Gulfstream Park: Saffie Joseph Looks for Strong Start to Championship Meet

Saffie Joseph, Jr. is ready to go for a training title three-peat at Gulfstream Park’s championship meet, which opens Friday and runs through March 31, 2024.

The 36-year-old native of Barbados has powered through tough times for much of this year. It began with the sudden deaths of two of his horses during competition at Churchill Downs before the Kentucky Derby (G1). His Wood Memorial (G2) winner Lord Miles was prohibited from running in the Derby; Joseph was then suspended by the track, and some of his top horses were moved to other trainers.

After he was cleared of wrongdoing and reinstated by Kentucky racing officials and Churchill Downs, the damage had already been done.

“It broke me,” Joseph said of dealing with the deaths of two horses and the track’s actions against him. “But it made me stronger if anything. I give all the credit to our team and all the owners who have supported me.”

Coming into the meet that often produces some of the top contenders for the Derby with its series of point-qualifying prep races, including the Holy Bull (G3), Fountain of Youth (G2), and Florida Derby (G1), Joseph is looking forward to better times.

Yes, his 2023 Florida Derby winner White Abarrio was transferred to trainer Rick Dutrow, Jr., and is now a Horse of the Year contender after adding the Whitney (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) to his resume. But he has more than regrouped and entered 21 horses for the opening weekend at Gulfstream, among them undefeated R Harper Rose in Saturday’s $300,000 My Dear Girl, the 1 1/16-mile final of the filly division of the 2023 FTBOA Florida Sire Stakes.

 “I just want to get better – that’s always my goal,” Joseph said in a Gulfstream Park news release. “This year we’ve had a lot of adversity, and everyone stuck together. It taught me all about life.”

Pegasus World Cup in the picture

 Joseph is looking for a big start in 2024 in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) on Jan. 27. His top horses Skippylongstocking and O’Connor are being pointed to the race.

“They’re going to the Pegasus, and I think we have a good shot to win,’’ Joseph said. “If everything breaks right, I think we have two strong contenders.”

Skippylongstocking, a multiple graded-stakes winner, finished third in the BC Dirt Mile (G1), while O’Connor won the Fayette (G2) at Keeneland in his last start. O’Connor could run on Dec. 30 in the Harlan’s Holiday (G3) before the Pegasus.

Joseph topped Todd Pletcher the past two years for his first two championship meet titles, the first ending Pletcher’s 18-year dominance of the meet.

Big Days at Gulfstream

The meet includes 68 stakes worth a combined $14.875 million.

Pegasus Day is Jan. 27 – the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1), the $1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1), and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf (G3).

Four 3-year-old Derby preps: the Mucho Macho Man on Jan. 1; the Holy Bull (G3) on Feb. 3, the Fountain of Youth (G2) on Mach 2, and the Florida Derby on March 30.

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