Gulfstream Park Kicks Off 2021-22 Season And Bettors Eye Aqueduct’s Cigar Mile $750,000 Purse

Written By Dave Bontempo on December 3, 2021 - Last Updated on December 30, 2021
A horse races on the new turf at Gulfstream Park

Betting excitement extends past the spring Triple Crown and fall Breeders’ Cup horse races. Winter’s approach brings a wager wonderland, with tracks producing high-level fields to entice nationwide bettors. Two storied establishments, Aqueduct Race Track in New York and Gulfstream Park in Florida, command the stage on Saturday.

Aqueduct unfurls a signature card, highlighted by the $750,000 Cigar Mile and three $250,000 events immediately preceding it. Gulfstream celebrates its championship-meet opening with the Breeders Cup of claiming, known as the Claiming Crown. It is a string of nine races totaling $810,000 in purses, crowning champions in this underpublicized class level of racing. Nationwide bettors can access this lineup from a variety of sources.

Here’s an overview of the two-track special.

Aqueduct: Headliner Heaven

The Big A creates a blockbuster package by embracing the industry practice of augmenting a major race with several other strong ones.

Starting with an 11:50 a.m. EST post, Aqueduct has several races with big fields in the $80,000 range before ending the day with four premiere races:

  • Go for Wand Handicap, $250,000, starts around 2:43 EST.
  • Remsen, $250,000, follows that.
  • Demoiselle Stakes, $250,000, is next.
  • Cigar Mile, $750,000, completes the grand slam at 4:13 EST.

A quick look at the Cigar Mile field

American Revolution, who ran a strong third to Hot Rod Charlie in the Pennsylvania Derby, is the 5-2 early favorite. Independence Hall, winner of the Grade II Fayette Stakes over Code of Honor, is 7-2. Ginobli, who ran second to Life Is Good in the recent Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, gets a lot of respect at 7-2. Code of Honor, fourth to Art Collector in the G I Woodward, was listed at 6-1.

Betting overview

The high-level horses in the big race figure to run well, and all are well-priced on the win line. Payouts on the win line should be promising in all four of the big races. The earlier events have huge fields. There are some big returns looming, but they may require spread-betting, or covering a large number of horses in one wager. It can get expensive. One inexpensive way to approach a big field is to find a key horse and put him first and second with five others in a 10-cent superfecta wager. It costs $12. In this instance, your horse must finish in the first or second slot with the combo of the other horses completing the top four.

Although gamblers must avoid overbetting, this card is a high-level wagering invitation.

Championship meet begins at Gulfstream Park

Happy days have returned for nationwide bettors embracing the Gulfstream Park championship meet. The Hallandale, Florida, facility has an extraordinary lineup of weekend stakes races for its Dec. 3-April 3 program. That includes the $3 million Pegasus on Jan. 29 and the $1 million Florida Derby, one of the big Kentucky Derby Prep races, on April 2. Both events will be augmented by star-studded supporting races.

While the Pegasus and Florida Derby draw top-name horses, Saturday’s Claiming Crown is little known beyond the insider’s realm. It marks the highest level of purse money at this class of racing and offers big fields that will confuse but reward bettors.

Created by the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association in partnership with the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, the Claiming Crown rewards and pays tribute to the horses and horsemen that provide the foundation for day-to-day racing programs at tracks around the country.

Here is the lineup of the stakes races, which will be blended into other events on the card that starts at noon EST:

Jewel, $125,000, at 1 1-8 miles
Tiara, $95,000, at 1 1-16 miles
Emerald, $95,000, at 1 1-16 miles
Canterbury, $90,000, at 5 furlongs
Distaff Dash, $90,000, at 5 furlongs
The Rapid Transit, $85,000, at 7 furlongs
The Glass Slipper, $80,000, at 1 mile (Pretty Rachel seeks a seventh straight victory)
The Express, $75,000, at 6 furlongs
The Iron Horse, $75,000, at 1 1-16 miles

“Yes, we like that description of our event being the Breeders’ Cup for claimers,” Eric Hamelback, the CEO of Claiming Crown, told Playfecta. “As you can see with the Breeders Cup races, you can look at and find a way on paper for any of the horses to win,” he added. “We had 264 nominations for nine races; this is very competitive. There are some impressive prices as a result of that.” That was never more true than last year, when High Noon Rider won the Claiming Crown Emerald at 50-1. Temple, the 2-1 favorite, was in a dead heat for second with Muggsamatic, 11-1. Artie’s Rumor was fourth at 3-1. The $1 superfecta (getting the top four finishers in proper order) paid more than $16,000.

