The popularity of new multi-race bets and the advantages that come from warm and dry weather have put Gulfstream Park on track for a third straight annual increase in all-sources handle and for double-digit growth in live handle.
Gulfstream’s daily average all-sources handle was $7.5 million through March 23, the 58th day of its 2011 meet, according to officials of the Hallandale Beach, Fla., track. For last year’s full 79-day meet all-sources handle averaged $6.9 million, they said.
Daily average on-track handle was $618,000 through March 23. That handle averaged $529,000 for all of last year.
Other handle breakdowns and year-to-date comparison numbers through 58 days of the 2010 meet were not readily available.
Gulfstream will end its 79-day meet April 24. If the betting pace continues, all-sources handle would be up 8.7% and live handle would be up 16.9%.
Gulfstream’s closing weeks, when many top trainers have gone back to Kentucky or New York, are traditionally its lowest in handle.
But Gulfstream officials are optimistic that full 2011 handle averages could be close to those through March 23.
“Our numbers so far do not include Florida Derby day, which was held early last year (March 20),” said Gulfstream president and general manager Steve Calabro.
Gulfstream this year has scheduled the $1 million Florida Derby (gr. I) for April 3—a rare Sunday date for its biggest race. It will have three other graded stakes on April 3.
The schedule change includes a Ladies Day program on April 2, with two of Gulfstream’s biggest distaff races. The $300,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (gr. II) is for 3-year-old fillies and was previously called the Bonnie Miss. The $150,000 Rampart (gr. II) is for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up.
“It will be the biggest and best racing weekend South Florida has ever had,” Calabro said.
Gulfstream’s new 2011 bets are a 10 cent-only Pick 6 and a 50-cent minimum Pick 5, both on each day’s final races. The Pick 6 has a 20% percent takeout and the Pick 5 has a 15% takeout.
“We introduced these bets thinking they would offer more value for the average bettors and enable them to spread out their betting, and we are above expectations,” said Tim Ritvo, vice president of racing at Gulfstream and of East Coast racing operations for Gulfstream’s parent MI Developments.
The Pick 6 has a jackpot feature, paying out the full pool and carryover only if there is just one winning ticket. On other days, 40 percent of the day’s bets and carryover goes back into the pool. There have been four days with one winning ticket, with the largest at $221,000.
Over 58 days, $2.5 million has been bet on the Pick 6. In 2010, full-meet betting was $1.7 million on Gulfstream’s standard $2 minimum Pick 6. Through March 23, $7.9 million had been wagered on the Pick 5. Even with the new bets there have been no declines on other wagers, Calabro said.
“The good weather also has helped our handle,” Ritvo said.
The 2010 winter was one of the coldest and rainiest on record in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area. This year, average temperatures have been above normal and rainfall has been so low that local governments have tightened water restrictions for homeowners and some businesses.
Amid those conditions, Gulfstream ran 220 turf races through its first 58 days this year compared with 186 for the same period in 2010. As expected, the larger number of turf races has helped handle on-site and at other tracks and ADWs.
Gulfstream began its meet by raising average daily overnight purses to $235,000 from last year’s $219,000, On March 4, it raised those purses another 10% to $258,500. Beginning March 26, it is increasing its Florida Owners Awards by 20%.
In an amendment to its original stakes schedule, Gulfstream on April 24 in conjunction with the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association will have two Florida Thoroughbred Charities Stakes. The stakes are for Florida-breds sired by stallions standing in Florida and registered with the Florida TBOA whose seasons have been offered at Florida Thoroughbred Charities Auctions.
For the second straight year, Gulfstream will have the $75,000 Capital Request at 1 1/16 miles on dirt for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up and the $75,000 Island Whirl will be 1 1/16 miles over turf for 3-year-olds and up.
“We have nothing but praise for what Gulfstream has done last year and this year,” said Richard Hancock, FTBOA executive vice president.
After Gulfstream opened its new building in 2006, long betting lines have been a problem on Florida Derby days and some other major days.
Gulfstream has 123 live teller stations. At the start of its 2011 meet, it increased its number of automated terminals from 130 to 180.
“We will add 40 more terminals for Florida Derby weekend,” Calabro said.
As part of its April 2 Ladies Day, Gulfstream will have several events in conjunction with local affiliates of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the Florida Breast Cancer Foundation, and other organizations to raise money for breast cancer research and other women’s health issues.
On the final three Fridays of its meet, Gulfstream will move its first post from 12:55 p.m. to 3 p.m. The later starts will be on April 8, April 15, and April 22—with nine-race cards scheduled to end around 6:55 p.m.
A Florida law prohibits Thoroughbred racing after 7 p.m. Gulfstream and MID are hoping that the Florida legislature will end that restriction during its session that ends May 6. As of March 24, there are no bills introduced that include that change. If the law is amended, Gulfstream would be eligible to have post-7 p.m. racing during its 2011-2012 meet that will begin Dec. 3.
When asked if Gulfstream might install lights at the end of its current meet, Ritvo said: “Corporate (MID) is looking at it. We will run our cards that start at 3 p.m. on the Fridays and look at the numbers before making any decisions."