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Schedule, Weather Help Gulfstream Handle

Gulfstream reports a 3.8% increase in total handle during its current meet.

A switch to five-day racing weeks and a long stretch of dry weather are among the factors helping Gulfstream Park buck an industry trend of lower pari-mutuel handle. Gulfstream officials said the track’s all-sources handle was up 3.8% through Feb. 7, the 26th racing day of the current meet.

Average daily all-sources handle at the Hallandale Beach, Fla., track was $8.9 million, compared with $8.6 million for the first 26 dates in 2008. The 26-day total is up from $223.8 million to $232.3 million.

Average daily on-track handle is up 8.9%, Gulfstream officials said, from $570,000 to $619,000. Gulfstream, which scheduled 77 programs from Jan. 3-April 19, didn’t provide breakdowns on simulcast and advance deposit wagering.

In 2008, handle at Gulfstream was down about 4% from 2007.

“Our decision to go from six days a week to five has helped significantly,” Gulfstream president and general manager Bill Murphy said.

Gulfstream hoped that change would result in larger fields, and thus attract more bettors. The track averaged 8.65 horses per race for its full 2008 meet. Through Feb. 7, that average was 9.94.

Gulfstream had average daily purses, including stakes, of $306,000 last year. It entered 2009 with a goal of $325,000, and purses have been near that level, Murphy said.

Thus far in 2009, Gulfstream has not had to move any races from turf to dirt because of weather. In 2008, Gulfstream was forced to move 48 races from the turf through March 8. Those shifts led to numerous scratches, resulting in smaller pools for some races.

Unlike in 2008, Gulfstream this year has among its ADW outlets.  But, like in 2008, it does not have a contract with TVG.

“The weather is helping, but the biggest thing is that people see the quality in our racing program,” Murphy said. “They also are becoming more comfortable here this year.”

Gulfstream has added more picnic-like tables in its popular tiki bar area, between the eighth pole and the 16th pole. It also increased its number of free parking places from 3,000 to 5,500.

Many fans still lament that the clubhouse and grounds that Gulfstream opened in 2006 has fewer than 1,000 seats facing the track. But on weekend days this year, crowds have been large in the apron area near the finish line, at the tiki bars, and in the second- and third-floor restaurants. Gulfstream does not announce attendance, but has estimated several crowds larger than 10,000.

Handle increases have been large on several of Gulfstream’s major stakes days. On Jan. 31, with the Donn Handicap (gr. I) and Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III), all-sources handle of $13.8 million was up 14.5% from $12.1 million in 2008.

A change in advertising mix also is helping attract more fans, Murphy said. “We are spending about the same as last year, but it is more effective,” he said.

That includes increased advertising in The Miami Herald and South Florida Sun Sentinel, especially on Fridays before major racing weekends. Gulfstream also is flying planes with banner ads over local beaches.

Murphy said Gulfstream has reduced some of its other advertising, but would not give details.