Frank Stronach has taken a lot of criticism for his renovations of Gulfstream Park in recent years. I never saw the track during its “before” stage, but the “after” looks pretty darn good. The track and surrounding Village are kept clean and well maintained, and everywhere you look, you see and feel luxury. Stronach spared no expenses, a fact that supported by the hundreds of flat screen tvs, the fountain in the middle of the paddock, and the swanky aura of the clubhouse suites. Racetracks just do not get any fancier than this. I have to admit, I was more than a little awestruck taking it all in. So what is a day at Gulfstream Park like? Well, I will tell you all about it.
My husband and I arrived at the track at about 11:30 a.m. Saturday morning, and already the place was buzzing with activity. The track maintanence crew was out preparing the main track surface for the day’s racing, fans and handicappers were already scattered across the numerous tables reviewing the program, and a few were already staking out spots in the seats surrounding the paddock.
The first thing we did was over to the Simulcast Center to check in with David Joseph, Director of Communications. His office is located on the first floor; and Mike Welsch of the Daily Racing Form, Ron Nicoletti, and Jessica Pacheco all have their own areas set up just outside Joseph’s office. After checking in with Mr. Joseph and receiving my press credentials as well as the day’s program, we were off to Suite 17 to meet with Kostas Hatzikoutelis and a few of the other Dream Team Racing Stable partners. We spent a few minutes discussing Mucho Macho Man and a few of the other DTRS horses, and then we were off again. It was getting to be about lunch time, so we decided to check out the Cadillac Ranch, one of the many restaurants The Village has to offer. The prices were fairly reasonable, and the food was excellent! Cadillac Ranch definitely gets my recommendation.
After lunch, Michele LePage and her husband Chris caught up with us, and we were shortly joined by Hilton Tynes. By this time, the day was getting rather warm, so we gathered in the breezeway to catch the crosswinds coming off the ocean. Phil Dandrea, author of Sham: Great Was Second Best, was set up nearby, and I took a few minutes to talk with him, purchase his book, and have him sign it. Post time for the first race was rapidly approaching, and we headed trackside after seeing the horses for the first race leave the paddock and head out to the post parade.
The next few hours were spent talking horses and meandering from the track to the paddock and back as we waited for Race 8, the Gulfstream Park Handicap. After what seemed like an eternity of eager anticipation, the entrants for Race 8 arrived at the saddling paddock, and Michele, who also had press credentials, and I headed to the center of the paddock to wait for Mucho Macho Man, Tackleberry, Jackson Bend (left), and the other two entrants of the race. Our cameras clicked like crazy as the horses circled us.
When the horses leave the paddock to head out to the track, the trainers and owners follow them out through the saddling area. I fell in with Hatzikoutelis and the rest of the Dream Team partners. Rather than head back up to their suite, they chose to watch the race at track level. Let me tell you, there is nothing more thrilling than watching an important race with the owners of the post-time favorite and eventual winner. All decorum and reserve goes out the window, and they whoop and holler just like any of the fans. It took only 1:35 and change for Mucho Macho Man to come home a winner, and the thing I remember most from during the race is Hatzikoutelis yelling out as the field came out of the turn, “He hasn’t even asked him yet! He hasn’t even asked him yet! Look at him go!” Just remembering that brings goosebumps to my arms.
After “The Man” crossed the wire, the Dream Team Partners went wild with lots of exuberant handshakes and hugs all around. Hatzikoutelis, the most outgoing of the bunch, could not contain his excitement, something that was fantastic to see. I followed the group into the winner’s circle. While they waited for their colt to return to the winner’s circle, there was still more hugs and handshakes going around. I never did get to meet Mucho Macho Man to love on him and give him treats, but standing in the winner’s circle with him and his connections is an experience I will never forget.
With a race in between the Gulfstream Park Handicap and the Swale Stakes, it was again time to eat. We chose a different restaurant this time, but I cannot for the life of me remember what the name of it was. Out of our group, I was the only one who had anything invested in the Swale, so I was on my own come post time. Again, I entered the paddock ahead of the horses in order to get as many pictures as possible while the horses circled us. When they headed out to the track, I found myself a nice spot on the rail right at the finish line. I rooted for Ever So Lucky the whole way, but Trinniberg was much the best and would not be caught. I was waiting in the winner’s circle when Trinniberg returned, and, like with Mucho Macho Man, I was able to get some great shots of the winner.
With the day’s important races out of the way, I headed back up to Suite 17 to talk with Hatzikoutelis about future plans for Mucho Macho Man, Saint of Saints (left), and Witch Way North. We parted ways like old friends, but we were not done for the day. Michele, who knows Gulfstream better than anyone else save the people who work there, led the way to the backside. Seeing Mucho Macho Man, Jackson Bend, Tackleberry, Trinniberg, and Ever So Lucky was not an option since it was race day, but there were plenty of other stars to see and spoil. Our first stop was Shackleford’s stall. Talk about a monster of a horse! In person, he is absolutely huge. And greedy! He will eat mints all day long as long as you keep feeding them to him. He is special and he knows it, but underneath that full-of-himself attitude is a horse that loves mints and caresses. We also stopped by to see News Pending, Dullahan, Saint of Saints, Little Bailey, Little Mike, and Rogue Romance, who was quite anti-social.
Our visit with the horses marked the end of the day. I was completely taken with the track itself and the horses. From here on out, Gulfstream will likely be my yearly Mecca. The track and village were both easy to navigate with no chance of getting lost. I found that if you walk in a circle long enough, you will eventually end up right where you started. I hope everyone enjoyed this second-hand account as much as I enjoyed my first-hand experience! It was definitely well worth the 20 hour round-trip drive!