Gulfstream Park reported average daily all-sources pari-mutuel handle of about $6.6 million during its first 10 race days in December, surpassing management’s expectations for its first December racing in several decades.
The average through Dec. 18 was 14% higher than the $5.8 million average for days in April 2011 that Gulfstream is using as a comparison, track president and general manager Tim Ritvo said. The Hallandale Beach, Fla., track also said and reported to Equibase that its ontrack handle averaged about $440,000 for the December days—17% higher than $380,000 for the April 2011 days.
For its 79-day meet in 2011, from Jan. 3-April 24, Gulfstream had its record average daily all-sources handle of about $7.5 million, and average daily live handle of $601,000.
“April has been our lowest month (for handle),” Ritvo said. “By then, many of the trainers have gone back north. They are here in December. But it’s new for us, so we weren’t expecting handle like January to March.”
Gulfstream began its 2011-12 race meet Dec. 3, about a month prior to its traditional opening day. To resolve a dispute over southeast Florida racing dates, Calder Casino & Race Course relinquished its traditional December dates and in return gained two weeks in April 2012 that would have been part of Gulfstream’s regular schedule.
Ritvo attributed the December handle partly to an average field size of 9.8 starters from a combination of Gulfstream’s seasonal trainers and trainers stabled year-round at Calder. In late November Ritvo said Gulfstream was hoping to have average fields of nine horses in December, and then increase that number. The average field size for its 2011 meet was 9.5 horses.
Ritvo said the numbers were aided by good weather and having only three races moved off the turf in the first 10 days of racing.
Gulfstream sought the change to build a December program that would include many of the horses that already had been shipped from northern tracks to Gulfstream or its Palm Meadows Training Center affiliate in Boynton Beach, Fla. Gulfstream’s fan base includes numerous part-year residents and tourists—many of whom arrive in December.
Calder’s average daily handle numbers are not readily available, but a review of Equibase charts shows that Calder had daily average all-sources handle of $3.2 million for its three Saturdays in December 2010. Calder had at least one graded stakes each of those days, but handle was negatively impacted by rain on one Saturday.
Gulfstream had average all-sources handle of $8.7 million for its first three Saturdays in December 2011. The difference can be attributed primarily to the national attention Gulfstream always receives from simulcast betting at other tracks and from customers of advance deposit wagering services.
For most of its 2011 meet, Calder set and reached a target of about $182,000 for average daily purses excluding stakes. For its first 10 December days, Gulfstream averaged $385,000 in daily purses, including one graded stakes.
Some trainers who spend the winter at Gulfstream have thus far not entered many horses. Trainer Ken McPeek in late November said that some were adjusting to the new schedule and giving horses time to acclimate to the Florida weather.
Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown, Graham Motion, and Wesley Ward are among trainers that have been running horses since the early days of the meet.
“Gulfstream is having a great meet,” said trainer David Fawkes, who stables horses at Calder. “Just look at the field sizes and purses, and the also-eligibles in almost every turf race.”
Gulfstream’s 87-day meet will run through April 8, 2012. Racing is held Thursdays through Sundays until Jan. 4, when Wednesdays will be added.