Gulfstream Park is hoping that a move to a five-day race week will help produce larger fields and attract more live fans and other bettors on days that have proven more popular than its newly-dark Mondays.
The weekend of Dec. 20-21, Gulfstream posted its 2009 calendar on its Web site. That schedule shows the track will open Jan. 3, as it previously announced, and run 79 days through April 23. Gulfstream’s first condition book, online for several weeks, also shows five-day weeks.
In recent years, Tuesday has been the only dark day most weeks at the Hallandale Beach, Fla., track.
“Mondays have not been as successful as we hoped, and we expect this year’s change will enable the horse population to be used more efficiently,” Gulfstream racing secretary Doug Bredar said Dec. 22.
Gulfstream averaged 8.65 horses per race in 2008.
"Getting larger fields and carding races with quality horses should make the meet very attractive to horsemen and appetizing for the horse players as well," Bredar said.
Bredar is entering his first season as Gulfstream racing secretary after serving as Harrah's Louisiana Downs’ racing secretary the past two years. He worked at Gulfstream from 1985 through 1997 as a placing judge and stakes coordinator. He also has been racing secretary at Turf Paradise and Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino, and assistant racing secretary at Hollywood Park.
Bredar said his career has helped him gain an understanding of what Gulfstream can offer to trainers and winter racing fans. For stakes racing, that includes what he calls “a comprehensive program with progression as far as purse money, distances, and conditions,” for dirt and turf races for 3-year olds and for older horses.
Gulfstream will have 31 graded stakes in 2009. Bredar expects average daily purses including stakes will be $325,000 -- compared with $306,000 in 2008.
As always, the racing world will focus on Gulfstream’s program for 3-year olds on the trail to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). In September, Gulfstream raised eyebrows among some horsemen and fans when it released a revised Derby preps schedule.
The Florida Derby (gr. I) remains at 1 1/8 miles and will be run March 28 -- its regular spot since 2005. But Gulfstream cut the race’s purse from $1 million to $750,000, saying it planned to move more money into overnight purses.
In a significant distance change, Gulfstream shortened the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) from 1 1/8 miles to a mile. That race will be run Feb. 28, keeping its spot four weeks ahead of the Florida Derby.
Gulfstream shifted the Holy Bull (gr. III) to Jan. 31, a traditional date for that 3-year old prep, and carded it at 1 1/8 miles. In 2008, the race was April 12 at 1 3/16 miles. The goal was to attract trainers seeking late graded-stakes earnings and a distance race three weeks before the Kentucky Derby.
The 2009 schedule makes the Holy Bull “an early stakes for trainers whose newly-turned 3-year olds are ready for routes,” Bredar said.
Gulfstream cannot run a 1 1/16 mile race on its 1 1/8-mile dirt track. That configuration impacts the schedule for 3-year old prep races, Bredar said.
Two early one-turn stakes also should be looked at in the 3-year old progression, he said. Those races are the non-graded Spectacular Bid at six furlongs Jan. 3 and the Hutcheson (gr. II) at seven furlongs Jan. 30. In addition to being targets in themselves for sprinters, Bredar believes the two races “are an opportunity for horses that are behind to get ready for routes.”
For those horses, the one-mile Fountain of Youth can be a progression toward later two two-turn stakes, he said.
Gulfstream likely will have several 1 1/8 mile allowances for 3-year olds, helping trainers whose horses are at different stages of progression, Bredar said.
One factor in his schedule-making is that only one horse, Robert S. Evans’ Elysium Fields, ran in both the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby in 2008. At least for one year, trainers apparently did not look at the Fountain of Youth as a Florida Derby prep, Bredar said.
The list of 2009 3-year olds training at Gulfstream or at parent Magna Entertainment Corp.’s Palm Meadows Training Center includes Well Positioned, Charitable Man, Breakwater Edison, Beethoven, Capt. Candyman Can, and West Side Bernie. Bredar expects that Big Drama, who swept Calder Race Course’s Florida Stallion Stakes series, also will run in Gulfstream stakes.
In another change, Gulfstream has graded stakes on three Fridays and has reduced its number of Saturdays and Sundays with multiple graded stakes. The Friday graded stakes are set for Jan. 30, Feb. 20, and March 27. Gulfstream expects the three-day stakes weekends will be popular with many horsemen and other racing fans that are in southeast Florida for vacations, Bredar said.
For the Jan. 24 Sunshine Millions, Gulfstream will have the $1-million Sunshine Millions Classic at 1 1/8 miles for 4-year olds and up. That is one of eight Sunshine Millions stakes that rotate between Gulfstream and Santa Anita Park. The races are restricted to Florida-breds and California-breds.
Prospects for large stakes-day handles increased Dec. 22 when Gulfstream and the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association agreed to an advance deposit wagering contract for 2009. Lack of contracts with most major ADWs was a major factor in Calder’s sharp 2008 handle decline and other problems.
“Fans throughout the country will know that they can bet on Gulfstream races from their homes,” Gulfstream spokesman Mike Mullaney said. “This (ADW agreement) eliminates the possibility of a distraction going into meet.”
Fans who come to Gulfstream will find that the former parking lot area west of the clubhouse/casino building remains a construction zone. Gulfstream has October 2009 as its target for completing construction of the retail complex of its Village at Gulfstream Park.
On racing days, construction work will be done only in areas near Federal Highway, the property’s western boundary, that are not close to the walking ring or other areas for horses, Mullaney said. Despite the recession, Bredar and Mullaney said Gulfstream is optimistic about 2009 because of its racing product.
“We hope our cards will be eye-opening and too good for people too pass up, whether they are betting at the track or from home.” Bredar said.