by Jim Freer
Gulfstream Park’s $75,000 Shotintheheart Handicap Feb. 14 will be the first of as many as four Florida-bred stakes it will add this season.
The Shotintheheart, for 4-year olds and up at 1 1/16 miles on the turf, drew a full field of 12. Entries include James Scatuorchio’s Icy Atlantic, Peter Vegso’s Silver Tree, and several other multiple stakes winners.
The Shotintheheart and other new overnight stakes, which Gulfstream has not yet announced, are part of its effort to schedule more Florida-restricted races throughout its 88-day meet, said Bernie Hettel, the Hallandale Beach, Fla., track’s racing operations manager
New Florida-bred stakes will help fill part of a void from Gulfstream’s pre-meet decision to schedule nine fewer non-graded stakes than in 2007. Several of the canceled stakes drew short fields last year, Hettel said. Gulfstream will consider putting several back on its 2009 schedule.
The Gaily Gaily, for 3-year old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on the turf, the Herecomesthebride, for 3-year old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on the turf, and the Aventura, for 3-year olds at seven furlongs, are among the stakes not run in 2008. By reducing its number of stakes, Gulfstream hopes to provide more money for overnight purses.
The track this year added Florida-bred overnight races as well.
Through early February, Gulfstream’s average daily overnight purses were $221,000, Hettel said. When the meet started Jan. 3, he expected the average daily overnights would be $215,000 for the meet’s early weeks.
In 2007, Gulfstream’s average daily overnight purses totaled $233,000.
Gulfstream began operating slot machines in November 2006. It then raised overnight purses by 17% for 2007 based on some previous projections for slot-machine revenues.
Gulfstream’s 2007 pre-tax slot machine revenue was $38.5 million. In several earnings releases and conference calls, officials of parent company Magna Entertainment Corp. said results of Gulfstream’s slot machines and overall casino operation had been disappointing.
Low slots revenue during the 2007 meet helped create an overpayment in overnight purses. Gulfstream is not disclosing the amount, but Hettel said “we are parsing into it.”
The reduction is partly from increased revenue from poker, after Florida last summer raised the stakes limit for games at Gulfstream and other pari-mutuel facilities. Revenue from new non-racing season afternoon simulcasting, from last September through Jan. 2, when Calder Race Course ended its meet, and non-race season slots revenue, also helped reduce the overpayment, Hettel said.
Gulfstream’s average daily average all-sources handle was $8.3 million last year. It would not disclose a year-to-date comparison with 2007.
Any 2007 and 2008 comparisons of all-sources handle and components are difficult due to new simulcasting in South Florida and cancellation of 11 race days at Santa Anita Park because of weather and drainage problems with its Cushion track. MEC-owned Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif., is always a major source for simulcast betting on Gulfstream races, Gulfstream officials said.
The Jan. 26 Sunshine Millions was among the days when Southern California fans did not know until the night before that racing would be held at Santa Anita. That kept home some fans that might have made live and simulcast wagers.
A change in Florida rules is permitting Calder, nine miles from Gulfstream in Miami Gardens, and harness track Isle Racing & Casino at Pompano Park, 20 miles from Gulfstream in Pompano Beach, to simulcast Gulfstream races. Gulfstream’s published handle for several comparable Saturdays and Sundays in 2007 and 2008 show inter-track wagering, at Florida horse and dog tracks and at jai-alai frontons, is up 20% or more for most dates. The increases are undoubtedly due to Calder and Pompano.
Gulfstream’s on-track handle and interstate wagering have been higher on some weekend dates but lower on some others.
Santa Anita and Gulfstream each held four stakes on Sunshine Millions day cards Jan. 27, 2007, and Jan. 26, 2008.
Gulfstream’s on-track Sunshine Millions handle fell 31%, from $1.9 million in 2007 to $1.3 million this year. Its inter-track wagering handle rose 18%, from $749,000 to $882,000. But its interstate handle fell 21%, from $12.8 million to $10.2 million.
South Florida racing officials are not estimating how much Gulfstream betting at Calder and Pompano would have otherwise been done at Gulfstream.
Through Feb. 10, the first 34 days of Gulfstream’s meet, Pompano Park took $1,890,876 in bets on Gulfstream for an average of $55,614 per program.
“Our daily average on Gulfstream is right where we predicted it to be,” said Steven Wolf, Pompano Park’s senior director of racing operations. “Gulfstream is a vital signal to our daily afternoon menu of tracks. They are the top Thoroughbred simulcast track that we offer our race fans.”
Calder, citing a policy of parent Churchill Downs Inc., would not disclose its Gulfstream simulcast numbers.