Thursday, November 27, 2008
Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida first opened to the public in 1939. It was only open for four days that year, but it attracted 18,000 people on opening day. Gulfstream opened again in 1944 for a 20 day meet and hasn't missed a season since. This track has seen its share of great horses, including the likes of Swaps, Nashua, Bold Ruler, Kelso, Spectacular Bid and Cigar.
But the single theme that has run through the history of Gulfstream Park is change. By 1946, Gulfstream added the Gulfstream Park Handicap. 1952 not only added the Florida Derby, but construction began on a clubhouse and the grandstand was expanded. As the spectators enjoyed seeing the Swaps set a new world record in 1956 and watching Bold Ruler get defeated by General Duke in 1957, plans were in the works to add a world-class turf track to the facilities. The new track was finished in 1959.
1961 saw the addition of the largest tote board in the world to the track infield. Of course, it wouldn't be considered the world's largest by today's standards, but in 1961, it was very grand. In the 1970s, the changes were more subtle. The Florida Derby became the state's richest race when the purse was raised to $125,000. In 1978, the president of Gulfstream Park, James Donn, Jr., passed away. His son, Doug Donn, was elected as his replacement.
In 1982, renovations were performed on the clubhouse and grandstand. A new domed dining terrace was added known as the Gulfdome, providing a beautiful area to dine. In 1989, Gulfstream hosted the 6th Breeders' Cup as a mini event lasting three days.
In 1990, another change happened when Gulfstream was purchased by Bertram and Diana Firestone, the owners of Calder Race Course. A banner event this year at the track was the final win in William Shoemaker's long, illustrious career as a jockey. 1992 found the Park hosting another Breeders' Cup, which broke the North American record for the amount of money bet in a single day. In 1995 and 1996, Gulfstream saw many of the amazing wins by the highest money making horse in the country, Cigar. He was added to the Park's Garden of Champions upon his retirement, and a lifesize statue was erected in his honor. 1999 saw the last change in ownership for the track, when it was acquired by Magna Entertainment Corporation. Gulfstream was also host to another Breeders' Cup, breaking another wagering record.
As soon as the meet ended in 2004, major renovation was begun at Gulfstream Park. The clubhouse and grandstand were leveled and the main track was enlarged to a mile and an eighth. The turf course was widened, growing from 80 feet to 170 feet. The walking ring was destroyed as well as half the barns and the Garden of Champions. The only original buildings left were the tote board, the administration building and the jockey's room. The 2005 meet was held with tents and temporary buildings. This continued into 2006, since the 2005 hurricane season interfered with construction.
The new grandstand and clubhouse is elegant and includes retail space, restaurants and casinos, including the 1,200 seat restaurant, the Ten Palms, and the Tickets sports bar. A new walking ring surrounded by Mediterranean style architecture has been built. Gulfstream Park has remade itself almost completely to meet the needs of its many visitors.