Betting nugget to carry forward

Was it difficult to hit? Yes. Almost impossible? Not as much as it would seem. High Noon Rider was saddled by Saffie Joseph Jr., the second-leading Gulfstream trainer behind legendary Todd Pletcher in the championship meet and the winner of the 2021 fall meet. A hunch on Saffie Joseph may have produced this angle. So would a betting key with the 2-1 favorite, Temple. A $1 superfecta wager putting Temple in the first and second slots with the 50-1, 11-1 and 3-1 shots cost only $12. The trifecta (top three horses in the right order) and superfecta keys are excellent angles if a bettor believes a long shot can run in one of the top spots. Here, the two favorites ran in the top four, and the payout was terrific.

It won’t be easy to find angles on specific races, but bettors will look to pick their spots.

Here’s an overview of the entire Gulfstream meet:

Big-Name Trainers

Pletcher captured his 17th training title at Gulfstream last year and is considered a legend on the Gulfstream circuit. Saffie Joseph Jr. is a star on the rise. Michael Maker is another top trainer worth backing. Horses saddled by these trainers will be heavily watched throughout the Gulfstream meet. Bettors will give strong consideration to horses these trainers enter. This is important because a large field of evenly matched horses can be difficult to handicap. Seeing top trainers associated with a horse gives bettors a good first place to look.

Big-Name Jockeys

Irad Ortiz captured his third straight riding title last year, with Paco Lopez second. Lopez has won eight straight riding titles at Monmouth Park in New Jersey and always performs well at Gulfstream. The track’s lineup figures to include top jockeys Tyler Gaffalione, fall meet winner Edgar Zayas and Chantal Sutherland. Right now, Ortiz rules the roost.

Ortiz returns, but not on Saturday

Handicappers will focus on the return of Ortiz, who seeks a fourth straight Gulfstream riding title after a record 140 wins last year. He captured the Pegasus Turf aboard Colonel Liam and went on to take 14 stakes races last year. He is not scheduled to ride Saturday at Gulfstream. Ortiz is listed on a couple of mounts at Aqueduct, including favorite Lady Rocket in the Go for Wand. Jockeys and trainers will gravitate to the big-money races. With no Ortiz on Saturday, bettors can look at stellar jockeys like Lopez and Zayas, who piloted High Noon Rider to that monster Claiming Crown upset last year. Zayas has seven mounts on the card in tandem with Saffie Joseph Jr. Bettors will hone in on that trainer-jockey pairing. You can see the listing on the entries or in the Daily Racing Form.

Name recognition

Winners in these races go on to higher platforms. Jesus’ Team, who won the Jewel Stakes last year, was in the 3-year-old thoroughbred picture last year. He ran second to Knicks Go in the Pegasus at Gulfstream the following month. What about Frost Or Frippery, who captured the Claiming Crown Iron Horse last year?

His trainer was Brad Cox. Several months later, Cox was in the highest profile of the horse-racing world when Knicks Go captured the Breeders Cup.

New Tapeta Surface at Gulfstream Park

The 2021-2022 Championship Meet breaks new ground with Gulfstream Park’s newly constructed Tapeta surface, as well as on turf and dirt, during the winter stand that gets underway Friday. Gulfstream Park is the first racetrack in the Americas to card races on dirt, turf and an all-weather surface. Although there are no stakes scheduled on the Tapeta course, the all-weather racing surface will be employed in the event that stakes are transferred from the turf course due to inclement conditions.

The month of December will also feature four graded stakes on Saturday, Dec. 18, headlined by the $200,000 Fort Lauderdale (G2). Gulfstream’s Championship Meet will feature major races every week, with spectacular weekend events, including the $5.2 million Pegasus World Cup Day on Jan. 29, the $650,000 Holy Bull Day on Feb. 5, the $1.7 million Fountain of Youth Day on March 5, and the $2.2 million Florida Derby Day on April 2.

Photo by AP | Wilfredo Lee
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Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo, who writes extensively on the emergence of legalized sports betting, is a recipient of the Sam Taub Award for Broadcast Excellence by the Boxing Writers Association of America. He has broadcast boxing for all the major networks over the last four decades and is a member of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame as well as the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame. His work also can be seen at the Press of Atlantic City and iGamingPlayer.

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