"Go west, young man," was the theme expressed by Scott Savin as Gulfstream Park's president introduced the track's completely redesigned clubhouse during a walkthrough of the facility Monday, Jan. 2.
Not too far west though: with Gulfstream not expected to be completely ready to welcome patrons until late January, Savin suggested that the best place to watch and wager on Gulfstream races during the month of January would be at Calder Racecourse, about eight miles west along the Broward-Miami Dade County corridor.
"We want to give patrons the best experience and there's plenty of availability at Calder," he said. "We really don't know what the comfort point is with the track the way it is now. It's experimental."
Both Savin and Magna Entertainment Corp.'s vice chairman Dennis Mills expressed confidence during the walkthrough that that, despite the constant sounds of electric machinery signifying extensive work still remaining to be done, Gulfstream's entire first floor will be complete and ready to welcome patrons when the meet opens Wednesday.
Still, they announced that Friday's scheduled race card would be cancelled to allow the track "to put any finishing touches on the property," in time for its multi-stake program Saturday. The track had already planned to be closed on Thursday, and the cancellation of both live racing and simulcasting on Friday allows Gulfstream two full days void of patrons before the weekend.
"After a rough few months weather-wise we think it best that we take the time to get this beautiful facility at its absolute best for Saturday," said Savin.
Nonetheless, with present on-track capacity limited to somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 – about 3,400 permanent seats split between trackside bleachers, a walking ring amphitheater and two indoor simulcast rooms will be augmented by a tent and outdoor areas – Savin calls Calder "a blowout valve" should Saturday attract a large turnout.
The two tracks inked a deal allowing mutual simulcasting, beginning with Gulfstream's opening day. Calder ended its live meet on Jan. 2.
Gulfstream began the process of redeveloping its property by razing all of its 1940-era structures following its 2004 meet. While all of the racing surfaces were completed, the 2005 meet was held under large tents separated from construction on the new clubhouse.
Original plans called for the clubhouse to be ready for the '06 opening, but MEC's project director for the Gulfstream renovation, Jerry Klint, described some of the factors leading to the delay.
"The building itself is very complex; as people begin to experience it they'll understand the logistical difficulties," he said. "And of course no one expected six hurricanes in two years."
As a result, the opening of the restaurants, clubs and private box seats that comprise most of floors two and three is now scheduled for Jan. 28 to correspond with its "Sunshine Millions" program. Mills said that about 500 workers (down from about 800) will remain on the property even after Wednesday, and they will be secluded well enough that "patrons won't even know they're there."
But he promises that work on the first floor, including a walking ring that encircles lavish fountains and a state-of-the-art, two story jockey's room, will be wrapped up when the gates swing open on Wednesday.
"Getting ready for January 4 has been a challenge of Olympian proportions," Mills said. "But we'll do whatever we have to do to be ready."