Gulfstream Park kicks off the 85-day Championship Meet Saturday with the $1.1 million Claiming Crown, featuring nine lucrative starter stakes for horses that raced for a tag previously.

Maiden and allowance races for foals of 2013 will be viewed with an eye toward the Kentucky Derby and Gulfstream will offer a trio of qualifying stakes in the coming months. The $1 million Florida Derby (G1) on April 2 is the biggest and serves as the centerpiece of a 73-race, $11.6 million stakes schedule.

The 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby has produced 22 Kentucky Derby winners, with Orb (2013), Big Brown (2008) and Barbaro (2006) being the most recent, and it’s preceded by the $350,000 Holy Bull (G2) on January 30 and $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) on February 27.

A total of eight stakes are offered on the Florida Derby Day program, including the $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) for Kentucky Oaks prospects, and other highlights of the 2015-16 stakes schedule are the $500,000 Donn H. (G1) on February 6 and $500,000 Gulfstream Park H. (G2) on March 5.

When it comes to trainers and jockeys, Todd Pletcher and Javier Castellano are odds-on favorites to top the standings.

Pletcher targets the Championship Meet like Saratoga, winning the last 12 training titles, and the leading conditioner will have an arsenal of Kentucky Derby hopefuls ready for their best. A record seven-time Eclipse Award winner, Pletcher finished last season with 46 wins (24%), 11 more than runner-up Jorge Navarro.

Other trainers of note include Mike Maker (29 wins during the 2014-15 Championship Meet), Chad Brown (27), Wesley Ward (24), Bill Mott (19) and Marcus Vitali (19).

Javier Castellano is pursuing his fifth straight riding title. After posting a record 132 wins during a runaway 2013-14 session, Castellano dominated once again last year with 114 victories, 30 clear of Luis Saez in second. Castellano has carried his Gulfstream momentum forward, garnering the last two Eclipse Awards for champion jockey, and is a favorite once again in 2015, leading all jockeys nationally with 315 wins through December 4.

Paco Lopez finished a distant third in the 2014-15 Championship Meet standings, recording 70 wins, and was followed by Edward Zayas (60), John Velazquez (49), Rafael Hernandez (43), Joel Rosario (35) and Corey Lanerie (35).

Ken & Sarah Ramsey led all owners with 23 wins during the 2014-15 Championship Meet and were followed by White Wabbit Wacing (18), Frank Calabrese (16), Crossed Sabres Farm (9) and Richard Santulli (9).

Gulfstream Handicapping Nuggets

The top last-out BRIS Speed rating in turf sprints has a +6% ROI.

In non-maiden turf races, if the BRIS Prime Power gap between the top-ranked and second-ranked horse is 7 points or more, that’s a win percentage of 40% with a +5% ROI.

The top Prime Power horse for all races at the 2014-15 meet had an impact value of 2.68.

Photo courtesy of Adam Coglianese Photography