For nearly three years now, Tailpipe has been watching with disbelief the radical transformation of Gulfstream Park. It has been like seeing an elaborate piece of slow-motion computer-generated imagery a futuristic tank becoming a rocket-powered flying machine, say, or Dracula turning into a bat. Since 2004, the old racetrack in Hallandale Beach has gone from a balmy hangout for snowbirds with time and money on their hands to a dismal construction site to a tent city (a temporary setup the track provided for racing fans two seasons ago) to its current manifestation.
This is how a racetrack makes room for a casino, folks.
So what do we end up with? Before the 'Pipe visited Gulfstream the other day, he wasn't sure whether it would be a racetrack with slot machines or a casino with some ponies. Now he knows.
Almost all of the horseplayers the 'Pipe spoke to at the track, most of them searching for favorable signs in the little nuggets of horse information in the agate print of the Daily Racing Form from previous race results and recent workouts to the presence of blinkers or the blood-thinner Lasix said they had no interest in the casino upstairs. Slots and horseracing? They're as distinct as two stars in separate galaxies.
"I wouldn't bet the slots if my life depended on it," said Dennis Doran, 60, a manufacturer from Naples, savoring a healthy payout for his winning exacta bet in the first race. "It's strictly luck. It's like flipping coins."
Meanwhile, in Gulfstream's casino on the second floor of the new clubhouse, slots players were plugged so tightly into their whirring, dinging machines that no lousy horserace seemed capable of dislodging them.
So what about "synergy"? Folks from the racing conglomerate Magna Entertainment Corp., which owns 12 racetracks as well as off-track betting facilities and a racing television network, have been talking for years about ways to get new bettors to the track's betting windows. For a while, they tried to entice a middle-of-the-road concert-going audience with weekly concerts by bands like Blondie, Pat Benatar, and America. The idea was that music fans would see horses racing past and get interested in handicapping. There was even some moderate success at the betting windows.
But then, after voters approved slots for Broward County racetracks two years ago, it was clear that there would be no more idyllic picnics, with Rod Stewart prancing on a makeshift stage and thoroughbreds kicking up clods nearby. Magna was after more profitable prey.
What the company has created is a schizoid entity called a "racino." As far as the horseracing crowd is concerned, the casino is a kind of babysitting operation for their wives.
"The only benefit," Doran says, "is that my wife doesn't like horseracing at all. But she'd come with me to use the slots."
"I think that's the way it's breaking down," adds Ronald Bancroft, a retired phone company worker. "The track for husbands, the casino for wives."
For the rest, it's the same old story. The old guys who flock to the rails of racetracks a demanding crowd that isn't fooled by cosmetics are still pissed off about the loss of their old stomping grounds. There aren't enough places for people to sit, it's hard to find the late scratches, the standing-room areas are overcrowded and uncomfortable. On weekends and big-event days, there's not even enough room to open a newspaper.
The racing industry is headed in a big way toward online betting, with players watching televised events at home, some contend.
"These people don't care about the horse bettors anymore," says Tony Cioffi, 69, a retired postal worker. "If they could turn the whole place into condos, they would."
Management has heard this before. But the Magna brass insists the company is still first and foremost about horseracing. They heard the squawks from the railbirds last year, they say, when the attractive new Spanish-colonial-style clubhouse opened, and they've responded. For one thing, there's a new grandstand area on the north side of the track, where the $2 bettors can peruse their Racing Forms in peace. (Cioffi looks ruefully at the temporary metal seats and recalls when African-Americans were relegated to segregated sections at the track. "Now they're segregating by class," he says.) Bettors can also watch the horses being saddled in an outdoor saddling area, noting which nag is foaming at the mouth and which is so eager to go that he's stepping on his groom's feet.
What about synergy? "Is that important?" asks Mike Mullaney, the track's director of media relations. "I used to think you had to have horseplayers playing slot machines and slots players betting horses. But what's the difference? It's everybody having a good time."
Maybe so. But the fading track crowd sees the breach getting wider and all the chirping and beeping from the casino, with an underlying electronic hum, rapturous and intoxicating at about middle C, drowning out the thud of hoofbeats and the jingle of bridles.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Zedwick, fully clad in a desert camouflage battle dress, stands in the door breach position, aiming his shortened 12-gauge shotgun at a bunch of civilians.
