12/31/2009 12:00AM

Plenty of action for Gulf opener


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - If Sunday's opening-day program is any indication, the 2010 Gulfstream Park meeting should be an unequivocal success.

A total of 105 horses were entered for Sunday's nine-race program, including a field of nine in the main event, the $100,000 Hal's Hope, which features the return of 2009 Florida Derby winner Quality Road. The card also features a pair of high-level optional claiming races for older horses and three maiden special weight tests, two of which are carded for 3-year-olds.

Opening day will also unveil a newly configured turf course, which will allow the racing office to card grass races both on the inside and outside portions of the vast course on the same afternoon. There will be three grass races on Sunday, two on the inner course with the rail at zero feet and a third over the outer with the rail out 72 feet.

"I think the stakes race turned out phenomenal," said newly appointed racing secretary Dan Bork. "It's a real solid field, especially having Quality Road coming back. And I think it's a good card overall. So far everybody seems to be geared up and ready to run. The fact some of these guys were unable to get over to Calder to run for several weeks due to the quarantine this month might have helped us right off the bat. It sure would be great if the whole meet goes like this."

Quality Road will carry high weight of 122 pounds in the one-mile Hal's Hope, including regular rider John Velazquez. He'll be joined in the starting gate by his uncoupled stablemate Harlem Rocker along with You and I Forever, Helsinki, Colonial Causeway, Le Grand Cru, Suyeta, Spin Master, and Congressional Page.

The seventh race, a $53,000 optional claiming race on the grass, lured a stakes-quality field that includes Group 2 winner Americain, Grade 2 winner Eldaafer, the Grade 3-placed Lemon Cream Pie, and several other stakes-placed turf specialists.

Jackson Bend on course for Holy Bull

The first major 3-year-old race of the meet will be the Grade 3 Holy Bull at a mile on Jan. 23, and among the big names who could show up for the event is Jackson Bend, the Calder sensation who was sold privately to owner Robert LaPenta and turned over to trainer Nick Zito late this fall.

Jackson Bend gave Zito every reason to believe he'll be ready to go in the Holy Bull after working five furlongs in 1:00.80 at Palm Meadows on Thursday morning. It was just his second work since joining Zito's stable in mid-November.

"He worked super," Zito said later that afternoon. "Did it all on his own. Very easy. Very relaxed. He'd been doing really well up to this point and he needed a work like this if we're thinking about running him in the Holy Bull in three weeks."

Jackson Bend closed out his 2-year-old campaign with five consecutive wins that included all three divisions of Calder's Florida Stallion Stakes.

"He's a cool little horse," said Zito. "You always have to use the word little with him. But he's very professional. A lot of people use the word athletic when describing horses - actually it's used too much - but this particular horse really is. There is no question about that. I love what I saw today and if I continue to see over the next couple of weeks what I saw this morning then he'll go to the Holy Bull."

Jackson Bend was one of 155 horses who posted works at Palm Meadows on Thursday and one of nearly 500 who worked at the five training centers, including Gulfstream Park, Calder, Payson Park and Palm Beach Downs.