If you've been hibernating this winter while waiting for the important racing to start, you really should rouse yourself for Saturday's 13 races at Gulfstream. Mohaymen in the Fountain of Youth is the obvious headliner, but there are several other highly talented runners well worth watching in the seven other stakes races on the card.
Don't tune in late. The fourth race, the Grade 3 Gulfstream Sprint Championship, will be X Y Jet's springboard to the Golden Shaheen in Dubai next month. The 4-year-old Kantharos gelding has won three straight, including the Mr. Prospector and the Sunshine Millions Sprint with Beyer Speed Figures of 105 and 108.
The fifth race, the Grade 2 Davona Dale at a mile for 3-year-old fillies, showcases the undefeated Cathryn Sophia, who has won her three starts by a combined 34-1/2 lengths. After taking her first two starts against overmatched fields on the front end, she was slow from the gate last time out in the Grade 2 Forward Gal but was allowed to settle and romped by 5-1/2 lengths from off the pace. She stretches out beyond seven furlongs for the first time, but that should not be a problem.
Cathryn Sophia already ranks fifth among the nation's 3-year-old fillies in Mike Watchmaker's weekly divisional ratings, behind Songbird, Carina Mia, Rachel's Valentina, and the filly who will make her season debut one race after the Davona Dale in the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride: Catch a Glimpse, the division's top-ranked grass runner, making her first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf on Oct. 30.
The Fountain of Youth drew just six entries, and while there are several talented colts in the field, it looks like a soft spot for the undefeated Mohaymen. The Tapit colt was favored among the individual betting interests in the last Derby Futures pool and is no worse than the nation's No. 2 Derby prospect behind Nyquist after winning the Holy Bull, Remsen, and Nashua stakes in his last three starts. Mohaymen is the lone proven router and the strongest finisher in a Fountain of Youth that figures to have plenty of pace. If he prevails, he and Nyquist will be a combined 11 for 11 heading into their final scheduled Derby preps.
While X Y Jet, Cathryn Sophia, Catch a Glimpse, and Mohaymen all look like heavy favorites, the other races appear highly competitive. The Grade 3 Canadian Turf for older turf milers drew six graded stakes winners, and the Grade 3 Palm Beach drew 14 3-year-old male turfers. If you haven't been playing much this year, it's time to get back into the pool.
Half full or half empty?
The Jockey Club published its annual Fact Book this week. It is a trove of fascinating information about the sport, nowhere more so than in its historical presentation of the sport's economic indicators in various categories.
* From a high of 74,071 races in 1989, there were just 38,941 races run in the United States in 2015.
* National parimutuel handle, which rose from $9.3 billion in 1990 to a high of $15.1 billion in 2003, declined to $10.7 billion by 2011 but has stabilized since then and was $10.6 billion in 2015.
* Gross purses have basically been flat for more than a decade, totaling $1.092 billion in 2004 and $1.093 billion last year.
* In 1990, 89,716 horses made a total of 712,494 starts. Last year, 53,365 horses made 329,974 starts. The number of starts per year has declined from 8.03 in 1992 to 6.18 last year.
Put them all together, and the very broad sum is that with roughly half as many horses making fewer starts in half as many races, total purses and total handle have basically been flat, meaning handle per race and purses per race have nearly doubled. An optimist would say that racing has properly downsized itself and that purses and handle are still robust. A pessimist would say that almost half the game has simply disappeared.