IMPRESSIONS OF GULFSTREAM PARK ON DONN HANDICAP DAY

Whether one appreciates the architecture of a particular building is subjective, a matter of personal opinion.  In my view, Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Florida is an aesthetically attractive racetrack with sweeping lines and pleasing colors. It is located adjacent to the very upscale The Village at Gulfstream Park, a shopping mall containing fine restaurants, nightclubs, and retail establishments.  Modern high-rise condos frame the Gulfstream Park background as one watches races from trackside.  A comfortable and clean casino is integrated into the racetrack and offers simulcasting, video lottery terminals, and a poker room.  Walking from the casino to watch a race live can be easily and quickly accomplished.  The Gulfstream paddock is surrounded by chair-back seats that permit people to watch the horses be saddled and paraded before they exit to the racetrack.  Moreover, a few pari-mutuel clerks walk amidst the crowd to take bets on handheld devices,  so a bettor literally does not have to leave his or her seat.  The paddock announcer provides information, insight, and handicapping angles on the entries.  Parking is convenient and plentiful.

The racetrack is immaculate throughout and there is a variety of food and drink—from champagne and shrimp cocktails to beer and pretzels–that actually tastes fresh and good.  A unique offering, as racetracks go, is low-fat food, such as fresh yogurt, for more health-conscious patrons. 

In spite of all there is favorable to say about the Gulfstream Park facility, the downside is that the seating is very limited.  Most recently, I was at the racetrack on February 5, 2011, when several stakes races were featured, including the main event—the Donn Handicap.  Although the relatively small number of upper-level box seats were about half full of people, the track was very crowded on the main level.  Tables scattered throughout the track were occupied, so most patrons had to stand.  When the decision was made to tear down the old Gulfstream Park facility and rebuild, Frank Stronach, the chairman of the now-defunct Magna Entertainment Corporation, which put up the new facility, must have known that Gulfstream would never again be able to accommodate a Breeders’ Cup.  He evidently felt that what was gained with the new Gulfstream in terms of architecture and ambience was worth the loss.

It looks as though that Gulfstream Park emphasizes customer-service training for their employees.  The racetrack personnel generally go out of their way to make the racetrack experience fan friendly.  There are specifically assigned staff members who help neophytes handicap and bet.  The pari-mutuel and concession employees are, as a group, courteous and efficient.  During my 5-6 hours at the racetrack, only once did I encounter a concession employee who was curt.  She needs to learn how to say “thank you.”  One pari-mutuel clerk committed what seems like a minor error but is not insignificant because it sends a signal about how a company looks upon its customers.  This clerk did not have enough nickels to precisely cash out a ticket so she told the customer that he could either accept five cents less than he had coming or else go to another clerk who might have the exact change.  What she should have done was short the track five cents rather than suggest that the customer make up for the track’s mistake or be inconvenienced.  Racetracks should always make sure the clerks have enough change or instruct the pari-mutuel clerks to unfailingly favor the customer when the difference is a dime or less, so that the proper signal is conveyed to the folks who support the show. 

The two Grade I stakes on the February 5th card—the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap and the Donn Handicap—as well as the Grade III Suwannee River, were very competitive and entertaining to watch, won by Teaks North, Giant Oak, and Cherokee Queen, respectively.  However, the most impressive and most intriguing winner on the program was WinStar Farm’s first-time-starter Cal Nation in a $48,500 maiden.  He is by Distorted Humor and out of She’s a Winner by A. P. Indy.  Thus Cal Nation and 2006 Kentucky Derby runner-up and promising stallion Bluegrass Cat have the same dam, the same owner, and the same trainer, Todd Pletcher.  This inexperienced but talented colt might be a force to be reckoned with by mid-to-late summer.   Cal Nation would undoubtedly be a huge favorite of the legion of followers of the University of Kentucky basketball team in that he appears to be named for the UK fan base and for coach John Calipari. 

Overall, Gulfstream Park is a well-designed racetrack that offers a pleasant day watching high-quality races.  It is a “boutique” racetrack and is not intended to be a Churchill Downs or a Belmont Park.  Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Further, debating about whether the new Gulfstream Park is an improvement on the old version is pointless and a waste of time.  The new track is built and therefore is a sunk cost.  The owner is not going to demolish it and start over, so the objective must be to leverage its strengths, which are plentiful.

Copyright © 2011 Horse Racing Business

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