Paco to Dominate In Gulfstream

From a handicapping perspective, the most significant development over the last month of the Gulfstream meet will be the imminent return of jockey Paco Lopez.

Lopez, the top jock at Gulf last year, and the leader this year until Feb. 18 when he sustained an elbow injury in the spill that sidelined Eibar Coa with a severe back injury, is due back next Wednesday.

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That would mean Lopez will be out exactly one month.

When he went down, Lopez held a commanding lead in the standings with 38 winners from 212 mounts. In his absence, he has dropped to third behind jockeys Castellano (42) and Velazquez (40).

The Florida-based trainers love Lopez, and Paco has a special affinity for Gulfstream. He is a master judge of pace at the Gulf. When the pace is slow, he’s sure to be on or near the lead. When the pace is fast, he’ll rate early, and come on late. The kid is absolutely fearless. And patient to no end.

Assuming he comes back healthy, look for him to dominate the last month of the meet…and then continue to thrive at Monmouth Park.

Otherwise, the best “value” riders at Gulfstream are Alan Garcia, Rajiv and Jose Lezcano.

And you need to include Joe Bravo in the gimmicks. Jersey Joe is enjoying his best Gulf meeting ever, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

Todd Pletcher, as usual, will be leading trainer. With 24 winners from his first 102 starters, he holds a commanding lead over Wes Ward and Nick Canani in the standings.

Wayne Catalano and Pete Walder are quietly having good meetings, and Ed Broome has caught fire in the last two weeks.

The outside posts are dominating sprint races. Nothing unusual there. And there is no post-position bias going long.

Gulf has always been a speed-favoring track, and this year is no exception.