By Noel Michaels
You may have noticed that Gulfstream Park has scaled down its racing days from four days a week to three, Friday-through-Sunday, and it will stay that way through August.
Why the shorter race week? The heat? The humidity? Lack of interest? No to all – it’s temporary as the track in Hallandale Beach, Florida, continues major renovations that will turn it into the first three-surface racing facility in the United States – dirt, turf, and synthetic surfaces.
Construction to add a new Tapeta (synthetic surface) course began a few weeks ago and completion is expected in the fall. The surface is being installed in what was the outer third of the turf course.
Plans are to use the Tapeta course when rain forces races off the turf. The thought is fewer scratches resulting from turf-to-synthetic moves than turf-to-dirt moves. Fields will hold together better and thereby result in more horses per race. It is not yet clear whether Gulfstream plans to begin carding races on the Tapeta course in the condition book.
Much of the impetus to put in a synthetic surface was brought about by the closing of Calder, thereby ending what had been the Gulfstream Park West meet that ran for several years during October and November.
After the summer, year-round south Florida racing will be held exclusively at Gulfstream Park. And, the important two-month break the Gulfstream turf course received prior to the start of the track’s Championship meet in December is now gone.
Handicappers and bettors also must see what this means in the wagering world since there’s no definitive word yet on whether the track will card more turf races knowing that Tapeta is a better alternative to dirt if weather dictates a switch.
The new surface also will be open for training, a move trainers approve. Horsemen generally like to train over synthetic surfaces regardless of the whether they run on dirt or turf.
One change Gulfstream handicappers are noticing now is the absence of the usual 5-furlong turf sprints. Those races will not be run until sometime in August. This is because, in addition to the construction of the Tapeta course, the track is renovating the drainage system under the turf course.
South Florida also lost a lot of stable space due to the loss of GPW. Additional barns are also being constructed at Gulfstream and the Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach.
One former staple of Calder’s stakes schedule, the Summit of Speed, is scheduled for July 3. The feature on the card is the Princess Rooney (G2) for fillies & mares, a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race for the BC Filly & Mare Sprint.