01/03/2008 12:00AM

Chilly start for favorites on opening day


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - While temperatures were considerably lower than normal for an opening day at Gulfstream Park, that certainly wasn't the case for mutuel prices when the 89-day meet opened Thursday.

With racegoers bundled up against wind chills that dipped into the 40s - a T-shirt giveaway seemed oddly out of place amid the unseasonable backdrop - several long-priced winners preceded Quite a Bride, the odds-on winner of the $75,000 South Beach Stakes. The meet started with a 14-1 winner, Catch a Thrill, and proceeded with Informed Decision (25-1 in the fourth), Bentrovhto (10-1 in the fifth), and Zulmin (18-1 in the seventh).

Quite a Bride, with Kent Desormeaux up, sped straight to the lead and was never seriously threatened thereafter. She returned $2.80.

Desormeaux said afterward that he was "well mounted" when climbing aboard Quite a Bride, a 5-year-old mare taking full advantage of the restricted conditions of the inaugural South Beach, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for Florida-bred fillies and mares. Having been highly competitive last season in graded company, Quite a Bride easily dispatched of her nine rivals, drawing clear by 4 3/4 lengths over Snow Cone. She finished in 1:40.52 over a firm turf.

Despite the subpar weather and the frequently puzzling results for chalk players, the mood was upbeat at Gulfstream, the longtime winter home for snowbirds from New York, Canada, and other Northern destinations.

"It's a little chilly, but it's better than what we're used to back home this time of year," said Kenny Linn, an Akron, Ohio, resident and Thistledown regular who was vacationing with his two young daughters.

With many patrons huddling indoors, business seemed brisk, though actually the ontrack handle of $618,801 was down nearly 24 percent from the 2007 opener, which was run amid far better weather. Conversely, the all-sources handle of $6,187,082 for the Thursday opener was up 33 percent over 2007. Surely the all-sources handle was boosted because account holders with several Internet wagering outlets could not bet Aqueduct because of a delay in approving the contracts by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board.

Frank Stronach, founder and chairman of Gulfstream's parent company, Magna Entertainment Corp., was among those in attendance. Gulfstream president and general manager Bill Murphy said, "Everything went smoothly with opening day, although obviously it's unfortunate that we couldn't have had better weather."

This is the fourth meet at Gulfstream since the old grandstand was torn down and the third since the new facility was mostly completed in early 2006. The track is in the process of implementing several improvements for this meet, including new tiki huts in the North Park area. Construction is continuing on a massive shopping, dining, residential, and hotel area in what formerly had been the parking lot on the west side of the plant. Gulfstream also continues to offer slots and poker.

The Gulfstream meet runs through April 20, with racing conducted six days a week until mid-March, when Wednesdays will join Tuesdays as dark days.