Thursday, July 24, 2014

Large Fields Again This Week at Gulfstream

By Jim Freer

Thursday, July 24 -- Gulfstream Park will  resume its Thursday-to-Sunday summer meet this afternoon with a nine-race card that has 91 entrants, including one Also Eligible.

Gulfstream’s number of entrants per race  also is just over ten for this Friday  and Saturday. That sets it up for a continuation of the impressive handle it has generated this month, following the June 29 end  of its head-to-head weekend racing with South Florida neighbor Calder Casino & Race Course.

Our review of Equibase Co. charts shows  that Gulfstream has averaged 9.3 starters per race with average daily all-sources handle of $3.9 million for its 12 racing days between July 1 and July 20.

For the four days between July 17 and July 20, Gulfstream averaged 9.5 starters and $4.0 million in handle. Breakdowns between live and off-site handle were not available.

Gulfstream’s fields are among the largest at the country’s leading Thoroughbred tracks, and last weekend  its total handle virtually tied for third place with  Monmouth Park.  Only Saratoga and Del  Mar are generating higher handle than  Gulfstream.

Gulfstream’s July numbers compare very favorably with  last month, when its average daily handle was in the $3 million  range and  average starters were just over eight per race.  Calder’s handle was in the $800,000 to $900,000 range during  the second half of June, with averages of six  or seven  starters most days.

Basically,  the schedule change has  left South Florida with one track racing four days a week rather than two tracks racing every Friday through Sunday--with Gulfstream’s higher and rising purse structure.

Calder was averaging about $100,000 in purses per day for its eight-race cards.

Gulfstream this month is averaging ten races a day.  It had average purses of $220,000 for the four days between July 17 to July 20. Starting today, it is raising purses an  average of 10 percent a day under an agreement with the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and  Protective Association.

Trainer Carlo Vaccarezza is among South Florida horsemen who, along with  Gulfstream management, expect that the track’s field sizes and handle numbers will grow during  the next several weeks.

“I think the field sizes and handle are fantastic, and (Gulfstream) vice president of racing) P.J. Campo is doing a great job,” said Vaccarezza, the managing partner of Little  Dreams Racing LLC.

“P.J. came down here in the middle  of the mess with Calder,” he added.  “Now he and the racing office can  plan a schedule where they don’t have to  deal with Calder also running. We  will  keep seeing the 12-horse fields that bettors like.”

Gulfstream has 1,250 horses in its stables and access to 450 more at Calder.  Its affiliate Palm Meadows training center in Boynton Beach is closed for resurfacing and will re-open by September.

From his own contacts and information from Gulfstream, Vaccarezza has heard that some trainers  who do the Saratoga-Belmont-Gulfstream circuit will send some of their horses directly to Gulfstream after  Saratoga ends its meet early in September.

In addition, he expects that a continuation of strong Gulfstream numbers will result in some trainers soon sending down some horses from Arlington Park  near  Chicago and from Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J.
                                                                                                                                                                    Those  horses also will be available to run at Calder from Oct. 7 to Nov. 30 in a meet conducted  by Gulfstream.

On Friday, Gulfstream will have ten races with 111 entrants.  That includes three Also Eligibles and five  Main Track  Only  runners.  Saturday’s 11-race card has 117 entrants, including four Also  Eligibles and two for the Main Track Only.

Even with routine numbers of scratches, the average field size should  be near or above ten each day.

Gulfstream this afternoon will release  its entries for Sunday.

One point of reference for Gulfstream is that from last Friday  through  Sunday, it beat Monmouth Park in average handle per race--with about $430,000 per race compared with $390,000.

Monmouth has a long-entrenched summer-fall meet that is popular with fans  in its surrounding New Jersey shore communities and it has a nationwide simulcast and ADW fan base.

By keeping  pace with Monmouth, Gulfstream is showing the popularity of its brand for fans watching on TV and computer screens--even though it is in just its second season of summer racing.

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