Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Gulfstream Park Ain't Your Grandpa's Racetrack

Last Saturday morning, while sitting at breakfast, drinking my robust coffee and eating Eggs a la Mystery, I happened to strike up a conversation with a gentleman, Pete Kules. As it turns out, he's a broadcaster for some radio station in some area of Kentucky, and has been involved in horse racing since Thomas Darley brought his Arabian to England.

Free Plug
Pete Kules' radio show is also podcast from his website,, Saturday mornings, 8:00 - 10:00 a.m., EST

I asked Pete what his impression was of the new Gulfstream Park. Here is a snippet of his answers:

"That's not a horse track! That's a casino with a strip of dirt around it!"

"The old grandstand used to accommodate 35,000 people every day. Now the outside area in front of the grandstand only can seat 900 people! It should be 9,000!"

"That paddock? Whoever designed that was drunk! Somebody's going to killed."

At some point during the conversation, I attempted to suggest that maybe the Powers That Be, i.e., Frank Stronach and company, were making some attempt of changing the style and perception of horse racing. I'm not sure he heard me, as he continued with his opinion of the sport of horse racing in general:

"They don't even know how to market the sport. Gulfstream Park can't even muster a crowd of 3,000 people of on a Friday afternoon. I can find more people at the bars going up and down US1 than I can find at the track."

Sad to say, his impressions were pretty much on the nose. Friday's attendance was a sparse 4,640. Even on Saturday, a stakes-filled race card with a cavalcade of horses, the attendance was only 10,250 with approximately 300 of those who actually had a view of the track.

In my expertise, which in reality doesn't count because I have only been to a handful of racetracks but I just like the word 'expertise', Gulfstream Park is morphing from just-a-racetrack to an all powerful and mighty Entertainment Venue Extraordinaire Throughout The Year.

Example: Gulfstream Park just opened it's new restaurant/bar/sports theater called Tickets. It was free to the public on Friday afternoon, and sure enough, it's a theater. As a matter of fact, David Brenner will be performing there on March 11th (I didn't even know that he was still alive). And the cover of the menu even says, Ticket Sports Theatre in the Village of Gulfstream Park.

And in honor of the fact that Tickets is actually located at a racetrack, there are large simulcast screens located above the stage. I wondered around the facility, and in un-racetrack style, there were only a mere 3 self-serve wagering machines. Hmm.

The second floor of the grandstand is now occupied by the restaurant Ten Palms. I was expecting something intimate, with tables lined along the window, exceptional and unobstructed views of the track, similar to Silks at Lone Star Park. Instead, the restaurant is as large as a banquet hall, with a plethora of tables and chairs. There is a lower portion of the restaurant that does afford views of the racetrack, however the majority of seats are at one level, behind some type of wall or divider, obstructing the view of the track. If one wishes to watch the race, there are plenty of monitors located against the wall, opposite of the track. Admittedly, the menu is first class, as is the maitre 'd, Jim Tarpey. He is exceptionally friendly and warm, just like a big ol' teddy bear (and that is a very big compliment by this blogger). In the future, should you book a table at Ten Palms, just ask for Jim and you shall be taken care of.

Third floor of the grandstand, which I was unable to access because I lacked a certain VIP status, is where about 1500 slot machines will be placed. In the meantime, the upstairs seats went for $75 a pop on Saturday.

Regardless of what the grandstand is supposed to be, the track and infield are beautiful, the racing excellent, and the weather (unless you are Patrick) fantastic. My only gripe was that I could not see the start of one-turn mile races, as I'm pretty sure the gate was located somewhere near Key Largo.

Tune in for Super Saturday Stakes Day, including the Swale Stakes, Fountain of Youth, and Close Encounters of the Zito Kind.

1 comment:

John said...

From reading your conversations with other fans it seems like finding someone who likes the new Gulfstream is like finding a needle in haystack. Could you tell if the $75 seats were sold out on FOY day? I give Stronach credit for trying new concepts; I just wish he had kept his core fans in mind when he designed the place.