Boyd Wedin is too quick for him, though. He pinches Zedwick's head between his fingers and lifts him off the conference room table, giving the 'Pipe a closer look at the six-inch-tall "Real Hero" plastic figurine.
This ain't your daddy's G.I. Joe. Its detailed master paint job and packaging were done at Jazwares Inc., a toy company in Sunrise. The creators, including Wedin and Joe Amaro, have imitated Zedwick's distinctly handsome facial features, exposed knuckles, and realistically creased pants. According to the Army's website, the figurine's outfit is identical to the one Zedwick wore on the day he won the Silver Star during a deadly ambush of his platoon in Taji, Iraq.
Zedwick's plastic body is one of four that came from 3-D scans of real, live Iraq War heroes. The other figurines are likenesses of Maj. Jason Amerine of Honolulu, Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Wolford of Roseburg, Oregon, and Sgt. Tommy Rieman of Independence, Kentucky, all decorated war heroes chosen by the Army for its Real Heroes program. Selections are based on the soldier's courage under fire. The Army had already created the molds for the toys, but Wedin and Amaro got approval to collaborate on action figures to go along with the game.
"All the approvals come from the Pentagon," Amaro said with a quiet excitement. "They've offered us tours to the military bases. For me, when I was a kid, I used to love G.I. Joe. It's awesome to be working with the Army."
The four heroes are now at the Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair, aiming their guns at buyers from stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and Toys "R" Us. Although they won't be the first action figures based on war heroes (the G.I. Joe brand has produced a few reality action figures, including likenesses of George S. Patton and war correspondent Ernie Pyle), they are the first from the Iraq War and the first to come with bio trading cards that tell the compelling life stories of the soldiers, who say they are thrilled to be memorialized in this way.
Let's face it, boys and girls. The people involved in this project are unabashed Army fans.
"My mother says I've been a G.I. Joe since I was 6," said Wolford, the Oregon sergeant, "I always wanted to jump out of airplanes and blow stuff up."
Now he gets his chance in miniaturized perpetuity.
South Beach, Davie
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
While South Florida has never faced an emergency shortage of T-shirts that say "FBI: Female Body Inspector" or "Tell Your Tits to Stop Staring at Me," any tourist with the slightest bit of fashion consciousness (or self-respect) has always had to walk out of Wings with no souvenirs to memorialize his or her visit. Until recently, that is when graphics artist/T-shirt designer Paul Jacober, feeling sorry for "the poor hipster who didn't have anything to buy," set off on a mission to recover Miami Beach cool. He created a line of T-shirts featuring Art Deco landmarks like the Delano Hotel and celebrity hangouts like the Shore Club.
Predictably, fashionistas snatched the shirts off the shelves of Lincoln Road boutiques. Jacober, seeking new inspiration, turned to... Davie. Having seen a Bruce Weber photo spread that was shot in the town (where the rodeo grounds are a huge attraction), Jacober whipped out a series of designs that incorporate horses, skulls, and Camaros. Next thing you knew, his Davie line of shirts had become more popular than the South Beach ones. That's Puerto Rican pop star Luis Fonsi sporting one on the cover of his new album.
"Hipsters gravitate toward that white-trash imagery," Jacober explains. "You might not always want to be affiliated with it in real life, but on T-shirts, it has an effortlessly cool vibe." In fact, Davie is even Tailpipe winces to acknowledge it sexy. Jacober says his friend, an Ocean Drive stylist, just did a photo shoot there. "You can put boys on motorcycles, and there's hay."
Could Davie be the next South Beach? "You know, it could be," Jacober says. "South Beach originally became cool because it wasn't cool. It was new and different. Davie could become cool it's off the beaten path. Obviously, cool people would have to start going there, and there'd have to be something for people to do. But South Beach started out totally trashy and totally dangerous. The ugly kid can always become a cool kid." You want to buy one of the T's, you say? Sorry, the stores aren't stocking them yet. But try Jacober's website, www.pauljacober.com. As told to Edmund Newton