Broward News

As Gulfstream Park's Fire-Breathing Statue and Fountain Show Nears Completion, Reaction Is Mixed

Update: A park spokesperson has confirmed that the fountain show will not open by Saturday but is nearly complete.

On Thursday, a shrill screech, like a buzz saw cutting into metal, screamed through the Gulfstream Park parking lot every few minutes. Gulfstream’s patrons seemed to have difficulty tracing the source of the noise. They squinted until some noticed that the massive, 110-foot-tall sculpture in front of them — which depicts Pegasus stomping a winged dragon to death — was actually spitting fire.

Steven Hneidziejko, 60, in Hallandale Beach while on vacation from Alabama, walked up to the fence surrounding Pegasus and snapped photos of it with his phone.

“I think it’s a good landmark for the casino, I guess,” he said. A grin then stretched across his face. But, he said, “It’s definitely a little corny. I guess I can tell why they’re doing it — so you can see the casino from the road. But maybe it’s sending the idea that it’s OK to gamble, because the horse is stepping on the serpent and all.”

The statue, which reportedly cost $30 million to complete, is part of a massive list of upgrades slated for Hallandale Beach’s Gulfstream Park, one of the nation’s premier horseracing tracks. Pegasus stands defiant, with its wings splayed behind it and its left front hoof crunching down on the serpent, which looks absolutely terrified. (Strangely, the horse looks sort of sickened by the whole ordeal.) Surely, this will be one of the most notable landmarks in Broward County — and the best backdrop for a selfie — for years to come.

The statue was the idea of park owner Frank Stronach (who also owns Baltimore’s Pimlico Downs, where the Preakness Stakes is held), a Gulfstream Park spokesperson said. The creatures, Stronach has said, are meant to represent the struggle between good and evil.

Though the sculpture began to take shape in December 2014, Gulfstream has been hard at work installing a $3 million “Las Vegas-style” fountain show around it. Water jets will blast into the sky as Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” plays. Planners had hoped the fountain would be fully operational by this Saturday, when Gulfstream hosts its annual “Sunshine Millions” racing series, which has, in recent years, become one of the park’s largest events. But a park spokesperson confirmed, however, that the fountain’s construction is still ongoing. Last week, a team of workers was busy testing the cannon that will spew a 20-foot column of fire from the dragon’s mouth.

Outside the Container Store at Gulfstream Park's shopping center, Natalie Cura of Aventura pushed a child’s stroller along the sidewalk. A French bulldog was strapped into the seat. As she unbelted the dog, she stopped dead in her tracks, apparently noticing the statue for the first time. “I hadn’t even seen it there until just now. It’s just kind of, well, gaudy.”

Closer to the track, one Gulfstream employee, who said she has worked at the track for “decades,” stood behind a fence. “I think it’s an absolute waste of money,” she said. “This used to be the top place for racing, but now the money’s being put into something ridiculous.” She swept her hand behind her, gesturing at the shopping center. “This place used to be all about horseracing. Now it’s about something else. It’s a shame all that money’s gone into something like that.”

Scott Kirkpatrick, 46, of Hollywood, was winding his way through the parking lot when New Times asked him what he thought of the sculpture. He too said hadn’t even noticed the statue — again, it’s 110 feet tall — until it was pointed out to him. “I really didn’t even see it there. It looks pretty cool. It’s a little gothic. I like that.”

But Amanda Perdomo, a former schoolteacher from Pompano Beach sitting on a bench, said she had no idea who, exactly, would have been motivated to build a statue that large.

When told about the owner — and the cost — her eyes widened to the size of grapefruits. “Thirty million dollars?” she whispered. “Why couldn’t they have built something smaller and used the rest of that money to donate to charity or something? That should have been put into the community — there are a lot of poor people who come here to gamble their money away. They could have paid some real sculptor to create art. Instead, there’s just this opulent horse.”

As the sun set, the fountain began a test run, without music. As the statue was bathed in pink and blue light, the fountains, not quite Bellagio-sized and dwarfed by the monstrous sculpture above them, spit calmly into the air. The dragon continued to choke up fireballs. As the water shot higher into the sky, traffic around the sculpture ground to a halt. It was impossible to look away.