04/23/2013 1:40PM

Atlantic City: Six-day, all-turf meet opens


Thirty-seven races, all on turf, over six racing days. Welcome back to the itty bitty Atlantic City race meet.

Atlantic City Race Course is scheduled to open Thursday, with the first of four consecutive all-turf cards. The track will take a one-day break before returning for two more days of racing, closing on May 1.

First post each day is 3:30 p.m. Eastern, allowing area job-holders to sneak out a little early if they’re interested in live-racing action. The track will once again offer free admission and free parking on race days.

All six races on opening day, a mix of maiden special weights and starter allowances, have 12-horse fields. There are 71 horses entered on day two; 65 horses on day three; 67 horses on day four; and 70 horses on day five. On the seven-race closing-day card, 73 horses were entered for seven races, including 10 in the meet’s only stakes, the five-furlong, $50,000 Tony Gatto Dream Big.

That’s an average of 11.3 horses per race for the entire meet. Granted, it’s for turf races, which typically draw larger fields than dirt races, at a time when turf racing is just gearing up at northeast tracks, but the track is putting up that average at a time when many tracks are struggling to put eight horses in the gate.

“A lot of it has to do with the turf course, which just looks spectacular again this year,” said Maureen Bugdon-Gallagher, the track’s general manager. “But a lot of it is also Sal Sinatra’s work to put on good cards, and some of it is also nostalgia. This is South Jersey’s last racetrack, and I think people really like to come here because of the way the track brings back memories.”

Last year, the track posted a record for ontrack attendance on the last day of its meet when more than 11,000 people packed the small grandstand. Bugdon-Gallagher said the typical crowd at the meet is an “outdoor crowd,” and to that end, the track installed a new open-air betting pavilion by its paddock, opened a new outdoor bar, and set up outdoor restroom facilities.

“They walk in the front and go straight to the apron, the paddock, and then the rail to watch the races,” Bugdon-Gallagher said. “This is a crowd that like to be outside.”