12/01/2016 1:57PM

Players looking to conquer and collect

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The 2016-2017 Gulfstream Park Championship meet kicks off on Saturday with the Conquer the Crown handicapping contest.

“It’s exciting to be part of the kickoff to an unprecedented year,” said tournament director Nancy Berry. “We’re building up to the $12 million Pegasus [World Cup] and all of the excitement that goes with it.”

The contest requires a $3,000 buy-in. Of that total, $2,000 will act as a live bankroll and the other $1,000 will fund the prize pool, which will be paid back to players in the form of cash and seats to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge and National Handicapping Championship.

Contest rules are simple. Players must wager on a minimum of eight of the 11 races at Gulfstream Park on Saturday in the win, place, show, exacta, trifecta, and daily double pools. They must bet at least $200 in each of those eight races. There are no max bets; players can go all-in at any time. Any money on the bankroll at the end of the contest remains the property of the player.

On Saturday’s card, nine of the 11 races are Claiming Crown starter stakes. Claiming Crown races are absolutely perfect for a handicapping contest, a mini-Breeders’ Cup in terms of depth and competitiveness.

The nine Claiming Crown races feature 123 horses entered in the body of the races, making for large fields and wide-open races. No circuit expert will have a pronounced edge: The Claiming Crown runners made their last starts at 17 different tracks. The quality of the fields will be high as well. The races feature 10 horses who won stakes in 2016 and another 11 who were stakes-placed; 44 of the 123 runners having won their last starts.

“There’s nothing quite like the Claiming Crown to find value betting opportunities, with full fields coming from disparate circuits and all in good form,” said Berry. “You can find lots of 'horse-for-course' angles, horses that love the distance, and great trainer-rider angles.”

The betting pools have been immense. The last two years over $10 million has been bet on the day and that includes 2015, when all but one race had to come off the turf.

Speaking of inclement weather, many contest participants recall the early 2015 Gulfstream Raise Your Game contest, which was washed away. The good news is that Saturday’s forecast is positive, with sunny skies expected, a high of 79 degrees, and just a 10 percent chance of rain as of this writing. In the unlikely event of an issue, Laurel Park will be used as the backup track.

The contest allows for walk-ups so a final number of participants is not yet known but it’s expected to be between 60 and 75 entries. Of those entries, 21 were won via qualification on the DRF Tournaments website. Players interested in participating should contact Nancy Berry at Nancy.Berry@gulfstreampark.com, at (954) 457-6284, or just show up with cash at the Sport of Kings, the main contest area, on Saturday.

Players are able to make contest wagers from any self-service terminal on Gulfstream’s footprint. All players are invited to the exclusive Claiming Crown cocktail party in the walking ring where they can mix and mingle with owners, trainers and jockeys.