Best horses in the world will race at Gulfstream Park, beginning Saturday

Always Dreaming, shown winning the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in April, went on to win the Kentucky Derby.
Always Dreaming, shown winning the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in April, went on to win the Kentucky Derby.

There’s no such thing as a sure bet at the race track.

But when Gulfstream Park kicks off its 2017-18 meet on Saturday, this much is certain: the best horses in the world will be taking part.

“We’re looking at a very special and memorable winter,” track general manager Bill Badgett said.

While the March 31 Florida Derby remains the track’s signature race, a steppingstone for Triple Crown hopefuls that has produced the past two winners of the Kentucky Derby, the recently inaugurated Pegasus World Cup in January is staking its own claim as one of the top events in the world.

And this year’s Pegasus has the horses to prove it: the top four finishers in last month’s Breeders’ Cup, a year-end championship race won in early November by Gun Runner, are all pointing for a Jan. 27 rematch.

In the past, horses of that elite caliber rarely set foot at Gulfstream in January, preferring instead to freshen up during the winter for the racing campaign ahead.

But the money in the Pegasus is proving too irresistible to ignore.

The purse for the inaugural race, when Arrogate outdistanced California Chrome in a top-billing showdown, was $12 million, making it the richest race in thoroughbred history.

Gulfstream raised the purse to $16 million for the second running of the 1  1/8-mile test. As a result, the top four finishers in the Breeders’ Cup Classic — Gun Runner, Collected, West Coast and War Story — remained in training for a shot at the massive purse.

Hometown favorite Gunnevera, who ran sixth in the Classic, is also expected to take part on what is his favorite track.

While the Pegasus will grab the lion’s share of the attention early in the meet, the spotlight will eventually shift to 3-year-olds trying to position themselves for the Florida Derby and, ultimately, the Triple Crown series.

Horses that raced at Gulfstream last winter — Always Dreaming and Tapwrit — captured two of the three Crown events, the Derby and Belmont, respectively.

A new set of 3-year-olds will be trying to follow a similar path through Gulfstream. The leading candidates heading into the meet include Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Good Magic and Kentucky Jockey Club winner Entice.

Highlighting the opening day card Saturday will be the Claiming Crown, which will be followed one week later by the $600,000 Clasico Internacional del Caribe, which will be contested for the first time outside the Caribbean and Latin America.