By Noel Michaels
Change is in the air on the thoroughbred racing circuit, with fall meets at the Big A, Churchill, Del Mar giving way to winter meets at the Fair Grounds, Santa Anita and in Florida, at Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs.
Here’s a look as we roll into December:
New York’s biggest weekend of fall racing revolves around Saturday’s four graded stakes card — the $750,000 Cigar Mile (G1), the $250,000 Go For Wand Handicap (G3), the $250,000 Remsen (G2) and the $250,000 Demoiselle (G2). The winter meet – with no turf racing – begins Dec. 8 (with a Dec. 19-29 break), and then resuming.
Del Mar ended its fall meet on Nov. 28 and now a four-week gap ensues until Santa Anita takes over on Dec. 26. SoCal racing may be on hiatus, but don’t forget about the short-but-sweet Los Alamitos meet from Dec. 3-12. The seven-day stand features five stakes races including the $300,000 Starlet (G1) on Dec. 4 and the $300,000 Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) on Dec. 11. Trainer Bob Baffert owns the Futurity, having won all seven runnings of the race since it moved to Los Al.
The winter Gulfstream Park ‘Championship Meet’ runs from Dec. 3-April 3 offering the best racing of the year in the Sunshine State. The turf course received a rest and a freshening over the past two months thanks to Gulfstream’s new synthetic Tapita racing surface. And turf racing is ready to return with a vengeance. Gulfstream becomes the first three-surface racetrack, with racing being conducted on its dirt main track, turf course, and Tapita track, concurrently. The meet gets off to a fast start on opening weekend with its nine-stakes Claiming Crown on Saturday (Dec. 4).
One of the biggest racing stories this season is Oaklawn Park extending its meet and will now conduct a five-month meet from Friday (Dec. 3) to May 8 on a Friday-Sunday basis. Oaklawn added several stakes and rearranged its prominent 3-year-old stakes schedule that leads to the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 2.
The 2021-22 Fair Grounds meet is off and running for what will be the historic track’s 150th racing season. The meet opened on Nov. 25 and continues through March 27. The highlight of the meet is March 26 with the 109th running of the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) and a total of nine stakes worth $2.5 million in purses.
The 2021 Woodbine racing season officially ends this weekend with closing day on Dec. 5 (Sunday). Trainer Mark Casse and jockey Kazushi Kimora are running away with their respective meet titles. Racing at Woodbine is set to resume in April 2022.
The Churchill Downs fall meet official ended Nov. 28. Kentucky racing continues at Turfway Park, which opens Dec 2 (Thursday) and continues through April 2 mostly on a Thursday-Sunday schedule. Steve Asmussen beat out Brad Cox for the fall training title, giving Asmussen 25 career meet training titles at Churchill. Tyler Gaffalione won his sixth straight Churchill riding title. Turfway Park is currently constructing a new racino scheduled for completion in the summer of 2022.
Tampa Bay Downs opened on Nov. 24 and hosts a 91-day racing season that runs through May 7 – the day of the Kentucky Derby (G1). Racing is set for a Wednesday, Friday, Saturday schedule with Sundays added beginning Dec. 26. The meet’s signature race, the $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2), is March 12.
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.
He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.
In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.