The Stronach Group is studying improvements and expansion plans designed to keep the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1) at Gulfstream Park.
Stronach Group chairman and president Belinda Stronach said plans being considered include finding partners to help develop land around the racetrack, improve the grandstand, and construct an adjacent hotel that could be used to expand capacity during major events such as the Pegasus.
The daughter of The Stronach Group founder Frank Stronach said the Pegasus is designed specifically to build interest in racing by wrapping an entertainment experience around the on-track experience.
"The race has to be great. You know, horse racing and wagering is at our core. But let's put a great event around it—a great entertainment experience that can appeal to a much broader demographic," Belinda Stronach said. "We can show them an amazing, fun day at the races."
Stronach has been impressed by how the South Florida area embraced the race and the experience. This year's Pegasus had enough stars in attendance—including Ludacris, Pharrell, Lenny Kravitz—that TMZ filed reports and photos. Stronach said the idea is to have people enjoy the races while also enjoying "a real social experience."
Seeing the potential in South Florida to offer that strong combination, Stronach has supported keeping the Pegasus at Gulfstream. While there has been speculation that the Stronach Group could move the event to the larger Santa Anita Park, and Stronach acknowledged the scope of the event is constrained by the relatively small Gulfstream grandstand, she said changes being considered for the South Florida track could address some of those issues.
"To expand the capacity of this track, our current thinking is to put a hotel adjacent to the grandstand. We'd probably have to refurbish the grandstand a bit," Stronach said. "We could put a hotel next door where there are platforms that we can use on a periodic basis to expand the footprint that we have here at the track."
More generally, Stronach added, "We're also simultaneously undergoing a review process of all the development on the surrounding land and doing a master plan."
She did not indicate a timeframe for the planning process or potential development work.
In 2015, the track received approval for a 21-story condo development to be built atop a parking garage. At the time, Gulfstream lobbyist Marc Dunbar told state lawmakers continued development at the track would depend on the resolution of gaming legislation. Absent of such action, "that money is going to Maryland and California," Dunbar said, according to reports in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "And I don't mean that as a threat. We have $1 billion in plans that are hanging in the balance."
By October of that year, the project was shelved.
That was before the Pegasus and before Belinda Stronach arrived on the scene. She believes horse racing "is the last great legacy sporting platform that has yet to be modernized. I truly believe that. This industry needs to embrace technology, too, and really get at the forefront of it."
Stronach expects an app to come on line before this year's Preakness Stakes (G1) that will enable casual players to "make an educated bet very quickly within five minutes and watch the race."
"Unfortunately we didn't have it finished in time (for the Pegasus), but we're launching a new app in advance of the Preakness (at the Stronach-owned Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore) that incorporates the mindset of fantasy or the 'gameification' of horse racing in an app. If you're a hard-core handicapper, that's one thing, this is your life; but if you're somebody that's interested in it, it allows you to get in and out of it in five minutes."
Used that way, Stronach said technology can enhance the on-track experience and "we can still maintain the heritage aspects of it that also are attractive to this sport."
Stronach is convinced horse racing can attract new fans and turn the corner from its long slide from the top of the nation's sporting consciousness, provided that action is taken to make that happen.
"The Stronach Group, we're in a fortunate position where we continue to gain strength within the industry," she said. "But that industry is shrinking. So unless we try new things, to reach out to a new demographic and a new fan base, the future isn't as promising as we would like it to be."