Despite perpetual overcast and unseasonably cool temperatures that may have kept people away, Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla., opened its 89-day 2003 race meet Jan. 3 with significant gains in overall handle and field size. And while the chill rendered it empty, the track also unveiled its new picnic area, created by the razing of the north portion of the grandstand at a loss of some 3,000 permanent seats.
Though 14,791 came through the turnstiles, down more than 10% from opening day in 2002, the overall handle rose about 24% to nearly $8.9 million. Most of the increase was registered in off-track wagering that, according to track president Scott Savin, was attributable to a more varied wagering menu that includes a pick four and guaranteed pick six.
Also contributing was a rise in field size. The opening day 10-race card featured an average of 10.2 runners per race, as compared to 8.1 for the 2002 entire meet.
"That's testimony to the great support by our horsemen," said Savin, who noted the importance of the track's newly christened training center, Palm Meadows. "The response to our inaugural program indicates an overwhelming return of Gulfstream to the favor of the racing fan."
The 11-race Jan. 4 program lured more than 15,000 patrons on track.
The opening day feature, the grade III Spectacular Bid Stakes for 3-year-olds at six furlongs, was captured by Irv and Marjorie Cowan's First Blush. Allen Jerkens trains the son of French Deputy, while Jorge Chavez rode the winner.