December 2, 2011 - 11:48 AM
By Gene Kershner
This is the time of the year on the racing schedule where things are slowing down, meets are coming to an end and transitions are occurring from North to South around the country. Unlike the big four major mainstream sports, thoroughbred racing never takes a break and there is always racing somewhere.
Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida opens this weekend a month earlier after petitioning the state for an earlier opening date. The highlight of that meet is the Grade 1 Florida Derby, a key prep race for the Kentucky Derby on March 31. Tampa Bay Downs will also be opening this weekend and a good number of Woodbine horses will travel south to Tampa for the winter as that meet winds up this weekend.
The racing at Aqueduct has transitioned from the main track to the winterized inner track earlier in the week. The first day ended up with the Pick-6 paying in excess of $55,000 when Bona Venture Stables’ Prince Dubai ($8.40) won the final leg.
Santa Anita opens on its traditional date on the day after Christmas and will be highlighted by the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on April 7.
So what’s a horseplayer to do when there are no real significant races during the month of December? There are a number of contests that one can enter at various websites. This is the last month to attempt to qualify for the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) held in Las Vegas in January. Of course, we’ll have our annual race fan’s holiday shopping guide in next week’s Friday blog.
Some horseplayers will take a holiday to refresh themselves for the winter meets and the Kentucky Derby trail that will start heating up in late January and early February with key races at Oaklawn Park, Gulfstream, Fair Grounds, Santa Anita and Aqueduct. Once again we’ll focus our Friday blogs on the key Derby prep races as we move towards the first Saturday in May.
NBC Sports has announced they will televise six key prep races on the Kentucky Derby trail (including two preps for the fillies for the Kentucky Oaks) on three of its networks. The schedule for the prep races is as follows:
Saturday, March 24, 2012, 5-6 p.m. (NBC Sports Network)
Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes and Bourbonette Oaks (Turfway Park)
Saturday, March 31, 2012, 5-6 p.m. (NBC Sports Network)
Florida Derby and Gulfstream Oaks (Gulfstream Park)
Saturday, April 7, 2012, 4:30-6 p.m. (NBC)
Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial (Aqueduct Racetrack) and Santa Anita Derby (Santa Anita Park)
Saturday, April 14, 2012, 6-7 p.m. ET (CNBC)
Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (Keeneland) and Arkansas Derby (Oaklawn Park)
It’s encouraging that thoroughbred racing is once again receiving some attention from the networks on the races that lead up to the sport’s biggest event. In the past few years, a racing fan would either have to go to a simulcast facility, watch online on a ADW account or be subscribed to one of the two racing networks, HRTV or TVG. It’s a start, but we’ll need a horse to step forward during 2012 if there is any chance for the mainstream to take notice of our sport. No horse emerged during 2011 to become racing’s next big hero and the Triple Crown was not achieved for the 33rd straight year.
Maybe this will be our year…
Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer and handicapper who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com and tweets @EquiSpace.