Garrity's Saturday Stakes: The Forida Derby headlines a terrific card at Gulfstream, in what could be the last day of racing
Focus Group, winning the John’s Call, last August at Saratoga, runs today against Zulu Alpha at Gulfstream.NYRA
Garrity's Saturday Stakes: The Forida Derby headlines a terrific card at Gulfstream, in what could be the last day of racing
Post time is 11:30 am EDT. Garrity's first post is at 2 pm.

There was some news yesterday, as Santa Anita closed abruptly as the result of the coronavirus outbreak. But we will leave discussion of that for another time, as today, the focus is squarely and solely on Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida, where the Florida Derby will be headline a 14-race card.

With the closure of Santa Anita, the spectacular Gulfstream program, which includes a mind-boggling ten stakes races, takes on the feel of an end-of-summer party. The number of racetracks running has been going only one way -- down -- and now that Santa Anita has closed, it seems that Gulfstream will be next, perhaps even as early as tomorrow. So like a Labor Day kegger on the beach, we’re going to go out with a bang -- and the card at Gulfstream today is worthy of that kind of celebratory blowout. We can’t cover all 14 races here, but we will cover as many of them as space permits.

The weather in South Florida today should be ideal, mostly sunny and temperatures in the low 80s. First post is early today, 11:30 am Eastern, and the first stakes race is at 1:00 pm. We expect fast dirt and firm turf, so let's go.

Gulfstream Park, Race 14, 6:36 pm ET

Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby, 1 ⅛ miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds

The Florida Derby drew a full field of twelve, and it’s as deep a field as we can remember. The headliner is 7-Tiz the Law, who’s on everyone’s list of the top 3-year-olds in the country, but there are other high-quality colts in here, like Fountain of Youth winner 12-Ete Indian, 5-Gouverneur Morris, and 9-Independence Hall. It’s a terrific race from both a sporting and wagering standpoint: this is about as good as horse racing gets.

The main track at Gulfstream yesterday favored speed, but not excessively so. We think that the dirt course will be fair today, a bit speed-favoring, perhaps, but that is fairly normal, and most important, we do not expect the kind of track bias that will skew results. That is going to make things tough for Ete Indian, who won the Fountain of Youth on February 29 by breaking from the outside post, going right to the lead, and staying there, winning in wire-to-wire fashion by over eight lengths. That effort was even better than it looks on paper, believe it or not, as he set a very, very fast pace to run the rest of the field off their feet, earning very big speed and pace figures in the process. This colt is the real deal.

But Ete Indian had buzzard’s luck in the draw for the Florida Derby: he again drew the outside, and will break from post 12. This means that he will almost certainly gun for the lead again, but there is a lot of early speed in this this field, and he will have company up front. We think Ete Indian is likely to crack from the increased pace pressure, especially at the mile and an eighth distance, and think the winner will come from just off the pace.

We like Tiz the Law. This colt has everything we want to see in a 3-year-old this time of year: he’s got the figs; he’s got the right running style; he’s got Barclay Tagg, as skilled and patient a trainer as there is in the world; and most important, he’s trending in the right direction, better and faster, as the races grow longer. We think Tiz the Law is sitting on a monstrous race today, and he drew an ideal post position from which he can get a stalking trip. He’s 6/5 on the morning line, and we think he’s worth a bet, even at that relatively short price. He beat Ete Indian in the Holy Bull, and we think he beats him again today. We will bet Tiz the Law to win, and we will do so enthusiastically. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 14, $50 to win on 7-Tiz the Law.

Gulfstream Park, Race 6, 2:00 pm ET

Grade 3 Hal’s Hope, 1 ⅛ miles, Dirt, 4 & Up

The Hal’s Hope will be a good way to see how the Gulfstream main track is playing, as it’s the only other race on today’s card that will be run at nine furlongs on the dirt. Look in particular at 2-Bodexpress and 10-Rare Form, who are both blazingly fast, and who figure to battle for the early lead. If they do not back up down the stretch, it will be a sign that the track is favoring speed. We do not expecting a speed bias, so as in the Florida Derby, we’re looking for a horse coming from off the pace here. That makes 1-Harvey Wallbanger the pick: he’s a stretch-running colt who seems to have put it together as a 4-year-old. He earned a big speed figure in his last start, when he closed from last to win by over five lengths, and we are expecting a similar effort today. At 4-1, he merits a play. We will bet him to win. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 6, $30 to win on 1-Harvey Wallbanger.

