super Fuse. Crafty Guy, trained by Jerry Robb, comes off a win in the Primer Stakes at Laurel, while Coach Jimi Lee, who has been at Gulfstream since late November after shipping in from Illinois for trainer Jimmy DiVito, was an easy winner of the Hoosier Juvenile in his seasonal finale.

Other possibilities include Silver Squire, a sharp allowance winner for John Kimmel at Aqueduct in October in his last start, and First Blush, who has been freshened by Allen Jerkens since finishing third behind Super Fuse in the Nov. 17 Huntington.

The rest of the Spectacular Bid field is Paris Adventure, Hear No Evil, Formal Charade, and Laughing Luke.

Gulfstream has billed the 2003 meet as the "Year of the Trainer" and has scheduled a series of events during which fans will be able to meet trainers who race horses here. Those sessions begin this weekend with Nick Zito on Saturday and Kimmel on Sunday.

Gulfstream is offering a progressive pick six on opening weekend with the following guaranteed pools: $25,000 on opening day, $50,000 on Saturday, and $100,000 on Sunday. The track also will offer a daily pick four wager for the first time.

Free admission and reduced prices on some concessions are being offered opening day.

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