Photo: Eclipse Spotswire
For the first time in the
track's 74 year history, Gulfstream
Park will open the gates on summertime horse racing.
Traditionally, since 1971, Calder Race Course was the only game in
town from May – November. In July, things will be shaken up as the
two South Florida giants gear up for a turf war when Gulfstream goes
head to head with Calder.
It isn't the first time
that Gulfstream has competed with another track during simultaneous
racing dates. In fact, the track's opening held in 1939 was awarded
after an appeal to the Supreme Court. The fledgling Gulfstream raced
against the well established and hugely popular Hialeah Racetrack and
closed after only four days. Fast forward to 1972, when a bigger,
stronger Gulfstream was awarded the prime races dates over Hialeah
starting the decline of the fading Hialeah. The last time two
South Florida Tracks raced concurrently was in 1989, when Calder put
Hialeah out of business for two years.
It's been business as
usual in South Florida racing over the last twenty years. Gulfstream
holds the winter dates while Calder races the bulk of the summer-fall
season. Until now.
In 1999 both tracks were
purchased, but their stories couldn't be more dis-similar.
In 1999, Gulfstream was
purchased by Frank Stronach's Magna
Entertainment Company. Mr.
Stronach took a gamble with a vision of a new style of racetrack,
incorporating restaurants, nightclubs, a casino and high-end shops,
to draw not only fans, but the general public as well. The entire
facility, including the track and backstretch, were demolished and
reconstructed in 2006. With the new hands-on management team in
place, Gulfstream has become very hospitable to both horsemen and
fans. The entire facility is kept spotless and the backstretch
worker's accommodations could be mistaken for a hotel. To prepare for
the new summer racing, the track's main drainage system was
overhauled to the tune of over $1 million dollars and an extra 500
stalls will be built. The track surface received positive reviews
from trainers on the day after a characteristic summer deluge, which
dumped 14 inches of rain one day in early June.
On the other side of
Downs Incorporated purchased Calder
Race Course. They immediately opened a poker room and then a
casino in 2010. Racegoers and horsemen, the whole reason for having
a racetrack in the first place, have been largely ignored. Sure,
the track itself is still well maintained and has been the starting
point for many good two year olds who've gone on to national
recognition. However, Calder's backstretch and grandstand area remain
pretty much the same as they have since the 1970's and have become
run down and seedy.
Deja vu all over again.
This time, the bright, shiny new Gulfstream is ready to take on the
aging Calder. It won't be easy to start a new race-card against the
established Stallion Stakes series and Summit of Speed.
Additionally, the tracks are only ten miles apart, roughly a half
hour drive in the summer.
The battle for racing fan
attendance will begin with Gulfstream's grand opening on Tuesday,
June 25, then the track will re-open on July 1 – 28, racing on
weekends. The card consists of basic maiden, claiming and allowance
races over both dirt and turf, including seven races for juveniles. A
$100,000 stakes race will be contested on July 4. Betting features
include the Rainbow 6, Pick 5 and Super Hi 5. Other events for horse
players are also scheduled.
I'll be reviewing the
maiden races for two year olds plus the Armed Forces Stakes race on
the Pedigree Power blog. Why? These babies will show up next year,
perhaps on the triple crown trail. They'll have the advantage of a
race over the track and we might find a diamond in the rough.