Horse-racing bettors are just as jubilant as everyone else in South Florida over the Panthers and Heat reaching the Stanley Cup Final and NBA Finals.
But they have one additional outlet to channel their handicapping skills: live racing at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach.
And they don’t need expensive tickets to enter.
A slate of races Friday-Sunday at 12:50 p.m. kicks off June at Gulfstream.
While the Royal Palm Meet carries lower purses than the famed winter championship meet, it creates a constant buzz in the Florida horse betting scene. Bettors can identify with new leading trainers, leading jockeys and interesting stories, like the winner of last Saturday’s feature race (more below).
They can also follow the news gearing toward the Belmont Stakes on June 10 and the role played by Gulfstream Park’s leading money-winning trainer, Todd Pletcher.
Gulfstream Park weekend preview
Here is a glance at the live weekend program.
Post time Friday-Sunday is 12:50 p.m.
There are eight races, including low-level maiden-claiming $12,500 races in the first and fourth. There are a couple of nine-horse fields, but most of them are smaller. This allows an easier handicapping assignment, but the need to hone in on fewer choices for bettors, as the small fields rarely pay big.
Spread betting comes more into play. There is an 11-race card with fields of 11 in Race 5 and 12 in the program finale. Most field sizes are medium, meaning there’s enough money to sprinkle in some spread bets with a good-size win-line wager.
A big 10-race card with some huge fields.
Make sure to catch the first, which has 12 entries in a 1 1/16-mile event. This has the breeding grounds of a strong payout. Among other wagering considerations, a 10-cent superfecta key putting your favorite horse in the first and second position with five others costs only $12.
If your horse finishes first or second, you have about half the field in your lineup in trying to nail the first four finishers.
Top jockeys at Gulfstream Park
It has been the Leonel Reyes show thus far. He has far and away the most winners with 48 and stands head and shoulders above the field with more than $1.4 million earnings.
But keep an eye on Emisael Jaramillo, Miguel Angel Vasquez, Edgar Gonzalez and Edwin Perez. These are the next four in terms of earnings. All have over $900,000. They will all be joining the $1 million club soon.
These five jockeys are a good nucleus for bettors to gain some context on who the racing crowd is backing.
Saffie Joseph Jr. and Juan Francisco D’Angelo have been well in front of this category.
Rohan Crichton, Bobby Dibona, Antonio Sano, Joe Orseno and Juan Alvarado have also been backed with confidence.
Todd Pletcher holding Belmont reins
He is right in the heart of the Belmont Stakes limelight. At least one of his horses, Tampa Bay Derby winner Tapit Trice, is ticketed for the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes.
Another is out. Pletcher said that Kingsbarns — who broke his maiden at Gulfstream Park, won an allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs and later finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby — is showing signs of colic and won’t go. Pletcher added the horse is fine, but won’t be at Belmont Stakes level.
Prove Worthy, another Pletcher trainee, is under consideration.
And then there’s the big one.
Will Forte run?
The Florida Derby winner — who was scratched as the Kentucky Derby favorite and who missed the Preakness because of a bruised right front foot — passed two major tests to reach the Belmont late last week.
Forte had a strong workout Saturday morning at Belmont Park.
Under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., who guided him to a stirring Florida Derby triumph, Forte worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.49, according to Daily Racing Form’s Mike Welsch.
Forte started about a half-length behind the 3-year-old maiden Abadin and finished about 1 1/2 lengths in front. Forte went past the wire, proceeded to gallop out 6 furlongs in 1:12.72, 7 furlongs in 1:25.94 and a mile in 1:38.74.
“It was a very well-executed breeze. He kind of gradually picked it up throughout and then had a very impressive gallop-out,” Pletcher told DRF. “He came back in good order; very impressed by his level of fitness and how he recovered after the breeze.”
To get off the vet’s list, Forte was required to have a workout watched by a licensed racetrack veterinarian and then has to pass a blood test that was taken immediately after the breeze.
These are all good signs.
Looking back at big Gulfstream longshot win
Last weekend’s Gulfstream longshot parade included a sizzling stretch duel decided on the wire in Saturday’s finale in the $60,000 Pembroke Stakes.
Eamonn got up at 10-1 to nip XY Speed, who settled for second-best at 9-1. The $2 exacta returned $183.
Chess Master made a strong run third at 3-1 and completed a $1 trifecta of $496.
Fourth went to Hope In Him at 6-1. Hope would spring eternal for the bettors, as the $1-dollar superfecta paid $2,668 and the 10-center was worth $266.
It was a nice payout, abetted by the bad break out of the gate by 8-5 favorite Warrior’s Pride. With the favorite out of the picture, this paid exceptionally well with one semi-chalk and three mid-priced contenders.
Eamonn, meanwhile, benefitted from two major variables. One was a brilliant ride by apprentice jockey Angel Morales, who brought him from near-last in the nick of time. It was Morales’ first-ever stakes victory.
Second was a specific change in tactics. Eamonn cut back from two turns to one and made his first start since undergoing a throat procedure to repair an entrapped epiglottis. The 5-furlong test had given trainer Joe Orseno an idea.
Eamonn had been first or second in 12 of 24 tries, all distance efforts on the turf. The horse had been off a while, why not return in a shorter race?
“He was fresh and I talked to the owner, and I said, ‘Do you want to try (the sprint)? He said, ‘Sure,'” Orseno said. “We knew he sprinted before when he was fresh. I said, ‘Let’s blow him out on the Tapeta and see how he is.’ I only wanted to run him on turf. If it rained, he would have been scratched.”
Horses usually react to the drop-back in one of two ways. In many cases, they simply run out of real estate shortening up to a 5-furlong sprint.
But in this one, Eamonn had enough left in the tank to make a powerful and sustained move. He also made a prophet of Orseno, a first-time winner of Morales and a stream of cha-ching for bettors who had an inkling he would do well.