Florida Derby climaxes Gulfstream’s racing boom

Saturday, Gulfstream Park caps off a winter racing season with the Florida Derby, and record wagering. The amount bet on horse racing at the Hallandale Beach track has grown from $900 million in 2013 to $1.174 billion in 2014 to $1.338 billion for 2015 – with the amounts bet so far in 2016 surpassing last year’s numbers by 18 percent.

“You walk around here on a Saturday and you see all kinds of people, not just hard-core bettors,” Gulfstream GM P.J. Campo says. “You see young people, even families, having a good experience.”

The racing handle especially grew because the track went from a four-month meet to year-round racing, muscling out nearby Calder Race Course by paying higher purses and offering more incentives for trainers and jockeys. But horse racing fans notice that Gulfstream offers fields of nine or 10 horses, while many other venues offer five or six. More horses = more possibilities = more gambling action. The nearby casino and mall, with restaurant-bars such as Yard House, also attract people who might take a casual interest in horse racing, Campo said.

Last Saturday showed another example of Gulfstream’s growth, when a total of $10,782,375 was wagered during a mandatory payout of the track’s Rainbow 6. That was part of $25.9 million overall bet on the program, and a Gulfstream handle for a single day other than Florida Derby Day. And the derby will be huge on Saturday with two undefeated horses, Mohaymen and Nyquist, squaring off.

Florida Derby events include Breakfast at Gulfstream at 7 a.m., a BBQ buffet with coffee and soda for $50 at the Sport of Kings Lounge, a buffet featuring a fresh Florida stone crab bar in Ten Palms Turf Club ($275 and up) and a hat contest after the call to post for the eighth race. There will be prizes of $100 (girls 2-12), $150 (girls 13-17) and $750 (women 18-up).