Happy Florida Derby day! It’s gorgeous, it’s hot, it’s sunny…and it’s my last day in Florida after a glorious spring break. Fortunately, I’ve got a terrific weekend to close out a memorable vacation.
Saturday at Gulfstream was Oaks Day, kicked off at 7 a.m. with Breakfast At Gulfstream, where those purchasing the breakfast buffet were given a free pink Gulfstream Park Oaks hat. After breakfast, free pink Gulfstream Park t-shirts were given out to those with a Gulfstream program. As part of “Ladies’ Day,” as it was dubbed, Gulfstream hosted events specific to women and women’s health during the morning and afternoon, in partnership with the local affiliate for Susan G. Komen for the Cure®.
Jockeys, outriders, the gate crew and employees all wore pink, and the fountain in the walking ring sprayed pink water for the afternoon.
On the racetrack, Gulfstream carded the Grade 2 Oaks for 3-year-old fillies and the Grade 3 Rampart for fillies and mares; a maiden special weight stocked with beautifully bred fillies; and an allowance optional claimer for fillies and mares in which the presence of Hibaayeb and 2009 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Tapitsfly made the race one of the most anticipated on the card.
Todd Pletcher got his second win of the day, and first of two with a horse with “Maria” in her name, in the fourth race when his Mayday Maria (Maria’s Mon) took the fourth, beating You’re Kidding (Lemon Drop Kid – Tom’s Kid) by a head. A race later, Tapitsfly returned to her winning ways with a wire-to-wire victory by 2 ¼ lengths and looked great doing it. Trainer Dale Romans is looking next to a stakes race at Churchill Downs on Derby day.
In the Rampart, another Breeders’ Cup winner went to the post, Unrivaled Belle making her first start since winning the Ladies’ Classic last fall. The generally fractious five-year-old mare was walked and saddled away from the paddock, on the horse path between the saddling area and the track, as trainer Bill Mott attempted, largely successfully, to keep her calm before the race. Some adroit handling got the saddle on her, at which point she was sent directly to the track and excused from the post parade. In educational parlance, Unrivaled Belle has an IEP (independent educational program), and just like students with special needs, she gets accommodations. She finished third, well back of the winner, Awesome Maria.
Not that getting Awesome Maria to the post was smooth sailing; obstreperous loading in the gate, Awesome Maria got her own security blanket before she went in the stall. According to the DRF’s David Grening, these are ordinary blankets that prevent the horse’s flesh from touching the sides of the stall, thereby minimizing the horse’s sense of claustrophobia. The blanket is pulled off when the horse breaks from the gate. This particular accommodation must have worked better than did Unrivaled Belle’s; Awesome Maria was awesome indeed, winning by eight lengths.
The win gave Pletcher his fourth on the day, and he went into the Gulfstream Oaks with the odds-on favorite in R Heat Lightning, winner last out of the Grade 2 Davona Dale. She won the Grade 1 Spinaway at Saratoga last year and was second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies behind eventual divisional champion Awesome Feather, and yesterday’s eight length victory in the Oaks puts the bay daughter of Trippi at the top of the division, according to Pletcher. R Heat Lightning also got a blanket before the break.
An enthusiastic crowd of approximately 8,500, many of them wearing pink, turned out for Ladies’ Day; they cheered the winners after races, and they evinced fervor for affiliations other than those on the track.
For mostly selfish reasons, I’m not nuts about the Florida Derby happening tonight, but it was nice to see the fillies and mares take center stage on a Saturday, to get the main racing spotlight to themselves.
I’m traveling tonight and back to school tomorrow, so back in a day or two with more from Gulfstream. Check here for a photo album of Saturday.