Mixed Signals During Early Part of Gulfstream Meet

Though it is early, with just four racing days in the books, Gulfstream Park's 2004 meet has thus far sent mixed signals. Although on-track performance has shown increases in attendance and wagering, the all-sources handle has shown a drop of nearly 19%.

Much of the increase in live numbers relates to opening day Saturday, Jan. 3. With good weather, a $100,000 guaranteed pick-three and a free concert by Blondie, 21,501 came through the turnstiles and wagered nearly $2.2 million on the live card. Compared to the first Saturday of the 2003 meet – which was the second day overall – this represents dramatic increases of 42% in attendance and 32% in live handle.

Still, despite the enticements, overall handle from all sources on opening day fell by about 8%. This has foreshadowed a trend whereby, through Jan. 8, overall all-sources handle was down nearly 19%.

"We are focused on our on track business, and we are more than pleased by these numbers, which have equaled our expectations," said Gulfstream president Scott Savin. "We've had full fields every day and a great quality of horses."

Savin specifically mentioned the presence on opening day of Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) winning gelding Cajun Beat, who made his 2004 debut with a score in the Mr. Prospector Handicap (gr. III). He also noted the beneficial effect of Palm Meadows, Magna Entertainment Corp.'s nearby training center. Now in its second year of operations, Palm Meadows has doubled its available stalls, contributing to a ten percent gain in average field size.

Savin, who before the meet had predicted a record-breaking meet in both attendance and handle, had no explanation for the decline in handle. He suggested only that a reduction in rebate shops and telephone account wagering may have contributed to it.