12/09/2009 12:00AM

Gulfstream mall back on track


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - For 18 of his more than 40 years in the racing industry, Ken Dunn guided the fortunes of Calder Race Course, which for all its success has always lived in the shadows of nearby Gulfstream Park. Now, Dunn suddenly finds himself on the other side of the fence, having been appointed the president and general manager of Gulfstream little more than two months before the Jan. 3 opening of the 2010 racing season.

On Wednesday, Dunn was front and center for the first time since his appointment during a press conference in the track's paddock to formally introduce The Village at Gulfstream Park, a 750,000-square-foot mall that is a joint venture between Magna Entertainment Corp. and Forest City Enterprises Inc.

"Having a mall adjacent to the racetrack affords us a marketing opportunity no other racetrack in the country has," Dunn said. "And we are still looking into possible ways to take advantage of that situation, such as piping live calls of our races into the mall or perhaps even putting television monitors and mutuel machines in strategic locations around the mall."

Brian Ratner, executive vice president and director for Forest City, said the marriage between the mall and racetrack also opens the possibility of the two facilities engaging in some type of joint marketing project that could include discounts for track patrons at certain shops during the course of the racing season.

Both Dunn and Ratner are well aware of one potential problem, that the mall, which is scheduled to open in early February, could create a lack of parking on busy days. The property only has room to park 6,700 cars, Ratner said.

"Trying to figure out how to accommodate parking for all the people we're going to be attracting to Gulfstream this year would be the best problem I've ever had to deal with in all my years as a racetrack executive," Dunn said. "Part of the reason we restructured our stakes schedule is to generate larger crowds on specific Saturdays, and if it proves successful, we'll find a way to handle the parking issue."

One of the Saturdays that Dunn was referring to was the first Saturday of the meet, Jan. 9, which features five sprint stakes. The concept is similar to the Summit of Speed, an event first popularized during Dunn's tenure at Calder.

"We decided to put five sprint stakes on the opening Saturday because we wanted a way to get everybody's attention around the country and generate interest in the meet right away," Dunn explained.

Dunn also said that simulcasting was the major factor in the much-talked-about decision to move the meet's cornerstone event, the Grade 1 Florida Derby, up a week on the schedule to March 20, putting it six weeks out from the Kentucky Derby instead of five as has been the case for the past five years.

"We'll own the marketplace on the 20th instead of sharing it with the Fair Grounds the following Saturday," Dunn said. "Remember, there was a major uproar when the race was moved up a week five years ago and look at the success it had. Given the opportunity, trainers will adapt."