January 11, 2008
This week we were off to the races. Horse races, that is. At Gulfstream Park.
Gulfstream opened on February 1, 1939, and hosted races for four days. Their handle, which is the total amount wagered, was $224,287 on that first day.
This year, Gulfstream’s racing season began January 3rd and runs through April 20th. Between 9 – 12 races are held five or six days a week for during the season. This year’s opening day handle was almost $2.2 million.
We had the opportunity to visit with our State Steward, Kevin Scheen, our State Veterinarian, Dr. Billy Cannon, our Chief Inspector, Violetta Murphy, our Salix Coordinator, Elaine McPhee and others from our team who work on-site to learn more about the safeguards we enforce to protect the animals and to uphold regulations on the pari-mutuel wagering on the horse races, the cardroom and in the slots room at the Gulfstream facility.
After each race, our team gathers urine and blood samples from the winning horse and a second random horse in the race that will be analyzed for illegal substances by the Racing Lab at the University of Florida. They work with track staff to make sure that the animals are kept safe and have the ability to scratch a horse from a race if the horse appears to be or has been injured.
We also visited the jockey’s quarters where we met with one of the jockeys, John Velazquez, to learn more about the rigors of his sport. John is consistently one of the top riders in wins at Gulfstream and is a future Hall of Fame jockey. Some of the best-known jockeys in North America race at Gulfstream, including Kent Desormeaux, Edgar Prado and Eddie Castro. In addition, some of the world’s best trainers, including Todd Pletcher, his mentor D. Wayne Lukas, and Nick Zito race horses there. Last year Todd Pletcher won his fourth straight trainers’ title at Gulfstream with 60 wins, 28 more than the second-place winner.
Then we watched the beautiful horses parade by. Gulfstream has a long-standing good relationship with Florida-based horsemen, and the track runs a number of races that are for Florida-bred horses only. On January 26, Gulfstream will co-host, along with Santa Anita Park in California, the 6th Annual Sunshine Millions where Florida-bred horses compete head-to-head with California-bred horses.
And we joined the stewards in the viewing box to ensure that the race was run fairly. They have impressive technology that allows them to review the entire race from different angles and the sequence of horses across the finish line and ensure that the correct order is called.
From the stables to the winner’s circle, it was an impressive operation and a great day at the races.
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