04/04/2011 2:04PM

Florida Derby weekend business soars

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – The gamble of moving Gulfstream Park’s marquee event, the $1 million Florida Derby, to a Sunday for the first time this season proved an unequivocal success.

Sunday’s attendance of 14,251 was the largest crowd on any day at Gulfstream Park since the new building opened in 2006. The $19.7 million bet on the Florida Derby day card also helped propel the track to a new combined weekend handle record of $33.6 million, shattering the old mark of $26.1 million set in 2010. Saturday’s program featuring the Grade 2 Gulfstream Oaks produced an all-sources handle of more than $13.9 million. Total ontrack handle for the weekend was more than $3.4 million, up from $2.8 million a year ago.

“We’re very pleased Derby Weekend proved to be such a huge success,” said the track’s president and general manager, Steve Calabro. “We were a little apprehensive moving the Derby to Sunday, but the response was overwhelming to our weekend of activities that included the inaugural Florida Derby Golf Tournament, Ladies Day, and of course the Florida Derby itself.”

Tim Ritvo, Gulfstream’s vice president of racing, echoed Calabro’s sentiments.

“We were lucky to have beautiful weather, and we really appreciate the support we received from both our fans and the horsemen who helped us put on such a great show both days,” said Ritvo.

Ritvo also said the success of the weekend could lead to the Florida Derby being carded on a Sunday again in 2012.

“We learned a lot from this process that I think will help us make the Florida Derby weekend even better next year,” said Ritvo. “The horsemen are obviously comfortable with the five-week window prior to the Kentucky Derby, and if it were up to me right now, I’d run the Florida Derby on Sunday next year as well.”

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