There is no official start to the winter horse-racing season in South Florida.
No set date. No pronouncement.
But the telltale signs are beginning to emerge.
On Saturday, a pair of graded stakes involving several top-caliber horses highlight the card at Gulfstream Park West, or the track formerly known as Calder Race Course.
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Lochte heads the field as the 5-2 program favorite in the Grade III Tropical Turf Handicap, and Angelica Zapata will be bidding for her first win in a graded stakes in the $100,000 My Charmer Handicap.
Lochte made his mark in the Gulfstream Park Handicap this past February, capturing the Grade I event at odds of 39-1.
He proved that upset to be no fluke when he followed with a runner-up finish in the Grade I Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita and a third-place effort in the Makers 46 Mile at Keeneland, another Grade I.
“From the beginning, I’ve always had my ups and downs with him,” trainer Marcus Vitali said of the 4-year-old gelding. “He’s had his share of problems, like any athlete. Now we’ve got him well managed, and he’s been on the upswing.”
Lochte will be ridden by Orlando Bocachica.
In the 11/8-mile My Charmer, Angelica Zapata heads a cast of fillies or mares. Though Angelica Zapada has 10 stakes wins to her credit in her 30-race career, she’s yet to triumph in a graded event.
“I think she’s going to run a big race,” trainer Ron Pellegrini said.
The field is also expected to include Daring Kathy, a 3-year-old who, like Angelica Zapada, will also be seeking her first graded-stakes win.
Unraced as a 2-year-old, Daring Kathy has won five of her eight races this year for trainer David Fawkes.