Amid well-publicized turf problems at Churchill Downs and the Fair Grounds this year, Gulfstream Park management sent several horses and riders to check out the Florida track’s new grass surface on Monday.
And they liked what they saw, said Aaron Gryder, former jockey and senior vice president of racing operations for owner Gulfstream 1/ST Racing. He was aboard the Midnight Bella for the test, in the company of Julien Leparoux, in Fawning. Both horses are trained by Saffie Joseph Jr.
“We were very pleased with it,” Gryder said Horse Racing Nation on monday. “The horses seemed to get over it very well. There is good support now. It has really good growth. And the weather is cooperating with us right now. And we’re excited to get started in just a few days.”
Gulfstream will have three grass races on Thursday and Friday, with six grass races scheduled on Saturday and five more on Sunday.
“We’ll have a double set of rails this weekend, so they’ll be able to run on two different lanes,” Gryder said. “I can put a rail between them, it’s such a wide field. So we’ll have room where you can run two or three on the inside and then two or three on the outside rail as well.”
After his horses worked, Joseph told the Gulfstream Park media team that he was also pleased with the surface.
“The wallpaper was a good filler, but obviously you want to have the lawn as an option,” Joseph said. “Fawning has been working on it and she will run on Sunday. Midnight Bella will run next week. They will both run on grass so it was good to work on it.
“It’s firm turf, but you don’t hear any noise,” added Joseph. “Sometimes you hear the horses rattling, but this has a good cushion. It’s in great shape.”
Gryder said Gulfstream Park ceased racing on the turf course the week of the June 11 Belmont Stakes in New York.
“We gave it so much time and we had time for regrowth without traffic going back and forth over it, whether it was equipment to do different jobs or horses,” Gryder said. “So just that part, just the recovery,” helped improve the course.
“And then, I think it was late October, early November, when (track supervisor Leif Dickinson) got over it. So its base is Bermuda, and Bermuda goes sideways, where the grass you’ll see on top grows on top of it. So Bermuda ends up being the cushion of its base. And then when he overseeds, the other grass grows through Bermuda. So now I think we have it at 3 1/2 inches right now and that has definitely helped. He just has a lot more cushion than he had. Just the fact that he had free time and was able to do the things he wanted, we can say that he is even there. There are no places that I think are different from the others.”
Gryder didn’t expect players to see any “drastic changes.”
“What I’m excited about is that it’s perfectly even and fresh, so we’re coming into this meet with the best turf we can prepare for,” he said. “And that to me is great. But I think the fans will like betting on grass. They’ve always seemed to be more interested in grass racing and you get fuller pitches on it and it gives you a lot of value and options.”
Also contributing to the turf fields is the lack of grass racing at the Fairgrounds until at least late December, when the New Orleans course may have recovered from a fall drought, and reported salt water leaks in a well of irrigation.
“Obviously we’re going to be extremely crowded right now because Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park will be the main turf tracks that will be open. We usually also have Fairs and so we will be very busy. We’re full here and I think the fans will really enjoy the Championship meeting and we’ll have a good product.”
Gryder would not comment on what might have happened at other properties, saying only, “It’s just a shame they didn’t get to use it.”