Gulfstream Park will open its 2012-2013 racing season Saturday, with an expected large crowd and seven stakes races that could have some rags-to-riches winners.
The Hallandale Beach track will have 10 races, with a first post time of 12:45 p.m.
The day’s last seven races are the stakes that make up the Claiming Crown — an annual national event that Gulfstream is holding for the first time.
All seven stakes have purses of at least $100,000 and are open only to horses that have raced for a claiming price at least once in 2011 or 2012.
Some of the horses in Saturday’s races have improved during the past year and won stakes races.
One example is King David, the likely favorite in Saturday’s $125,000 Emerald Stakes at 11/16 miles on turf.
Many others in Saturday’s stakes run regularly in claiming races, which are set up with a goal of having similar quality horses. If a horse is “in for a tag,” another owner can claim it before to the race.
“Claimers are the backbone of racing,” said Gulfstream president Tim Ritvo, a former trainer.
“We are happy to be the host, and we think it will help add to the local and national attention we always get on opening day.”
Last year was the first time Gulfstream opened in December, rather than its early January start that had been traditional.
Gulfstream arranged a date swap, with Calder Casino & Race Course relinquishing the attractive December dates in return for three weeks in April.
On last season’s opening day, also a Saturday, Gulfstream estimated that attendance for racing was 8,500 — among the largest at the so-called new Gulfstream that opened in 2006.
Gulfstream officials expect another large crowd Saturday. That means one good bet is to try to arrive early.
Gulfstream will have racing 90 days through April 5, with a Wednesday through Sunday schedule.
It will have 33 graded stakes. The highlight as always will be the $1 million Florida Derby (Grade 1) for 3-year-olds on March 30.
Each Claiming Crown race has at least 10 entrants. Barring scratches, three races will have the maximum-allowed 14 starters.
The attraction is the race purses, which are several times larger than even high-level claiming races.
The fields are about evenly split between horses being vanned over from Calder and horses that trainers have sent to Florida for the winter.
Mike Maker, who spends most of each year in Kentucky, has at least one horse in every Claiming Crown race.
In six races, be has a horse owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who each year claim numerous horses and race other horses in major stakes. King David, in the Emerald, is a Ramsey-Maker horse.
The featured 10th race is the $200,000 Jewel at 1 1/8 miles on dirt for 3-year-olds and up.
Maker and Ramsey have entered Parent’s Honor, one of their rare Claiming Crown horses who is not among the favorites.
Private Tale, in from New York, and Flatter This, who is stabled at Calder, are the morning-line favorites.
Todd Pletcher will be seeking his 10th consecutive Gulfstream training title. Dale Romans, Bill Mott. Nick Zito and Kiaran McLaughlin are among the other returning trainers.
The list of jockeys has defending champion Javier Castellano and former leaders in wins John Velazquez and Paco Lopez.
Shanghai Bobby, winner of this year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, is trained by Pletcher, who is pointing the colt toward Gulfstream’s series of 3-year-old stakes.
Other 2012 Breeders’ Cup winners that are in South Florida and likely will race at Gulfstream include Fort Larned (Classic), Royal Delta (Ladies Classic), Little Mike (Turf) and Trinniberg (Sprint).