Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park: Your Turn to Wear a Ridiculous Hat

The Florida Derby is the highlight of the horseracing season at Gulfstream Park and the most important race in South Florida, with 3-year-old thoroughbreds competing for a $1 million prize. It doesn’t quiiiite rival Kentucky Derby day in Louisville, but, boy, it’s looking like race day tomorrow will be a heck of a day. And yes, it's socially acceptable to wear a giant, fancy hat. 

Two undefeated horses with a real shot at winning the Kentucky Derby in May will be at Gulfstream's on-track field, and add an East-vs.-West angle: Mohaymen is stabled at Gulfstream’s satellite training center in Palm Beach County. Nyquist trains at Santa Anita, California.

The day starts at 7 a.m. with the popular Breakfast at Gulfstream in the tiki area of the Hallandale Beach track. Special guest speakers give insight of interests to both horseracing novices and old-timers. (Unlimited buffet breakfast is $10.)

Gulfstream has put together a guide for beginners who want to know how to place bets. Racing begins at noon. 

And, again as in Louisville, it’s about the hats. The annual Florida Derby Hat Contest will be held in the Walking Ring after the call to post for the eighth race. There will be prizes of $100 (girls ages 2 to 12), $150 (girls ages 13 to 17) and $750 (women age18 and up).

Meanwhile, because this is the climactic day of racing at Gulfstream, here’s a reminder of five things we like about Gulfstream:
  • Yard House: The best of the dozen or so bars and restaurants at the Village, Yard House was at the front of the craft-beer curve and still features about 130 imported, craft, and specialty ales and lagers. 

  • Poker action: Horseracing bettors, looking for something to do between races, sit at the tables, itching for action. And they’re impulse gamblers, math be damned. Sit there, wait for good cards, and they’ll likely all but hand you their money.

  • Horse action: Gulfstream’s races usually consist of nine horses, well above the national average of six. And more horses mean more possibilities. And that means more gambling action.

  • Support for injured jockeys: Gulfstream is among the most enthusiastic contributors to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF), a 501(c)(3) public charity that provides financial assistance to 60 former jockeys who have suffered catastrophic on-track injuries. Jockeys aren’t like pro athletes in major sports and have little control over their business and security. Gulfstream has charity poker, golf tournaments, and diners to help take care of those with devastating injuries.

  • Pegasus, the 11-story, 715-ton monstrosity that cost $30 million and serves as the iconic image for Gulfstream. We've named it the Best Selfie Backdrop in South Florida.

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Deirdra Funcheon
Nick Sortal is South Florida’s expert journalist when it comes to the gambling scene. He covered the openings, expansions, poker tournaments, entertainment, and human-interest facets of the industry for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel from 2007 until taking a buyout in November 2015, capping a 30-year career that included state and national awards and features about naked yoga. He now writes a weekly column for the Miami Herald and also reports about gambling on his site, The Southern Illinois native worked for papers in St. Louis and Indianapolis before joining the Sun Sentinel in 1985. He likes triathlons, country music, basketball, and bragging about his family.
Contact: Nick Sortal