"That's not a horse track! That's a casino with a strip of dirt around it!"
-Pete Kules, Hampton Inn Hallendale Beach Breakfast Bar, March 2006.
Last year on my sojourn to the new Gulfstream Park, which at that time was merely called Gulfstream Park but is now called Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino, my final conclusion was that Frank Stronach and his cronies decided that Gulfstream Park would no longer be "just a racetrack"; a foundation was laid for a premier Entertainment Destination - something akin to Disneyland for horseplayers.
Plug in a gazillion slot machines and it is no longer an Entertainment Destination, but rather a Gambling Destination.
Tickets Sports Theatre is gone. No wait ... it actually morphed into Serenata, which according to my official facility guide,
When the sun goes down, Serenata heats up! Come dance to the hottest Latin bands in South Florida that will have you moving all night long. Mojitos are poured minty sweet. Bar tops turn to dance floors. Every night brings an "Arriba" toast with our own Serenata shooter. It's hot here!
Apparently their mojitas were way too sour and because Serenata is closed.
The second simlucast parlor/Stronach piece of innovation, a.k.a, Horse Wizzard Lounge, is gone and I'm pretty sure that it has not been missed.
Other notable [good] changes involved the saddling paddock and the breezeway in the center of the grandstand. Somebody smart decided that it might be a good idea to move the Saddling Paddock out of the 2' x 6' closet it was in and place it outside by the walking ring. Horseplayers and enthusiasts now get the opportunity to observe these magnificent animals and potential retirement fund contributors in the open, by the picturesque setting of the fountain and walking ring. Another [fabulous!] change was the conversion of the bulky information booth/mutuel counter in the breezeway of the grandstand to a bar (hic!). And not only is it a beautiful outside bar conveniently located by the walking ring and the track and the winners circle and the mutuel clerks and the bathrooms, there are large monitors mounted above the Breezeway Bar affording a wonderful Winter-In-Florida luxury of outside simulcast enjoyment.
There had been many changes at the new Gulfstream during the first year. So, straight out of an episode of CSI:Miami, I performed some thorough investigational work.
And according to a very reliable insider (some guy named Matthew whose job was to "count people as they enter the casino" and I know he was official because he was wearing a badge), I was told the following: (1) Horse Wizzard Lounge/Simulcast Parlor on the south side of the grandstand is preparing to open as a second slot casino, (2) Once the Horse-Wizzards-turned-Slots Parlor opens, the mojita-less Serenata will be renovated [again] and become a poker room, and (3) Gulfstream management/marketing/accounting/janitorial staff has opted to discard the idea of "Entertainment Venue" as they cannot compete with the "Entertainment Venue" that is known as "Miami".
As Matthew continued clicking his counter as prospective gamblers entered the casino, I grilled him with other tough questions such as, "Are there any plans regarding simulcast facilites?" (No) and "Do you think a Cosmopolitan is a sissy drink for a guy?" (Yes).
I pondered Matthew's answers. What does this mean? How do all these changes ... the slot machines, poker room, mojita-less Latin dancing on bars-turned-dance floors ... how do they affect me, the horseplayer?
Honestly, I don't give two mojitas about slot machines or poker rooms. The satisfactory answer is that there is top-notch racing at a wonderful venue. Great races. Impressive horses. Remarkable trainers (although it is noted that Todd Pletcher has been hogging the spotlight in the winner's circle).
All this ... and I haven't even gotten to the Fountain of Youth, Ten Palms, notable bookstores, and Todd Pletcher in jeans!
And what the heck is a mojita anyway?