There's been a lot of sideline crystal-balling and analysis about the national decline of horseracing, but Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach racked up some impressive numbers this past weekend with the kickoff of the thoroughbred season.
Besides tanking cultural relevance, the big issue here was the start date. Traditionally, thoroughbreds begin kicking up the dirt in January. Last year, Gulfstream pushed the first scheduled event back to December, which was a success, so the park inched the 2012-13 opening back to the first weekend in the month -- an even riskier bet.
"We were a little nervous," says Gulfstream's president, Tim Ritvo.
Ritvo explains that horse teams don't normally start heading down to tracks until after Thanksgiving. But that didn't stop about 9,000 people from walking through the gates on Saturday for the $850,000 purse Claiming Crown.
The gate traffic was about a 600 head increase over 2011. And the track says $1.4 million was bet on the action at Gulfstream, an 84 percent jump from last year -- almost double. The overall amount of money bet on races worldwide at the park totaled about $12 million, a 66 percent increase.
Those figures are particularly good for the ownership considering it has tossed a lot of money and resources to the park, not only to ensure a successful season but to buck the industry trend.
The park just cut the ribbon on a new restaurant, a gift shop, and TVs in the tiki area. In August, the track's parent company -- the Stronach Group -- purchased the 70-shop open-air mall connected to the facility for an undisclosed sum. The mall had reportedly been struggling, and the purchase was seen as Stronach's effort to steer the whole complex in a more profitable direction.
Judging by the opening-weekend numbers, people might be responding to the effort. That, or they're just feeding the pony-jones left over from when HBO's Luck went the way of Barbaro.
It's worth pointing out Gulfstream has previously drawn some flak for taffy-pulling the racing season on the other end. Last April, the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association said the park held an "illegal" race on short notice on the last day of the season in order to keep a gaming license fresh.
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