04/26/2004 12:00AM

Gulf meeting up and down


The 2004 Gulfstream Park meeting ended Sunday, with the 91-day session showing gains in both ontrack attendance and handle but a decrease in all-sources handle in comparison to the previous year.

Attendance for the 2004 meet totaled 780,235, an increase of 2.7 percent from 2003. Ontrack handle of $152 million exceeded the 2003 figure by 3.5 percent. All-sources handle of $778 million was down 5.7 percent from last season. The Gulfstream signal was not available at many account wagering services for the first time this year.

"We were extremely pleased with the public response to Gulfstream's 2004 racing and entertainment presentations," said Gulfstream president and general manager Scott Savin. "The ontrack gains in attendance and handle were achieved despite a downward trend in both categories at most tracks."

The $1 million Florida Derby and the second annual Sunshine Millions Day card highlighted the 2004 session.

Friends Lake, who won the Florida Derby, is one of four members of that field who will likely start in Saturday's Kentucky Derby - along with The Cliff's Edge, Read the Footnotes, and Tapit. The Cliff's Edge came out of the Florida Derby to win the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes, while Tapit returned the same day to win the Grade 1 Wood Memorial.

The Sunshine Millions, the richest day for statebreds in Thoroughbred racing, matched Florida-breds against California-breds for $3.6 million in purses at Gulfstream and Santa Anita. Both tracks are owned by Magna Entertainment Corp. Attendance at Gulfstream for the 2004 Sunshine Million card was 25,197, up from 18,719 the previous year.

Along with Friends Lake, other Grade 1 winners at the 2004 meeting included Medaglia d'Oro in the Donn Handicap and Hard Buck in the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Read the Footnotes, fourth as the 4-5 favorite in the Florida Derby, won the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes earlier in the meet, while Jackpot pulled an upset in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap.

Todd Pletcher easily won the trainers' title with 42 winners, and his first-call rider, John Velazquez, led all jockeys with 78 victories.

Magna Entertainment announced in the final days of the meet that it plans to embark on an ambitious renovation project that calls for leveling the existing grandstand, adding a second turf course, and widening the main track. The 2005 meet is scheduled to begin on Jan. 3.