Gulfstream Park to Debut Its Third Surface This Week

Written By Paul Bergeron on September 29, 2021 - Last Updated on October 1, 2021

Gulfstream Park’s new synthetic track debuts on Thursday, and many bettors are likely to either steer clear or wade carefully while assessing the Tapeta surface.

The track — which makes Gulfstream Park the only track in America with three surfaces (dirt and turf are the others) — is also installed at Golden Gate Fields, Presque Isle Downs, Turfway Park and Woodbine.

The surface was added to help preserve the size of race fields, which tended to shrink considerably when races that were scheduled for the turf were moved to the dirt, causing defections by those horses who prefer turf surfaces.

New York Racing Association handicapper Andy Serling says he’s not one who believes horses who run well on turf also perform well on synthetic courses simply because of the surfaces’ similarities.

“A lot of horseplayers will say that, but I’m not one of them,” Serling said. “In the case of this surface at Gulfstream, you could say that the more variables there are to a race — such as having to consider performances on multiple surfaces — [then the more] the ‘smarter’ handicappers might say they have an edge.”

We’ll soon find out. Four of the eight races on Thursday’s card will take place on the all-weather track, including Race 5, a $60,000 maiden special weight race over 5.5 furlongs set for 2:55 p.m., with first-time starter Alarm Clock, trained by Todd Pletcher, the 7-2 morning line favorite.

Thursday’s program marks the opening of the Fall Meet, during which races will not be scheduled on the turf course, which will undergo renovation for the Championship Meet. Six stakes, formerly run on the turf, will be renewed on the Tapeta course.

For Now, An Abundance of Caution

Handicapper Andrew Champagne says, “I’m steering pretty far clear. We don’t know how the surface will play just yet or which type of horse will take to it most. I think, long term, it’s a great thing that will keep field sizes intact if races get moved off the turf. For now, though, I’d advise a lot of caution in most circumstances.”

Colonial Downs’ handicapper Jessica Paquette will also be a spectator early on.

“I think it is interesting and will add a new nuance and challenge to handicapping,” she says. “I’m going to give it a few weeks to see if any trends emerge before I really wager much on it.”

Serling says horseplayers eager to bet races on this track “could always look deeper into horse pedigrees to see if they can find any indications.”

Early Reviews Are Positive

Training on the newly installed Tapeta track got underway Friday morning. Jockey Chantal Sutherland told The Paulick Report that she was impressed with the Tapeta surface after galloping Leon McKanas-trained Thenorthremembers, a 5-year-old Violence gelding who captured a mile turf race for $25,000 claimers in his most recent start.

“Of all the Tapetas and Polytracks this is, by far, one of the better ones,” Sutherland said. “This is beautiful. The horse went over it effortlessly. It was super-soft, and you could not hear horses beside you making any noise on it. My horse, I couldn’t hear hitting the ground. They’ve done a great job on it. It seemed all level and really soft, very forgiving for horses.”

Photo by Marta Lavandier / The Associated Press
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