by Greg Melikov - 12/13/2005
FDR was in his second term as president, the New York Yankees won a fourth consecutive World Series and Johnstown captured the 65th Kentucky Derby when Gulfstream Park staged its first meeting.
The South Florida track has come a long way since that four-day meeting in 1939, four years after I was born. Opening day attracted 18,000 racing fans and the meeting's pari-mutuel handle totaled $441,561.
In '91, a record 1,096,404 fans turned out for the 88-day meeting. In '02, the on-track handle hit a record $149,984,404.
The 63rd meeting opens Jan. 4 as Gulfstream continues to grow into a one-of-a-kind racing and entertainment megaplex. Because Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma scrambled the construction schedule, "there is going to be some work done while people are here," said Mike Mullaney, director of media relations.
"We expect to have the full first floor (of the new four-story main building) ready for opening day," he said. "There was no structural damage at the track, but the hurricanes affected people's families. Stadium seating and a new tote board destroyed by Wilma will be replaced.
"The second, third and fourth floors will need work and construction will continue during live racing. The second floor, with a new dining room, is scheduled to open Jan. 28.
We're hopeful the entire building will be open well before closing day (April 23)."
The new clubhouse exceeds 300,000 square feet and will include the tiered arena seating 3,000, a boxing ring and broadcast facilities.
That's not all. Forest City Enterprises will develop the Village of Gulfstream Park in partnership with Magna Entertainment Corp. (MEC). The retail, entertainment and residential development will dovetail with racing and gaming operations. It could be completed by fall of '07.
The 55-acre Village will offer residential, hotel and commercial office units, plus entertainment options with the track. The first phase will incorporate 250 residential units and 400,000 square feet of retail shopping, restaurant and entertainment facilities overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway and Atlantic Ocean.
When completed, the one million square foot development will feature more than 70 stores and a movie theater as well as 1,500 residential units.
"It will be the first lifestyle center in the country built in conjunction with a state-of-the-art thoroughbred horse racing facility," said MEC chairman Frank Stronach. "I am very optimistic that this destination of The Village at Gulfstream Park will be a prototype for the future."
Meanwhile, the 2006 meeting will offer 47 stakes worth more than $8 million. For the second consecutive year, the racing agenda is built around four "Spectacular Saturday" cards featuring multiple graded events.
The 31 graded stakes include the 55th running of the $1 million Florida Derby on April 1, plus six other stakes that Saturday. There were 136 early nominations of 3-year-olds for the key Kentucky Derby prep.
The Florida Derby debuted in '52 with a $24,750 purse when the track expanded. Sky Ship was the winner.
In '53, the purse was raised to $100,000 making it the richest race in the Sunshine State. Ironically, Money Broker triumphed.
In '57, Gen. Duke equaled the world record for 1 1/8 mile: 1:46 4/5. After all these years, the time remains the stakes record.