Rain or shine, racing on Gulfstream Park's Tapeta course will debut Thursday, when four races on an eight-race program will be contested over the newly constructed all-weather surface.
A $60,000 maiden special weight race for 2-year-old fillies on Tapeta will be featured in Race 5. A field of nine fillies will contest the 5 ½-furlong sprint, including Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners' Alarm Clock, a debuting Todd Pletcher-trained daughter of Not This Time.
Saffie Joseph Jr., who ran away with Gulfstream Park's Spring/Summer Meet title, will saddle Strategy Queen, who is coming off a vastly improved second-place performance on dirt in her second career start. The daughter of Fed Biz is a half sister to Joseph-trained Merseyside, an allowance winner on both turf and dirt, as well as Sunday Express, who broke her maiden on Presque Isle Downs' Tapeta surface.
"We figured she'll handle it and we'd give it a try," Joseph said. "I think it's a good added track to have, especially in the summer when it rains a lot. If you have a turf horse, some of them just can't run on the dirt. This is going to allow you to run most of them – although not all of them like it. At the beginning, any off-the turf race, I'm not going to scratch any horse at least until they run on it."
Race 1, a $12,500 claiming races for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles, will christen the all-weather course on Gulfstream's Thursday's opening-day card for the Fall Meet. Race 3 will feature 2-year-old maiden claiming fillies going 5 ½ furlongs on the Tapeta.
A strong field of seven turf performers has been assembled for Race 7, a mile-and-70-yard starter allowance for 3-year-olds and up that will also be run on the Tapeta track. (The turf course is undergoing renovation in advance of the 2021-2022 Championship Meet and won't be in service during the Fall Meet.)
Ron Spatz-trained Light Fury, who has found a home on turf after lingering in the bottom maiden-claiming ranks on dirt, will take on Eddie Plesa Jr.-trained Vow Me Now, a stakes winner on turf who is coming off a starter allowance win.
"It's an experiment," said Spatz, who has saddled Light Fury for five victories in 10 starts on turf. "As a trainer, I have no idea if he'll like it. I don't know how his form will transfer. This is a horse that got on grass and took off – he didn't finish before, and now he finishes and has a great record."
Gulfstream Park will be the very first racing facility to conduct racing on dirt, turf and all-weather surfaces at the start of the Championship Meet. Constructed on the outer turf course, the all-weather surface will provide a measure of relief to the turf course while offering a varied racing program for horses of all abilities.