Official Says Gulfstream to be 'Handle-Driven' Track

Officials at the new Gulfstream Park said business during this year's 86-day meet was a reflection of the track's future direction.

According to figures released by the Hallandale Beach, Fla., facility, total on-track handle, a figure that includes wagering on live racing and imports, increased by about 14% from 2005. Gulfstream estimated it handled an average of more than $1.4 million per day, or about $122.8 million for the meet.

But despite having a new state-of-the-art clubhouse, it was expected that attendance would at least remain on par with the previous meet, when patrons were housed in tents during reconstruction. Gulfstream, which this year raced from Jan. 3-April 23, didn't release official attendance numbers.

Gulfstream president Scott Savin attributed the numbers to limitations on use of the clubhouse. Only the bottom floor was available opening day, while the upper floors, which include the sports theater Tickets and upscale dining room Pearls, weren't completed until the end of February.

"We're moving toward becoming a handle-driven track rather than an attendance-driven one," Savin said, contrasting the current mindset with the pre-construction period when free weekend concerts drew crowds of nearly 30,000. "We think you're better off taking good care of 12,000 people rather than struggling to deal with 25,000."

Inter-track wagering, which includes wagering on Gulfstream races from other facilities within Florida, showed about a 5% gain to an estimated $114.5 million. Out-of-state wagering was thought to have declined about 2%.

The clubhouse also was the subject of criticism from some patrons, though Savin said acceptance increased as the meet wore on. "Gauging from fan reaction, the building was well-received once we had all three floors open," he said. "We're more than satisfied with the outcome of the meet."

He said Gulfstream plans to address specific areas of patron unhappiness, including a scarcity of bleacher seating and a patron-inaccessible saddling area. Gulfstream reopens for live racing Jan. 3, 2007, though for the first time it will remain open year-round for evening simulcasts, poker, and live entertainment at Tickets.

As part of an agreement with nearby Calder Race Course, the track also hopes to be able to simulcast during daylight hours as well. The two tracks, which were forced to shut down a program of shared simulcasts in January, have appealed a ruling that the program violates state law. It is expected the Florida Supreme Court will hear the appeal in June. By Scott Davis