Gulfstream Park, Race 10, 4:17 pm ET

Grade 3 Orchid Stakes, 1 ⅜ miles, Turf, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up

Twelve older female turf runners will go eleven furlongs in the Orchid. Most of the entrants are slow early/fast late types, and that, coupled with the recent tendency of the Gulfstream Park turf to favor speed, has us looking at a filly that we think can steal this on the front end: it’s 6-Mean Mary, a 4-year-old trained by Graham Motion. We think she will get a very easy, perhaps even walking, early lead, and from there, she will be very, very difficult for any of the other runners to catch. She won her last start wiring the field in the Grade 3 La Prevoyante; we are expecting a similar effort, and a similar result, today. We will bet her to win at 3-1. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 10, $40 to win on 6-Mean Mary.

Gulfstream Park, Race 11, 4:49 pm ET

Grade 2 Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream Park Oaks, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up

The Gulfstream Park Oaks drew a full field of twelve sophomore fillies. We like 5-Spice is Nice, who starts for Todd Pletcher. She is a classy filly who sold for over a million dollars as a yearling, and while she’s yet to run truly fast, we like the way she has progressed in her two career starts: she broke her maiden at first asking on January 20, and then finished second in the Davona Dale, chasing 9-Tonalist’s Shape, who is undefeated and also in the Oaks Field, all the way around the track. We think Spice is Nice is poised for a move forward today, perhaps a big one, and that will allow her to turn the tables on Tonalist’s Shape, and to win the Oaks. We will bet her to win at 3-1. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 11, $30 to win on 5-Spice is Nice.

Gulfstream Park, Race 12, 5:26 pm ET

Grade 2 Kitten’s Joy Pan American Stakes, 1 ½ miles, turf, 4 & Up

The Kitten’s Joy drew ten runners, who will run the marathon 12-furlong distance on the Gulfstream Park sod. The headliner is 3/5 favorite 9-Zulu Alpha, and while he is by far the likeliest winner, at odds-on, we think he’s a play-against.

We like 10-Focus Group. He’s a 6-year-old horse who won this race last year, and while he might not have the glittering credentials of Zulu Alpha, is certainly capable of competing at a very high level. He is coming off a layoff, having last run at Keeneland in October, but we view that as a positive, as he seemed to wear down last fall after a fairly taxing 2019 campaign. He has a very, very strong stretch kick, and at 8-1, we think he’s in with a big shot. We will bet that he can beat the favorite by outkicking Zulu Alpha late. We will bet him to win. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 12, $25 to win on 10-Focus Group.

Gulfstream Park, Race 13, 6:00 pm ET

Grade 3 Appleton Stakes, 1 mile, turf, 4 & Up

Twleve older horses will go a flat mile on the grass in the Grade 3 Appleton. 10-Sombeyay is a strong play here: this 4-year-old Todd Pletcher trainee seems to have found his niche running middle-distance turf races; he’s won or placed in all three of his career starts on grass. His last race, a win in the Grade 3 Canadian Turf at Gulfstream on February 29, was a fine effort, but it was even better than it looks on paper, as there was an insanely fast early pace that day, and he managed to win despite being a lot closer to it than the other horses who finished in the top 4. Most horses hit their physical prime early in their 4-year-old seasons, and that seems to be the case with Sombeyay, who is razor-sharp and looks to us to be sitting on a big one. We think he wins the Appleton, and we will bet him at 7/2 to do so. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 13, $40 to win on 10-Sombeyay.

That’s all for today. We’ll be back tomorrow, if any races are actually run. Until then, enjoy the racing, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.

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