10/07/2016 10:46AM

Florida horsemen spared any damage from Hurricane Matthew


There was a collective sigh of relief heard around south Florida after Hurricane Matthew passed by early Friday morning. A large part of that sigh came from horsemen stabled at Gulfstream Park, Gulfstream Park West, and the area’s two training facilities, Palm Meadows and Palm Beach Downs.

Hunkered down and fearing the worst, horsemen from all four stabling areas reported nary a hint of damage from the storm. In fact, it was pretty much business as usual Friday at Gulfstream and Gulfstream West, with both racetracks, which were closed Thursday, reopening for training at 7 a.m. There was no training at Palm Meadows.

“There are horses out on the track right now,” trainer Phil Combest said Friday morning from Gulfstream West, formerly Calder Race Course. “The track was sealed, obviously, and it’s a little hard but not too bad this morning. The winds never got much above 40 to 45 mph, and we didn’t even really get that much rain. It was pretty much like the storms we get regularly around here this time of year. We were really lucky.”

Trainer Chuck Simon said conditions were much the same about 45 miles north at Palm Meadows on Friday, despite some dire predictions ahead of Matthew’s arrival. Forecasts had called for winds up to 120 mph in that area if the storm reached the shore, as many had expected, in Palm Beach County, where Palm Meadows is located.

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“Honestly, if you didn’t know there was a major hurricane out there, you really wouldn’t have known anything out of the usual happened here,” said Simon, who has been a regular at Palm Meadows the past several summers. “There is no flooding, no trees down. They did cancel training, although we could have trained. The track looks to be in decent shape.

“We took all the usual precautions for a major hurricane – locked everything up, cleared the shed rows of debris, anything that could fly around, and blocked areas that might cause potential flooding in the barn. But as things turned out, none of that was really necessary.”

The racing office was open for business at Gulfstream Park on Friday, taking entries for Monday’s holiday program across town at Gulfstream Park West. The opening of the Gulfstream Park West meet, originally scheduled for last Wednesday, was set to take place Saturday.

“We took precautions because our first priority is always our horsemen, horses, jockeys, etc.,” said P.J. Campo, general manager at Gulfstream Park and vice president of racing for The Stronach Group. “Fortunately, none of our facilities suffered any damage from the storm, training resumed as normal on Friday, and we’re looking forward to a great opening at Gulfstream Park West on Saturday.”